The Gift of Tequila Mockingbird

I am a magpie when it comes to drink mixology. My friends think I create our special drinks for our monthly gatherings, but the truth is, I am a shameless copy-cat. If Dennis and I go to a restaurant, for instance, I will usually order the seasonal drink special. I often take pictures of the ingredients, and I’m not above asking the bartender about the liquid ratios. (Flattery can get a gal just about anything she wants…) The part I don’t duplicate is the drink name–I always give my “designer drinks” a signature name: the Spring Fling, Summer’s Last Kiss, and the Snow Day are just a few. It has become a tradition and something my friends look forward to.

(by clicking on the image, you can preview the book on Amazon)
The Hostess Gift

So when my friend Krista gave me Tim Federle’s Tequila Mockingbird last year as a hostess gift, it was very appropriate. (It is not unusual to receive a hostess gift from my girlfriends–I think we were all raised by mothers who read Miss Manners and Heloise’s Helpful Hints.) I thanked her and set the book aside–probably placing it on my bedside nightstand. I had never seen the book before, and it was several weeks before I began reading it. I have thoroughly enjoyed it and have appreciated revisiting it throughout the year. Not only are there some delightful cocktail recipes (“One Flew over the Cosmo’s Nest” is a tasty riff on the classic Cosmo and an easy place to start), but there are witty and smart plot summaries and character discussion. Federle’s writing is full of puns and playful word choice.

I recommend it! It will bring a smile to your face and encourage you to create something special for your glass! And, of course, it makes a fantastic host or hostess gift for a future gathering.

Favorite Cocktails: The Staycation


My girlfriends love this summer creation.
Ingredients:
1 Outshine Fruit Bar
2 oz vodka
Sprite or 7up

Cut your favorite frozen fruit bar from the wooden stick.
Place in a martini glass.
Muddle (using the wooden stick) with 2 oz vodka.
Once softened, top with Sprite or 7up.

Best enjoyed with your favorite friends!

The Beloved Family Meal Exchange

The meal exchange idea emerged nearly twenty years ago when my friend Paula and I began sharing desserts—and who wouldn’t love that! We live across from each other on a quiet neighborhood street, we each are married with three children, and we each have family members who consist of “easy eaters.” (There isn’t ONE picky eater in the bunch, which I’m sure makes this idea easier AND more sustainable.) When Paula made a blueberry crisp, for example, she would make two and bring one across the street for our family to enjoy (often with some vanilla ice cream, that’s what a great neighbor and friend she is!) Then the next week, when perhaps I made a chocolate cake, I would make one (or half) for her–usually in the same pan–and return the dish to her. It was wonderful, it was uplifting, and it became something our whole family looked forward to. Don’t you find there is something so amazing about sharing food with people we love?

After several months of weekly dessert exchange, we broached the idea of each of us sharing a complete meal with the other family once a week.  (At this time Paula and I were both working part-time, which of course makes this easier, but I think with planning on the weekend, this could work for full-time folks.)

Here’s how we launched and the basic guidelines we followed:

  1. On Sunday, each of us shared our idea for the meal we were planning. (We usually looked at the Sunday sale flyer for our local grocery store and had an idea of what we wanted to buy and fix.)
  2. We tried to provide variety with the dishes, so, for example, one of us would fix chicken and the other might fix pork or beef.
  3. We discussed what dishes or pans would be needed. (For the most part, we each have two of just about everything, so we simply needed to label with the family name.)
  4. We agreed upon the day and approximate time of meal delivery.
  5. We informed each other whether the meal would come pre-cooked and ready-to-eat, or whether the dish would need to be cooked.
  6. We provided a complete meal, including a vegetable, fruit, main dish, and a dessert. (Often we included a special bread and sometimes even a bottle of wine. Pretty awesome, right?)
  7. We gave weekly feedback to each other: How did our families like the meal? What would we change? Were the amounts okay? And so on.

And so we began, and it was wonderful. Here’s why: we found that we only cooked once during the week! Yes, we cooked twice the amount, but it was once a week. (I liked making an event of the cooking, buying a new votive scent to burn while I cooked, listening to music, sipping a glass of wine…you get the idea!) We found that with two full meals, we had leftovers for two additional nights. Because our families usually ordered pizza on Friday Night, that meant ONE MEAL prepared during the week!

