Michele's Lemon Drop

This was meant to be a toast to the New Year to my friend Michele but alas, I was living life and here it is already the middle of January. Even past the middle. I think this is the longest I have gone without posting since I started this blog about 18 months ago. The good news is that my lemon trees are still chock full so it is not too late to give these beauties a try.

Michele and I met over a dozen years ago when her oldest and my youngest were in the same class in grammar school. As time goes by, I find myself more and more thinking I can't believe that I met people a decade ago, or two decades ago, or (gasp) three decades ago.  If I didn't have children to compare to, I would think it was just a couple of years ago.  But, alas, Michele's son and my daughter are now frightening close to 21 years old.

In addition to being incredibly kind, smart and beautiful, I have always found Michele to be extremely capable.  I think the first time I worked with her was on a big fundraiser for the school and I found out that not only is Michele organized and efficient, but she can also cook!  I believe we made Linda's Pumpkin Soup for about a hundred people on that first event together.

It wasn't until about ten years later and many, many committees and events after the soup that Michele and I found ourselves together on a new committee for Angels Foster Care.  Along with our wonderful committee of dedicated volunteers, we pulled off a fun and fabulous night to raise money for the organization.  And to celebrate, Michele and I hosted a cocktail party.  She brought the Lemon Drops.

They were so good!  I had tried lemon drops in bars that were fine.  Decent.  Tasty.  But nothing like these.  These were tart and sweet and perfectly chilled and just the right amount of alcohol. Michele wrote down the recipe for me on a little scrap of paper in my kitchen.  Even though I wasn't much of a cocktail maker (that seems to be changing recently!) I thought it might come in handy some day.  Well, that day has come. I want to make a toast to Michele, and what better way to toast than with her own Lemon Drops? I knew I kept that recipe for a reason.

I discovered recently that Michele has even more talent, skill and heart than I ever even knew.  Tragedy sometimes drags people down into sadness and despair that creates a deep hole out of which to climb.  Tragedy in Michele's life brought strength, wisdom and optimism unlike any I have ever seen.

Nothing hurts a parent more than having their child get hurt.  When I discovered that Michele's child had been in an accident and was in the hospital, I sat down and cried.  This was not a broken arm or leg.  Her son had a head injury and it was unclear what the future held.  It was way too close to home.  All I could think of was how I would feel if it was my child and how completely and totally distraught Michele must feel. I couldn't grasp the emotions I felt as I wondered how she found out and how she managed to get to the hospital where her son lay, 300 miles from her home.  That sick feeling of sadness entered my stomach the minute I found out and stayed with me as I told Baby Girl the news and hugged her tight.

And then Michele started writing.  In the midst of all her pain and sadness and uncertainty, she wrote for us.  She wrote for the people at home who wondered daily how her son was, how she was, how the family was, what was happening.  She told us funny stories to make us think she was holding up okay. She told us sad stories that made us realize that she was barely holding up. She told us stories that helped us get through her trauma. Strength, wisdom and optimism don't begin to describe it.

This story has a happy ending.  Thanks to Michele and her equally supportive and optimistic husband, their son is walking and talking, driving and golfing, reading and laughing. When I ask her how they did this, how they do this, how they continue to be so positive and optimistic and joyful day after day, she says "It is the only option."

So here's to you Michele.  Thank you for continuing to remind me of the options in life.

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"In order to carry a positive action, we must develop here a positive vision." -Dalai Lama

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Michele's Lemon Drop

1 cup vodka 1 cup triple sec 1 1/2 cups fresh squeezed lemon juice

Pour into a pitcher filled with ice, stir well and serve in martini glasses.

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Mango Jalapeño Margarita for Chelsea

I've been getting into cocktails lately.Way long ago, when I was in my thirties, I found my comfort zone was a glass of wine because it was predictable.  Cocktails always tasted too sweet or too weak and opening a bottle of wine was so much easier than getting ingredients for a cocktail. But in my recent empty-nest stage of life, with only two people to feed at night and no homework to be done, I have found time to experiment with cocktails! This one took a village to perfect, but perfect we did so you will be pleased that we went to all this effort for you. You are welcome.

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It started at a bar.  I went out for a cocktail with One And Only Son (who turned 21 last year) and I must have been feeling adventurous because I ordered the special margarita.  It was good.  It was not great.  But I liked the concept.  Mangos for sweetness, jalapeño for a hint of spice, and tequila because, well, I like tequila.

It seemed the perfect drink to celebrate our "adopted" daughter Chelsea's graduation from Pepperdine University.  Chelsea, her parents and her boyfriend were joining us at our SandyShack (the location of Chelsea's 21st birthday just a year prior) for a summer celebration before Chelsea started her REAL job in the REAL world!  The fact that she had a REAL job to go to was worthy of a BIG celebration. Jobs don't come easy these days, even for college graduates.

