I toyed with the idea titling this post, "Cold House, Warm Beer," and including a "recipe" for the proper way to drink warm cheap beer in an empty new apartment while taking stock of the state of one’s relationships come and gone and the prospects of the current new reality.
In spite of the melodramatic satisfaction that such a post might provide, I am choosing not to go that route; this blog was never intended to delve that deep into my personal psychological state, especially during times of existential despair. And depicting my outlook that way would be hyperbolic anyway.
However, this blog is not merely a collection of recipes. It does represent some amount of personal narrative and insight. As a result, it's impossible to scrub major life events from showing up here from time to time, for better or worse.
I began this project as a way to, among other things, capture the evolution of the life and home that Kim and I were trying to create. When this process started, we’d just moved into a new house together, and I wanted to document our creative endeavors as elements of the relationship roots we were trying to nurture.
Like the vast majority of relationships that have existed in the course in human history, that relationship reached a point where its roots were too shallow to support the collective weight of pressures and expectations that hung from its branches, and it toppled over.
Actually, pause for a moment. Let's change metaphors here. Forget that tree nonsense, and allow me to frame relationships as vacations from our otherwise solitary existences. This is more apropos because, like vacations, relationships are filled with new insights and nervous excitement, and they tend to end sooner than you’d hoped.
And vacations were at the forefront of my consciousness when the recipe featured in this particular post was concocted and documented many, many months ago. It was right around the one-year mark since Kim and I had taken our first big vacation: eight days in Hawaii.
In spite of the fact that I came down with a cold on day two (like I always do, which I suppose could be interpreted as yet more evidence of my tendency to subconsciously sabotage things, but let’s not open that can of worms…) we really enjoyed the hell out of that trip. We snorkeled with giant manta rays and sea turtles, and traversed the mouth of a volcano, and took a brutal and sweltering hike to the most peacefully secluded cove I’ve ever seen. I now joke that the cure for the vacation cold is sunshine, swimming, and afternoon Mai Tais.
We drank a lot of Mai Tais over the course of that tropical week. And since then, I’ve wanted to perfect a homemade Mai Tai, complete with homemade orgeat, and write about it here. But in the aftermath of a breakup, I’ve struggled with how to write about it. Figuring out how to frame this post as something that does the relationship experience justice, remaining fair but positive, was really important to me, and was the reason why it’s been months in the making.
So here goes nothing….
We take vacations for the same reason we earnestly enter relationships: to experience something meaningful or profound enough that it’s sure to imprint our memories indefinitely.
So now, with those memories in mind, in spite of the fact that vacations end, circumstances change, and we face uncertain new realities, I’d like to raise my mai tai glass metaphorically now, as I did literally then, and propose a toast. Here’s to traveling forward, in life and love, with sincerity and earnestness.
Classic Mai Tai with homemade orgeat syrup
There's a certain kind of purist who despises what the modern Mai Tai—the kind you sip next to a hotel pool—has become. They will decry it's dilution with saccharine tropical nectars, and I understand that point of view. But I will readily admit that if I'm sitting a bar on Waikiki, and I'm presented with some pineapple perversion that is mostly sugar with a hint of rum, I'm not going to care a whit. I'm going to drink it an order a second because paradise is simply unspoiled by the ignorance of cocktail purist tradition.
However, if I'm sitting in my backyard, and I'm the one preparing the cocktail, then yeah—I'm not going to screw around. I'm going straight to the Trader Vic's source for the incomparable original.
And that means the procurement of orgeat is a necessity. If you're unfamiliar (as I was until the relatively recent past), orgeat is an almond and orange blossom syrup that is one of the key ingredients in a proper Trader Vic's Mai Tai. It can be purchased commercially, though it seems that, often times, the commercial versions are all artificial flavoring in the vein of those syrups they use to make Italian sodas.
Fortunately, making it at home proved to be quite simple. Be warned though: unless you have a party (or have a Mai Tai problem), you may need to freeze a portion as I did because it will spoil.
Adapted from the Post Prohibition recipe found here.
- 7 oz almonds*
- 18 oz water
- 2 oz vodka
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
*I've seen some recipes that specify using raw almonds, others say blanched; some say skin on, others say no skins. I tried to split the difference and went half blanched and slivered, half whole and raw.
In a bowl cover almonds with water and allow to soak for 20 minutes. Strain and discard water.
Add the 18 oz of water and the 2 oz of vodka, allowing to soak over night.
With a food processor or hand blender, blend the almonds. You don't need to pulverize them into fine particles—just break them up into small pieces so they will readily release their oils.
Strain almonds through cheesecloth and a sieve and collect the water in a separate bowl. Squeeze the almonds in the cheesecloth to extract all the liquid.
Pour almond water into a sauce pan. Add sugar and slowly bring to a low boil on the stove until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Remove from heat, stir in orange blossom water, and allow to cool. Bottle in an air-tight container.
Trader Vic's Mai Tai
- 1 oz your favorite light rum*
- 1 oz your favorite dark rum
- 1 oz fresh lime juice
- 1/2 oz orgeat syrup
- 1/2 oz of orange curaçao**
*Look, here's probably another area where purists will have a fit. Trader Vic evidently just used a single type of rum: two ounces of 17-year old J. Wray & Nephew. That sounds great and all, but for those of us who aren't hoarding esoteric bottles of 17 year old spirits, let's just keep it simple and say one ounce light, one ounce dark, or two ounces of whatever you love most. Everybody happy?
**There also seems to be debate over this one, and different references to the Trader Vic Mai Tai produce different results. Whatever orange liqueur will do the trick, but using triple sec vs. curaçao will likely change the character of the final product somewhat. Might be worth it to buy a single serving bottle each of Cointreau and Grand Marnier or something more in the curaçao family and try with each to see your preference. Or just pick one you already know you like/have and stick with it. Everybody happy?
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into an ice filled glass (preferably crushed, but some of us gotta make due with plain old cubed—you'll be happy either way).
Garnish with lime wedge (and a slice of pineapple in a non-traditional attempt to pretend you're still in Hawaii).