Tag Archives: fun

Monday Musings: Booze. Yes, That’s Right… Booze

I’m not going to lie to you. Nancy and I enjoy a nice bottle of wine. We like Scotch, too. And Bourbon. And tequila, rum, rye, Irish whiskey, beer, and cider. Nancy enjoys a nice Port. I like gin. But that’s all.

Oh, wait. We like Limoncello, too. And Kahlua. Most liqueurs, really. Except Amaretto. Although, under the right circumstances…

Observers in the media have talked a lot about how much more people are drinking during the pandemic, and we can attest to that. Sort of. But not really.

The truth is, we enjoy our drinks pretty much all the time, regardless of global health crises. We rarely drink to excess. Honestly. We do not drink to get drunk. Frankly, the booze we drink isn’t cheap, so we can’t afford to drink a ton. We sip, we enjoy, we mix different drinks depending on season, mood, and what we have in the house. It is a hobby as much as anything else.

So what are our favorites? Join me for a short journey through our bar….

I’ll start with this: I LOVE Scotch. I didn’t always. My father was a Scotch drinker, and as a kid and a young man I thought even good Scotches tasted like something you’d get from an apothecary. As I’ve matured, though (hmmm, somewhere Nancy is laughing at the thought of me being at all mature…) I have developed a deep appreciation for many different Scotches. My favorite single malts right now are the Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old Highland, the Aberlour 16 Year Old (also a Highland), and the Glenmorangie Quinta Ruben 14 Year Old, which is aged in Port casks. I also enjoy the Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask, which is aged in rum casks.

My father’s favorite was a blended Scotch — Dewar’s White Label, which is our staple for making my current favorite cocktail: the Rusty Nail. This is Scotch mixed in equal parts with Drambuie, a liqueur made from Scotch, honey, and spices. It works with any Scotch really. I find it hard to justify using an expensive single malt in a mixed drink – hence the Dewars. But I know people who swear that a good Rusty Nail requires top shelf Scotch.

My taste in Scotch trends away from the smokey, peaty Single Malts of the Islay region, but my current favorite among our Irish whiskeys is Connemara Peated whiskey from Kilbeggan Distilling Company. It is smokey on the front end with a sweet finish, and I just love it. Nancy likes it, too, but her preferred Irish these days is the Tullamore Dew Caribbean Rum Cask Finish. While in Ireland last summer, we spent one late afternoon at a bar being served by a very friendly, knowledgeable, and accommodating barkeeper. He let us taste a bunch of different whiskeys from Tullamore, Jameson, and a few other distilleries, and we both liked the Tullamore rum cask best.

We drink a fair amount of Bourbon, too, sometimes straight, sometimes mixed – Nancy makes her own mint syrup from mint in the garden, and the resulting mint juleps are amazing. For mixed drinks, we usually use Buffalo Trace, a moderately priced, flavorful Bourbon out of Frankfurt, Kentucky. For sipping, Nancy likes the Knob Creek 120 Proof Single Barrel Reserve. It’s remarkably smooth, especially given the alcohol content, and just plain tasty. I like Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey, a blend out of Colorado that is made with corn mash, rye mash, and unmalted barley. It has a lovely caramel flavor and it goes down so easy. Too easy, perhaps.

Other whiskeys we enjoy include the Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey and the High West Double Rye.

Our tastes in other liquors tend to be far less refined and particular than our whiskey preferences. We know people who sip tequila and rum the way we sip Scotch and Bourbon, and they can go on about them the way I just have about the whiskeys. But for Nancy and me, other hard alcohols tend to be mixers – things we use in cocktails. We love margaritas when we’re having Mexican or Southwestern cuisine, which we cook with some frequency. Our margaritas are pretty simple: tequila, or sometimes mezcal (a Mexican spirit also made from agave, but cooked and fermented in a manner that imparts to the liquor a smokey, savory flavor); Cointreau (or some other orange liqueur, but Cointreau is far and away our favorite); and fresh lime juice. Yum.

Our rum cocktail of choice these days is a Jamaican mule. Rum, fresh lime juice, and a strong ginger beer. Mules come in many varieties, largely dependent on the alcohol used. The best known is a Moscow Mule, made with vodka instead of rum, but one can also try a Kentucky mule, made with Bourbon, or an Irish mule, made with Irish Whiskey, or a Mexican mule, made with tequila, or… Well, you get the idea.

