Shrubbery

I’m a big fan of shrubs. Not the kind you purchase at the Garden Center, plant in the ground, and prune on occasion. I’ve never been much of a gardener at all, really. I like a pretty flower, relish the taste of a freshly plucked tomato, and it is nice to be able to pick fresh basil, rosemary, or sage at a moment’s notice. But I haven’t the patience for planting flowers, and I’ve tried every which way to grow a tomato in the middle of our woods, to no avail. There are usually some fresh herbs somewhere in the yard, but that is all due to my husband’s dedication, not mine.

So yes, I am very interested in shrubs. But shrubs of a different sort:
shrub2  – SHrəb/  noun

  1. a drink made of sweetened fruit juice and liquor, typically rum or brandy.
  2. NORTH AMERICAN
    a slightly acid cordial made from fruit juice and water.
early 18th century: from Arabic šurbšarāb, from šariba ‘to drink’; compare with sherbet and syrup.

There is a great book on the subject of shrubs, as well as many delightful recipes, titled Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times by Michael Dietsch. I began my deep dive into shrub making with this book and I continue to refer to it all the time when considering a new flavor combination, a particular fruit, or just for inspiration. If you have a real interest in making some of your own shrubs, I highly encourage you to start with this book.

shrubsLemon-lime (made with Turbinado sugar), Blueberry, Watermelon-Lime, Cucumber, Pink Grapefruit

The shrubs I make consist of a fruit and/or occasionally a vegetable, a sweetener, and vinegar. I’m a big fan of using what’s in season, so this time of year I lean towards berries. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries are pretty easy to come by, but there is no reason why you couldn’t try huckleberries or even gooseberries, if you have a source.

My general rule is for every 2 cups of berries, I use 3/4 cup of sugar, and 1/2-3/4 cup of vinegar, but these proportions may change on the sweetness of the berries, the final sweetness desired, and/or the level of acid you desire in your shrub. In other words, experimentation is key. It’s also important to remember that the flavor of the shrub right after mixing will be different than the flavor 5 days later. The vinegar will have co-mingled with the sweet fruit syrup that much longer, making the vinegar less intense and the flavor that much more balanced.


If you’re interested in making a basic berry shrub, start with 2 cups of berries and 3/4 cup of sugar.* Mix the berries with the sugar, stirring well to combine. Cover and place in the refrigerator for anywhere from 24-48 hours, being sure to stir once or twice a day. When you have a nice syrup, place the berry and sugar mixture into a fine mesh sieve over a large bowl (I use an 8-cup glass measuring cup) and strain, pressing down on the berries to make sure you release as much of the juice as possible.

Now. At this point, you could easily throw all your berry bits and pieces into the compost and be done with it. But you might consider freezing it, seeds and all, and keep it for smoothies.

After you have your strained, sweetened berry juice, add your vinegar. You could try a raspberry, white, or red wine vinegar, or a champagne vinegar, or even just apple cider vinegar. Or combine them and see what happens. Start with 1/2 cup, give it a taste, and if you think you might like more, add more, but I would do it gradually, no more than about 1/4 cup at a time. I generally use around the same amount of vinegar as the amount of sugar, but not all the time. (I made a strawberry shrub with balsamic vinegar once and I did not enjoy it as a drink, but it made a pretty decent salad dressing!)

*The sugar you use could be white, turbinado, raw, pure cane, etc. Keep in mind, darker sugar will not only affect the flavor a bit, but also the color. I experimented once with some calorie free all natural sweetener but had little success. It never really dissolved into the syrup. 

Once you have everything mixed together, put it all in a jar or bottle(s) and store in the refrigerator. After anywhere from 3-5 days (the longer the better, but I’m horribly impatient), you have a finished shrub. Mix about 1.5 oz with club soda for a refreshing, non-alcoholic drink. Or, add an alcohol of your choosing, maybe a squeeze of lime, throw in the shrub and club soda and you have a great cocktail.

firstMy first raspberry shrub. I mixed about 2oz of gin, 1.5 oz of shrub, a healthy splash of Domaine de Canton, and topped with club soda. Delicious.

Cheers!

 

Tennessee

My grandparents used to live in Dover, TN, on the Cumberland River*. It seemed to be the place my grandfather, Delmar Frazier, felt the most grounded by his roots.