Chelsea's mom Pamela is one of my two favorite "mixologists" so I planned to enlist her help creating the perfect cocktail to celebrate Chelsea. (To see more of her tantalizing cocktails, visit Pam's blog.)  I knew we would have a houseful of tasters at the ready so I was ready to bring on the cocktails! Preparations began before their arrival when I infused my favorite tequila with fresh mangos and jalapeños.  Then I assembled all the ingredients that I thought we needed for our creation so Pamela and I could go to work creating a delectable cocktail to toast our graduate. The results were gorgeous and it was a delicious kickoff to our celebratory weekend.

But Pamela and I had some ideas along the way to help our cocktail to perfection...more mango flavor, stirred not shaken, lots of ice, etc.  I recruited my other favorite mixologist MaryAnne to assist with round two. And my tasters Debby and Hubby were standing by to "assist".  With our laboratory set up, we mixed and tasted, and just to be sure, we tasted again.  Debby wasn't quite sure so she tasted one more time!

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We are sure.  This one is worth the effort. Cheers to Chelsea.  Cheers to my mixologists.  Cheers to my tasters. Working has never been so fun.

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"There is a good reason they call these ceremonies 'commencement exercises'. Graduation is not the end, it's the beginning." -Orrin Hatch

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Mango Jalapeño Margarita for Chelsea

To prepare the infused tequila: 1 750 ml bottle of Patron Silver Tequila or your favorite tequila (3 generous cups) 2 or 3 fresh mangos, peeled and sliced off the pit 2 fresh jalapeños, sliced (discard stem)

Three to four days prior to serving, stir together the tequila, mango and jalapeños in a large container.  Refrigerate. When ready to serve, strain into clean container. Mix the fruit around with a spoon in the strainer and allow time to drain fully. (Someone, not me but someone, might just want to save those infused pieces of fruit to eat at some point during the night. Just sayin'.)

To serve: 1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice, plus 1 T for glasses 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice 1/2 cup agave nectar 1 T sugar 1 T salt 6-8oz sparkling water fresh mint sliced jalapeño 

Mix the cup of lime juice, 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1/2 cup agave into a clean container. Put tablespoon of lime juice on small plate and mix salt and sugar onto a second small plate.  One at a time, dip rim of serving glasses into lime juice and then into salt/sugar mixture, rolling to coat rim with salt and sugar.

Mix into a measuring cup 1 cup of the infused tequila, 1/2 cup of the lemon/lime mixture and 1/4 cup sparkling water. (This makes 2-3 drinks depending on the size of glass so the entire recipe makes 6-9 drinks.) Fill glasses with lots of ice (I like the big square cubes) and pour in drink mixture. Garnish with a slice of jalapeño and large sprig of mint. Cheers!

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Church Basement Cocktail

This summer has been filled with drinks parties.I never thought I would say it but I think I need a little break from the drinks parties. Some of my friends are saying they need a break too. The best line I heard was when one guy said he needed to find a church basement soon. This was just a joke, and I know alcoholism isn't a joke but the church basement part was a little bit funny.  I actually thought it was a lot funny.  Why is it that movies and TV shows always depict drug and alcohol support meetings in the basement of a church?  I'm sure they have meetings in lots of other places, but the media seems to stick to that profile.

This conversation started because a friend of mine was on antibiotics and wasn't drinking alcohol so she was telling us girlfriends that she didn't feel much like going out.  Another friend said, "You can go out and 'fake-drink'.  I do it all the time."  I chimed in that we could have a church basement cocktail night so our friend on antibiotics wouldn't feel left out.  We girls got a good giggle out of it and they said they would await my recipe for our church basement cocktail.

I kind of forgot about it until later that very week when my church basement cocktail presented itself to me, typed up neatly on a card from a food historian. I was on an all-day outing with two of my most favorite gal pals.  We were enjoying a day of culture at The Getty Villa, learning about Byzantine art, history, and of course, food. (There will be more on that in another post on another day.)  We cooked a Byzantine-inspired lunch that was quite fabulous and interesting, and the beverage to accompany our meal was none other than a non-alcoholic Pomegranate Julep that was popular among the food stalls of Constantinople.  Delicious, healthy AND inspiring!

I took it as a sign that the cocktail came my way that day to remind me that we all need a church basement cocktail once in a while. Especially if it is to support someone in our lives who needs some extra care. Let's all "fake-drink" in support of our friendships.  Cheers to all my inspiring and loving friends!

"Life is not a solo act. It's a huge collaboration, and we all need to assemble around us the people who care about us and support us in times of strife." -Tim Gunn

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Church Basement Cocktail (Serves one. )

1/4 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice 1/2 cup sparkling water 1 T fresh squeezed lemon juice 1 tsp sugar sprig of fresh mint, lightly crushed

Mix all ingredients together until the sugar is dissolved.  Pour over ice.

To make a pitcher, multiply by 10. 2-1/2 cups juice 5 cups sparkling water 3/4 cup lemon juice scant 1/4 cup sugar 10 springs mint

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