Finally, when Nancy and I aren’t drinking the harder stuff, or one of her home-brewed beers (she makes a porter, a stout, an IPA, and is today experimenting with an Irish ale), we love a decent wine. Our current favorites: Red – we’ve been drinking an ancient vine Mourvedre made by Cline Cellars in Sonoma, California. Mourvedre is a full bodied red with a fruity taste and peppery finish. We love it. And White – we love just about any Sauvignon Blanc that comes from the Marlboro region on the South Island of New Zealand. The Marlboro Sauvignon Blancs we like best tend to be citrusy, crisp, and dry – the perfect wine for a hot summer afternoon. These days, the labels we prefer are Kim Crawford and Whitehaven.

So, who’s thirsty? The advantage of posting on Monday is that I get to write these posts on the weekend. My musings took me to booze, and now I can go and enjoy some sort of libation. Cheers!

Wishing you a great week.

Monday Musings: 29 Years Ago This Weekend

Wedding Day Photo 1 It’s Memorial Day – and, it seems to me, a particularly somber one at that – and so I won’t write too much for today’s Musings.

But this is also a very significant weekend in my life. Twenty-nine years ago, on Memorial Day weekend 1991, Nancy and I were married. (Our anniversary is actually tomorrow, the 26th.)

To this day, memories of our wedding, and all the festivities surrounding it, warm me and comfort me and bring a huge smile to my face. We lived in California at the time – Mountain View, in the Bay Area, to be precise. We were graduate students at Stanford, Nancy in biology, me in history. The tradition, of course, is that the bride’s family pays for the wedding, but Nancy’s folks ran a small family farm, and even with our modest plans for the ceremony and reception, a Bay Area wedding was beyond their budget. They helped us out, and so did my parents.

Wedding Day Photo 2But we did everything we could to keep costs down. Because we were students at the school, Stanford allowed us to marry in the Rodin Sculpture Garden, near the university museum, for something like $200. It was a gorgeous venue — we have joked since that we were married in front of the Gates of Hell, because, well, we were. We had our reception at a reasonable local restaurant – part of a Bay Area chain called, I kid you not, the Velvet Turtle. Not amazing, but decent food and lots of it. We hosted a party the night before the wedding at our apartment, and then did the same for brunch the day after the wedding. Our big activity? On Saturday afternoon, after the rehearsal lunch, we had a softball game for the entire guest list – whoever wanted to play. (We played a lot of softball in grad school – her bio lab had an intramural team.) The game was bride’s team against the groom’s team (randomly selected). I have no idea who won. But the two key rules were, 1) Nancy didn’t have to play in the field, and 2) she got to bat whenever she wanted, no matter which team was up. She would just announce, “Bride’s turn to hit!” and then she would…

Mostly, we spent the weekend catching up with family and dear friends from near and far. And, of course, celebrating our love. That sounds like the worst sort of cliché, but I honestly don’t care. It’s the truth. From start to finish it was about the joining of our lives, the bringing together of nearly all the people in the world whom each of us loved most, so that they could be with us when we declared our intention to build a life together.

Yes, the memories are bittersweet. We have lost too many of the people who stood with us that day. Nancy’s sister and one of her brothers, one of my brothers, my parents, other relatives and friends… As I say, too many. And I won’t stand here and try to claim that the entire weekend went smoothly, that there were no conflicts or problems or logistical issues. There were. Some were truly comical, others just annoying.

Overall, though, it was wonderful – the perfect kickoff to what has been an amazing 29 years.

Across the country this Memorial Day, young couples are dealing with wedding plans that look nothing like what they hoped for, or that have been postponed until who-knows-when? It’s not something we hear about often – such disappointments are overshadowed by the breathtaking scope of this tragedy. For those affected, though, it must come as a terrible blow. I can say in all honesty that it’s the love that matters, the bond these couples mean to celebrate. I can also say, with equal candor, that this would have brought me small comfort had we lost out on our big weekend all those years ago.

I wish I had more to offer by way of wisdom and solace for those whose plans have been ruined by the pandemic. I will spare you sappy declarations of my love for Nancy (except to say that I honestly do love her even more today than I did back then, which I wouldn’t have thought possible). Part of the point of Monday Musings is to share with you where my thoughts have wandered over the weekend.

This weekend, they were in a sculpture garden two thousand miles from here.

Wishing you a great week.

Monday Musings: Movie Favorites!!

