Category Archives: Real Life

Bitter Delights and New Upstarts

Here’s something we’ve been keeping more or less under wraps: Basically since putting the final wrapper on Movers & Shakers, I’ve been at work on another super-secret plan to take over the world. Or a portion of the drinks market.

Vervet is our company name, and you can find us on Instagram and in the distillery. We’re making cocktails and canning them, because why would you not do that if you could?

We didn’t want to make just any old canned G&T’s however. I mean, a gin&tonic is fine, it’s great, it’s whatever if you have the proper gin and the proper tonic (so important! so frequently overlooked!), but my partners and I wanted to try something different. We have several different ready-to-drink drinks on the way, and they’re all a step beyond the 2-ingredient drink, or “highball.” I wanted to make fizzy drinks with depth and character for people with the same. More on that, later. I promise it ties in.

Adjacently: I love a bitter drink. Not bitter like, say, psychedelic tea, but bitter like folk medicines flavored with herbs and sugar to make them more palatable. Humans, we are weird and clever primates. A plant manufactures a chemical defense mechanism for itself like bitter flavor or fiery capsaicin, but because of its nutritional or intoxicant value, we bulldoze past these seemingly unpleasant defenses and in the process convince ourselves we love them. Sometimes our bodies adapt to make us feel good after eating them, just to seal the deal. I am personally great at convincing myself that things are fine when they’re not, or that I like things that I don’t, which I think makes me especially amenable to bizarre foods and strong drink, though prone, at times, to questionable life choices.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love a negroni, an Americano, a Rome with a View. They spark massive joy for me. Whenever I’ve served a negroni to a first-timer at a bar, I tell them to close their eyes and imagine biting into very dark chocolate. Something bitter, but also pleasurable. Something with a longer payoff.

The bitter in these cocktails comes from a particular type of red aperitivo. It’s Campari, or Aperol, or more likely these days, a homegrown red bitter from some upstart distillers in the US. I like classics, but I love innovation, particularly when it tastes good.

As part of our recipe development, we did tasting after tasting, in bars, at home, at the homes of our friends who, Stockholm-syndrome-esque, went along with it.

Top to bottom: the sweet one, the dark horse, my KRB, and the O.G.

And I have to say, there are some rock solid options out there. Some are colored with bugs, some with Red 40. Some are minty, some are sweeter. For mine, I wanted it medium-bitter with a strong citrus bite, with some native SoCal plants making up the green notes and a comforting finish of spice and bark. Spicebark. I love bark.

After over a year of trial and error (and error), through a variety of steeping methods and ingredient lists, through poring over countless books on the topic (more on that, later), we have something that I’m happy to say is pretty killer. 

So that’s what we called it. It’s a Killer Red Bitter. KRB for short. And it’s coming y’alls way along with the whole Vervet lineup.

But that’s a story for another time…

Randomized 2018

A couple years ago, I wrote an end-of-year roundup that is the only kind of roundup I enjoy writing. Having, for work, had to wrangle lists of things like happy hours, doughnuts, and smoothie joints, I will let you all in on a little secret: I do these lists under great duress. I am happy for the jobs, no doubt about it. But every time I sign-on for a new “listicle” (a word that has thankfully fallen into ironic use, to be uttered in quotes or with accompanying grimace) I am encumbered with dread and dark thoughts until the piece is completed. I dislike ranking things. On Goodreads, as on Yelp, I have two modes: 5 stars or nothing. If I love something, I want to tell everyone about it. If I don’t, I’m content to leave it in silence. This is primarily because I’m an over-thinker, and if I had to rank everything from least-to-most favorite, it would take all year.

That is why I like the randomized end-of-year roundups. Because they take 30 minutes, and I don’t have to say x was better or worse than y, or that one made a greater impact, or whatever. It doesn’t really matter, anyway. The government is being run by climate change deniers, so we’re all basically dead already.

Here’s a random list of 2018’s greatest hits, obsessions, milestones, and terrible shit. And there was plenty of terrible shit. But there were lots of the other things, as well.