If our budget was tight (mine ALWAYS was), I could buy foods on sale. I know I saved money by buying sale items AND by planning. Additionally, I knew my family was eating nutritious, home-cooked meals, and these meals became a shared, anticipated experience.

The meal exchange era lasted approximately two years. We did eventually add a third family, also family friends, and Susan contributed immensely to the quality of foods our families enjoyed. (With three families, we found there were enough leftovers for the whole week, including weekends.)

As the children grew older and entered middle school, our schedules changed, and, sadly, with the addition of athletics and other extra activities, the meal exchange gradually faded away. My children (now all grown-up and launched) remember these meals with great fondness. “Remember that casserole Paula used to make?” or “Mom, that was so great when Susan joined the meals and used to bring the fancy pasta with the white sauce.”  Yes, Susan added a gourmet element: delicious sauces, unique seasonings, amazing homemade breads. She’s a FABULOUS cook, and it would have been useless to try to compete—I just appreciated and enjoyed.

Dennis and I now find the tempo of our family life has slowed to a reasonable pace. We share simple meals at home (heavier now in fruits and vegetables), and we relish the treat of a weekly meal out. And Paula and I are once again sharing desserts…

My Holiday Confession

I always—quite smugly—profess my needs to be so simple: family, friends, food, and shelter. My adult kids roll their eyes then smile at me. They understand my marquee message: “Oh yeah, we know, Mom,” they sigh. But when the holidays loom, my satisfaction with our 1960s three-bedroom tri-level dissolves. The space suddenly seems so inadequate. I quickly go from, “I don’t need anything for Christmas except time together” to dreaming on Zillow for a massive home, complete with a commercial-grade kitchen and showplace dining room. I could graciously greet my family at the door, calmly inviting them into House Beautiful. A graceful staircase would lead them to bedrooms staged with fine furniture and sumptuous linens and window coverings, each adjoining bathroom sparkling.

My house would be orderly. Elegant. Lovely. PERFECT.

Most of the year I can beat these feelings down and remember that 95% of the women of the world would be amazed by my home; for most of the year my house is more than enough for the two of us.  But during the holidays, my values are skewed by Hallmark ads and the colorful displays that this year began even before Halloween. Oh, how I secretly covet a huge old Victorian, complete with built-in buffet and resplendent butler’s pantry.

Rockwell’s Thanksgiving painting is imprinted permanently in my brain. The family is so obviously appreciative. The relatives circled around the table are radiant; their freshly scrubbed faces glow. The table so tasteful; all the dishes of the meal exactly timed and on display. But when my turkey comes out of the oven, my serenity is shattered.  The gravy needs to be started and stirred; the turkey needs to be pried from the roaster and sliced; the forgotten relishes need to be opened and arranged; the water needs to be iced and poured. Calgon, Take Me Away.

It’s only when my dear family converges that my galley kitchen and dinette area seem Barbie sized. Yes, I know I could make some things easier. I did some research this year about how to create a stress-free Thanksgiving meal. I even tried a make-ahead gravy for my gluten-free family members. (I obviously added too much corn starch and the gelatinous, disgusting lump never reached the right consistency when I reheated it—even with my daughter’s determined attention with a whisk and serious brow.)

I meticulously set the tables ahead of time, but as the turkey and sides and rolls and beverages were moved to our dining area the buffet table was too small. I didn’t allow enough room for the cornucopia display I so carefully created with colorful fruits and vegetables flowing from the horn of plenty. This year it was voted off the table in the pre-serving rush and plopped on top of our wood burner, the beautiful red pears and glossy apples bouncing to the floor in its transit.

So no, it wasn’t an amazing Martha Meal—but some things made it pretty darn close:

All four of our parents were still able to attend

My husband still smiled at me from across the room

Our adult children still enjoy one another’s company,

and our grandchildren still think I’m the best Nana ever.

Not perfect. Never will be.

But it’s a fine life.