Last week, I wrote a Monday Musings post about my rock and roll favorites. I meant it as a diversion, something fun to write (and, I hope, to read) that had nothing to do with the pandemic or politics or any of the other stuff that makes the news so fraught right now.

This week, I thought I would take on my cinematic favorites in a variety of categories. Some of those categories are “serious.” Others, as you’ll see, are pretty goofy. I hope you enjoy reading them.

Again, as with last week, these are MY favorites, and are not in any way meant to be statements of what is “best.” This is meant to be fun. I’m not looking for arguments, though I welcome other opinions offered in the same spirit of amusement and sharing.

That said, and without further ado….

My Favorite Drama: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This is a movie that can tick a lot of boxes. Some might call it a comedy – there are a lot of laughs here. Somehow, though, when both your heroes die at the end in a hail of bullets… well, not so much a comedy in my view. This is also my favorite Western of all time, and my favorite Buddy Movie of all time. Stars Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Katherine Ross. Directed by George Roy Hill.

My Favorite Comedy/RomCom: High Fidelity. Based on the novel of the same title by Nick Hornby. If you’re a music lover, you should see this movie. Wonderful. I know John Cusack is a bit of a wacko, but he’s great in this (he’s great in everything, actually). Stars John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black, Joan Cusack. Directed by Stephen Frears.

My Favorite Oldie Drama: Casablanca. Yeah, not really going out on a limb here. But good lord, what a movie. Intrigue, forbidden romance, Nazis to hate, ex-Pat mysterious Americans to love. It’s got it all. Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Dooley Wilson, Claude Raines, Peter Lorre. Directed by Michael Curtiz.

My Favorite Oldie Comedy: Philadelphia Story. Charming love triangle farce with a stellar cast. Really a fun movie once you get by the upper crust, high society classism of the thing. Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Ruth Hussey. Directed by George Kukor.

Movie that Makes Me Cry. Every. Single. Time: Field of Dreams. It’s not just the Dad-son thing, though yeah, that turns me into a puddle. But also that moment when Moonlight Graham has to choose between baseball and being a doctor. Damn. Got something in my eye just writing about it…. Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Burt Lancaster. Directed by Phil Alden Robinson.

Movie I Can’t Help But Watch Every Time It’s On: Tie – The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. Brilliant movie making, spectacular casts, utterly compelling. The first movie is probably the best adaptation of any novel ever. And the second is probably the best sequel ever made. Al Pacino, Marlon Brando (I), Robert DeNiro (II) James Caan (I), Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, Talia Shire, John Cazale. Directed (both) by Francis Ford Coppola.

My Favorite Movie That Led Directly to My Favorite Television Show: The American President. Written by Aaron Sorkin, this is the movie that basically gave us The West Wing. Similar themes, similar quality, in a really delightful romantic comedy/political drama. Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox, Richard Dreyfus, Anna Devere Smith. Directed by Rob Reiner.

My Favorite Animated Movie: Monsters, Inc. As a dad, I have sat through my share of terrible movies and TV shows. I have also been treated to some wonderful movies from the folks at Pixar and Dreamworks. This one is so funny, so touching, so exciting. Voiced by Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Mary Gibbs, Jennifer Tilly, James Coburn, Rob Peterson. Directed by Pete Docter.

My Favorite SF Movie: Blade Runner. Let me say first (and I know this is not a widely shared opinion) that I LOVE the new J.J. Abrams Star Trek franchise. I think those movies are marvelous. And I love, love, love Guardians of the Galaxy. But this movie is so atmospheric, so thoughtful, and weird, and noir. Love it. Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, Edward James Olmos. Directed by Ridley Scott.

My Favorite Fantasy Movie: Excalibur. Similar to the SF films. I love the LOTR films, and also several of the Harry Potters, but this treatment of the King Arthur legend is an underrated gem. Nigel Terry, Nicol Williamson, Helen Mirren, Cherie Lunghi, and a host of young future stars (Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Patrick Stewart). Directed by John Boorman.

My Favorite Caper Film: The Sting. Redford and Newman together again in a movie that won seven academy awards. The plot is complex, at times almost impossible to follow. But it is so, so good. Redford, Newman, Robert Shaw, Eileen Brennan.

Two Movies That Convinced Me Steven Spielberg is a Freaking Genius: On June 9, 1993, just in time for summer blockbuster season, Spielberg premiered Jurassic Park, which went on to become the highest grossing movie Hollywood had ever seen (to that point). Less than six months later, on November 30 of that same year, he premiered Schindler’s List, which went on to win seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. That combination of achievements in a single year is, I am certain, unequaled in cinematic history.