That book I wrote.
RIP Penny Marshall
Racism: Mainstream and ready to rumble
Misogyny: See above
My nephew Jerry making my heart explode, Grinchlike, from its box
I’ll have What She’s Having podcast
Visiting Dorchester, Mass and meeting an 8-month-old OFD
Now/Serving
Live forever RBG
The expense and humbling/grateful slog of a book tour
The post-partumlike depression that comes after your pub date that nobody tells you about
Absence of mood stabilizers
Founding a canned cocktail company
Evan F-ing Klieman!
Poetry
The Roxane Gay catalog
Friesling
Meeting a shitton of cool people on tour
Wondering daily if everyone else has gone crazy or just me
Feeling like I’m going to talk to my nieces about this year like my parents talked to us about 1968
One badass denim jumpsuit
Hearing someone use the word “fire” as an adjective in person
Nailed It
Myokos cultured cashew butter
Fondant
Listening to both CTRL and Z on repeat
Getting all into Poshmark
Realizing Poshmark is actually the world’s crappiest clothing swap
The LAPL Libby app
Seeing the gray hair, and letting it hang

Pick your own favorite!


They Still Make You?

I love working the bar at special events. It means I get to be part of something really special, minus the oppressive need to small talk. I also like getting to work with a different crew almost every time–that ADHD brain need for variety satisfied in every way.

But there’s always the risk of bad eggs when the cast of characters rotates that much. Continue reading

Middle School Math

One of my jobs right now, aside from authoring which is–at present–unpaid, is tutoring K-12 students to take standardized tests. It’s true: there’s viable paying work teaching the one thing I was REALLY good at in school, test taking. Most of the tests I’m teaching, however, were not around when I was a student. I can still ace them, because frankly standardized testing does not require you to actually know very much about the topic at hand, only the psychology of people who write test questions. But in a spirit of solidarity with my students and good faith to whatever education we are trying to give them, I’ve gone back and learned some stuff. Here are some observations. Continue reading

Scientist and Alchemist

Sometimes you have to post about things you tried that you like, because your friends will find them boring.

This here tea, for instance. I love tea. Tea is what my friends and I would hunker over late at night in high school, dishing gossip and making fun of people and pointedly not mentioning how none of us had the wherewithal to procure a fake ID. Tea: the thing I do when I want to stand up and take a break from writing but don’t want to admit that that’s the plan. Tea: the source of many of my calories when living in England on precious saved dollars when the pound was soaring.

A recent crackdown on caffeine use led to this revelation:

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Sunshine m-f-ing dust

Continue reading

Rookie Bar Gaffes to Avoid

Watching the latest Game of Thrones season (I’m not going to expound on GoT. It’s just a TV show), my boyfriend pointed out how much Bran-as-Three-Eyed-Raven sounds like all of us after our first year of college. That I’ve been out in the world, I’ve learnt things about philosophy and hidden histories and now I can enlighten all you old people aura of smugness. We have all been guilty at one point or another of “schooling” an elder on the reality of things.

This reminds me of what it was like to be a craft bartender the first few months after training. Six weeks of memorizing drink recipes and scribbling tasting notes about spirits and all of a sudden I KNEW EVERYTHING, and I wanted to drop this wisdom in every bar I graced with my presence.

Ugh, the memories of trying to order a Bijou from some hotel pool bar, then trying to walk the flippant woman behind the stick through an inevitably wretched concoction. That was the start of a realization, that just because I made fancy-pants cocktails didn’t mean I could expect everyone else to make them for me, or be grateful for my definitely-not-annoying schooling.*

As time went on and I spent more time behind my own bar, I learned more about what it meant to be a good customer.  I’m all on the side of capital-H Hospitality, here, and definitely don’t think a guest at a bar should be eye-rolled or belittled, but if you’re in the industry, you should hold yourself to a higher standard than civilians. Here are some of the most annoying things bartenders do to one another, trying to show off how in-the-know they are. I state these in full knowledge that I may have perpetrated any number of them over the past five years.  Continue reading