Best Movie I’ve Seen In the Last Six Months: Just Mercy. This was screened at the university here just before the pandemic, and followed by a lengthy community discussion. Fantastic, devastating film. Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Tim Blake Nelson, Rob Morgan. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.

My Favorite Actor: This is hard. Let’s go with a list – Pacino, Denzel, Redford, Bogie, James Earl Jones, Jimmy Stewart, Dustin Hoffman.

My Favorite Actress: Cate Blanchett, Katharine Hepburn, Zoë Saldana, Ingrid Bergman, Meryl Streep, Octavia Spencer, Emma Thompson.

Actor (and Role) Who Might Make Me Re-Think My Sexual Orientation: Robert Redford as Sundance in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I mean, get real. He’s gorgeous.

Actress (and Role) Who Might Make Me Leave My Happy Home: Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa in Casablanca. She is luminous, strong but also vulnerable, and simply exquisite.

And there you go! Hope you enjoyed this. Have a great week!

Super Bowl Sunday

Today, of course, is Super Bowl Sunday, the most bizarre, quintessentially American “holiday” of the year. It is, I believe, the anti-Thanksgiving. It is to Thanksgiving what evil Willow is to normal Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, what Mirror Universe Spock is to Federation Spock in the original Star Trek. Other than the presence of a football game in the middle of the festivities, Super Bowl Sunday and Thanksgiving Thursday have nothing in common.

Let me be clear: I’ll be watching today’s game. I always watch the Super Bowl. And yes, I’ll also be paying close attention to the ads, as I do every year. I make no claims to being holier than any of thou. But let’s face it, America: Super Bowl Sunday is a celebration of controlled culturally (and economically) sanctioned violence, interspersed with frenzied expressions of consumerism and gluttony. It is an excuse (as if we needed one) to gorge ourselves on fast food and mediocre beer while watching commercials for still more fast food and mediocre beer. On Thanksgiving we pause to express our appreciation for the wonders that we are so privileged to enjoy: freedom and security, family and friendship, shelter and sustenance. On Super Bowl Sunday we sit in front unspeakably large televisions (or else we rue the fact that we don’t own unspeakably large televisions) and consume stuff that those who were present at the very first Thanksgiving so many centuries ago would scarcely recognize as food.

And the ads! Did you know that this year advertisers will be paying $4.5 million for each thirty second spot? NBC expects to pull in about $360 million in ad revenue tonight, which is, like, a lot of money. All so that we can watch a game that has, more often than not in the forty-nine year history of the Super Bowl, proven to be a rather anti-climactic end to the football season. Way more than half the Super Bowl games played over the years have been one-sided — thirty of forty-eight have been decided by 10 points or more, and many of those have been true blow-outs.

Of course, we don’t really care. If the ads are good, and we eat enough chips and drink enough beer, the game ceases to be of much importance. It’s kind of like Thanksgiving that way, only really not.

New Hobby, Old Liver . . .

I’m 51 years old — nearly 52 — and I have never made a Martini. I’ve drunk a few. More than a few, if I’m going to be honest. But I’ve never made one. I don’t know how. I know what’s involved — gin, vermouth, olives, Aston Martins — but I don’t know the exact recipe. For that matter, I also don’t know how to make a Manhattan, a Mojito, or a Mai Tai.

I think it’s about time I learned. My wife agrees. And so, inspired by a purchase I made over the holidays for my nephew, I have recently purchased a bartender’s recipe book. It’s a nice one — well-illustrated, pretty comprehensive, and cheap, because it was used. It has just arrived.

I have some studying to do.

A Pair of Posts Up Today

Today on the unofficial Spell Blind Winter 2014-15 Blog Tour, I have two posts up. The first can be found at the Magical Words blogsite. It’s a pretty light-hearted post  — a list of holiday superlatives (best holiday movie, best gift I’ve ever received and given — that sort of thing).  It’s meant to be fun and will, I hope, prompt others to offer similar lists in the comments section. The Magical Words post can be found here.

The second post is at the SFNovelists blogsite and it is about the new series I have coming out from Baen — the Case Files of Justis Fearsson. The Fearsson books are the first that I have set in the contemporary world, and writing in this world is quite different from setting a novel in a created world, or even a historical setting. The SFNovelists post touches on some of those differences and can be found here.

I hope you enjoy them both, and I wish all of you a wonderful holiday and a happy and successful 2015.