Pre-Tales Prep Agreements

Prep List for Tales

  • Milk Thistle extract for liver function
  • Turmeric extract for inflammation
  • Liquid B-complex for energy and clarity
  • Coconut water x4 for electrolytes, in theory, but really just because one likes it.
  • Bottled cold brew with Peruvian superfood maca
  • Melatonin, for use in the absence of cannabinoids, which even in liquid high-CBD medical form one is too sensible to try to fly into the South with
  • Energy bars to ward off hangry travel tantrums
  • Sandals for hot weather running around
  • Wad-able cardigan for conference rooms chilled to meat locker temps
  • Extra strength natural deodorant mini to carry around
  • Large “bite-and-suck” camelback bottle aka “the water boob” for constant hydration
  • Large granny purse for carrying cardigan and water boob
  • More than week’s worth of outfits for inevitable sweat-throughs
  • Courage

Agreement between partners, Tuan and Hope

Thankfully, I’m not in this alone. I’m here with my partner in life and in journalism, photographer Tuan Lee. He’s taking the photos and doing what he does best, spreading the word on his enthusiasms to everyone who will listen. It is dangerous, however, to travel with a loved one to a bacchanalia. No, not for nefarious reasons. Because nobody likes that drunk arguing at the bar. Here’s how we are going to keep the peace and our sanity. 

  • Utilize spit buckets in all tasting rooms. Really.
  • Share sample cocktails at industry pairing events.
  • One-and-done policy at evening events. Soda water for lengthy networking.
  • No drinking in the hotel room.
  • Use hotel gym every morning even if feeling awful
  • No turning stress and liver fatigue into quarrels
  • Maintain a united front. If partner appears neglectful, it is because they are drowning. Go rescue them.
  • Stay away from bad influences, those industry lifers who appear to be operating just fine with a low-level hangover going 24 hours a day. These people will pressure one to over-imbibe with them, then be right back up and at ‘em while one is buried in bedclothes praying for the merciful hand of death the following morning.
  • Eat. and eat and eat.
  • Have fun.

Two Random Things and a Drink Recipe

Most of the media output here on the webs makes me want to put my face in a pillow and wail. So here are some things that soothe me, here in the age of anger.

Podcasts of smart/funny women talking.
There are differing opinions on how to subdivide podcast genres, but I like to think of them in two major groups: the people talking kind–which includes interview, monologue, and co-hosted shows a la WTF, Bill Burr’s podcast, and For Colored Nerds, respectively, and the narrative kind, like NPR’s empire of podcast/radio shows. I separate these by their use of sound effects and different storytelling techniques. I usually gravitate toward the narrative kinds, but lately a couple of talkies have me hooked. Specifically: Call Your Girlfriend and Los Feliz, the Podcast. There’s something entirely edifying about listening to smart and funny women talking together. That is all.

 

David Chang coming to LA!
We’re ready, booboo.  I know this isn’t going to happen, but I have a fantasy of him opening up shop in Far East Plaza down the aisle from BaoHaus and Chego! and Howlin’ Ray’s so he and Eddie and Roy and Johnny Ray can just bro out at a picnic table sometimes. Or that this would be a sitcom. Also I wish there were some lady chefs there, now that I’m writing this.

For summertime, try this drink I made up:

Ruby Jane
3 ripe strawberries
1 pinch cilantro
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz sugar or agave syrup
2 oz aged cachaça
2 dashes rhubarb bitters

I named it after my niece. She’s bright, sweet, and funky, too. Muddle, shake and dump into a bucket glass and drink it.

Rhubarb bitters are more versatile than you might imagine. They have a nice halfway flavor between fruity and vegetal/herbal. Those and celery bitters are dark horses. Celery bitters can surprisingly liven up just about anything. It’s the msg of cocktail flavorings. Underrated and unjustly maligned.

Are you a person who hates cilantro, that most divisive of leaves? Try mint, I guess. Or make something else. We frown upon substitutions.

Rewatching Cheers as an adult who has since been to a bar

In honor of achieving my lifetime bartender win by serving a drink to Ted Danson, I thought I’d share some thoughts I’ve had about watching the epic, childhood-filling sitcom that launched him to stardom.

The show shuttered in 1993, and I clearly remember the frenzy leading up to the final few episodes, but the early years are hazy.

So I started again.

Continue reading

Lent

I’m giving up booze for lent. Rather, because I have a job that requires me to make and taste cocktails (recipe development and quality control–it’s real) and occasionally taste new booze that reps bring in, I’m giving up drinking whole drinks for my own enjoyment. Taking a break, just ’cause. Less of a total chemical break than a routine break–going to try to find some other activity on which to spend those nighttime hours. It feels important to change up the old routine now and again, and doing something to adjust my metabolism as winter slides into spring feels right.

Why now? Well, it’s somehow easier to explain to people that you’re taking some time off the sauce because of the 40 days and nights Jesus spent fasting in the desert, resisting temptation to make himself comfortable with his divine magic powers. Easier to say this than to say you just want to. Plus, it gives a solid time frame, and I always like a deadline.

If I really examine it, abstaining for lent feels appropriate for a more nebulous reason. A foggy sense of comfort located somewhere in my Catholic childhood. I haven’t been to mass outside of a wedding in probably 20 years (sorry Mom). I find it difficult to participate in a community that defends ingrained sexism and turns a blind eye to abuse to protect its own. I’ve always been bad at orthodoxy–any system that tells you not to question it immediately requires investigation. Not to mention the Catholic church hierarchy’s roots in the Roman imperial system, its role in various wars and genocides, etc. We all have our unsavory ethnic histories to contend with, some of us worse than others. The best we can do is keep our eyes open to history.

Still, as a kid, I loved my religion. Here’s what they don’t tell you when ex-Catholics talk about sadistic nuns and styrofoam-y communion wafers: the stories are magic. At eight, nine, ten years old, you’ve accepted that Santa Claus is a metaphor, that Narnia is fiction, that you’ll never meet a hobbit. But every Sunday a group of bona fide adults confirmed that once upon a time, an angel told a 14-year-old she was going to change the world. That a working class guy from a podunk town brought his friend back from the dead and told everyone that love was where it was at. And that in the ensuing centuries, saints miraculously survived mortal wounds, killed dragons (yes! dragons!), levitated and bilocated. We sang in a minor key about glory and honor and spoke invocations in unison. There were pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners. I was lucky enough to grow up in a parish with a very progressive priest, who allowed Altar Girls before Altar Girls were a thing and who loved the music of Godspell. Sometimes he would tell us to go outside and be grateful for the daffodils instead of listening to a long homily. The building itself was small, but ornate and full of fascinating statuary. It really brought that extra dimension of … whatever it was to our little town.

It wasn’t until I hit puberty and realized what the catechism’s teachings on gender and sexuality were REALLY saying that I fell out of love with it. The more I learned about the world, the less in touch the church felt. So I got confirmed, I sang in the folk group, but I did so in the spirit of obligatory participation. And pancake breakfasts.

I haven’t observed lent for years but now seems as good a time as any. As a kid I used to try every year to give up chocolate, a proposition that typically lasted about three days until I broke down in a pre-adolescent withdrawal rage worse than from nicotine. But I’m doing this, because I think ritual has meaning. I don’t know what that meaning is, but it does.

Like: How my best friend is Jewish, absolutely don’t-even-talk-to-me-about-Christmas Jewish, I’m-going-to-spend-these-holidays-with-the-family-I-can-only-sort-of-stand Jewish, because that is her culture. It’s her upbringing, an essential part of her identity. It is the fire she carries forward, and even the annoying rituals bring comfort. She has also been an Atheist for something like 20 years. There is no conflict. Maybe you don’t need a deity to have a religion.

I think it might be possible to be religious, but not spiritual.

It reminds me of how many wine sellers and growers talk about Biodynamic farming.  Some are true believers, others don’t swear by the power of the moon and the earth as a single organism, etc., but they know that if they follow the principles and rituals, plant on the right days, fertilize the right way, that their wines come out great.

As my non-believer doctor father told me once: even if it’s psychosomatic, it’s still working.