Delmar spent many years traveling to post offices and county clerk offices in North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas, and who knows where else, to trace his ancestry by tracking down birth certificates and death records. I’m betting he had a good sense of it before he even started, as stories had been handed down through generations. But my grandfather, being a man desirous of facts and evidence, made the physical journeys to confirm and clarify the roots of his lineage. (This was long before the days of the internet and online information). He traced our family back to Samuel Frazier, who was of Scotch descent and one of the original signers of Tennessee’s constitution. Samuel’s family had settled in North Carolina where he met Rebecca Julian, “a Huguenot of great beauty and culture,” from Guilford County, N.C. Samuel and Rebecca settled in the foothills of the NC Appalachians, in the “Old Stone House” . The area became known as the state of Franklin, which was short lived, and eventually became Eastern Tennessee.

FraziersblogDelmar Ray Frazier, Ava Strachota Frazier, and my Dad, Franklin T. Frazier

(The name Franklin Tennessee Frazier runs through a few generations of my family. My own father was given the name until he was taken to be baptized. Apparently, “Tennessee” was not considered a “Christian” name, so they changed it to Timothy for the ceremony and he has been known simply as Franklin T. Frazier ever since.)

Another interesting turn in our family tree involves Nathan Boone, the youngest son of a man you may have heard of, a pioneer by the name of Daniel Boone. Nathan had a daughter named Melcina. At the age of 20, Melcina married James Howard, who died four years later. They had two children.  At the age of 28, Melcina married again, this time to Franklin T. Frazier and they subsequently had six children, one of them given the name of Nathan Boone Frazier. Nathan Boone Frazier married Linnie May Furby and had ten children. Their eldest, Franklin T. Frazier was Delmar’s father, my great grandfather and after whom my own father was named.

Suffice it to say, my grandfather had strong feelings regarding his bloodline, was proud of the determination our ancestors had to forge ahead, not only geographically or in battle, but also in life. He felt a strong sense of place, particularly in Tennessee. My grandfather and I share the same birthday and always shared a strong, unspoken bond because of it. Whether it was due to our shared birthdate or not, we also share the same reverence for individuals who contributed to the blood running through our veins. My grandfather died many years ago, but I carry him and our entire bloodline with me wherever I go.

ancestry

I began to tell you of the location of my grandparents’ house with a completely different goal in mind, different than the telling of my roots. But that’s how things go sometimes – we head out in one direction, take what we think will be a small detour, and end up in an overgrown thicket, full of twists and turns. We do our best to get back on track, but occasionally, we find ourselves enamored with the new path, the new surroundings, so we linger. Today, I shall do just that. I shall fix myself a Whiskey Sour (one of my grandfather’s favorite drinks) and linger with my family, my roots, my blood. It IS Memorial Day weekend, after all. Seems appropriate.

*Post was edited on 6.1.18 to correct a poor memory. My grandparents lived in Dover (outside of Clarksville/Nashville) on the Cumberland River.


whiskey sour

I actually make my Whiskey Sour a bit different than tradition. I use a Lemon-Lime Shrub as my sweet AND sour, mix it with whiskey, throw in a cherry, and top it off with just a splash of club soda. The shrub is pretty intense, so it needs the soda to balance it off. It’s QUITE satisfactory on a hot Spring-but-feels-like-Summer day.

(Soon. Soon we will talk shrubs!)

Truth

You know the type. They’re rather quiet upon first meeting. You may even think them shy or rude. You might have a sense of the two-ton locker of life’s many lessons they carry upon their shoulders, and you do your best to avoid them. They walk around, brow furrowed, with an ever so slight rise to the corner of their mouth…a sneer or the beginning of a smile, but the cause will remain a secret, never shared. Not with a friend, a lover, a priest, or even you. Some secrets are only meant for one.

They have a copious vocabulary from which to choose to explain their myriad of ricocheting thoughts, but they rarely find a worthy audience. When they do finally speak, their unminced words fly swiftly and pierce the heart of their target. The ignorant or unprepared retreat to dark corners and lick their wounds while the occasional few, those of us with burdens and secrets all our own, may turn to face the archer and his bow and think, “YES. Someone else is paying attention.”


A guy I once found attractive asked me what I wanted out of life. He seemed rather disdainful of my life choices and was clearly trying to decide if I were worth pursuing. I thought about his question for a moment – a moment in which I weighed all the possibilities of a career, family, possessions, money – and quickly answered: “Truth.” The look of disapproval on his face was quite evident. I smiled at the revelation and walked away, knowing our relationship had ended before it had even begun. It was at that moment I realized: Not everyone pays attention.

The pointed comment or dismissive glance contain more truth than many are prepared for and are often overlooked. The arrow straight to the heart tends to misguide the best of intentions. And the shot of whiskey is a secret unto itself. Its truth can be shared, but only with you and you alone. All you need do is pay attention.

sip

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving On

 

marthaMom, @ 1972

My mother’s personal motto was “Get over it.” I seemingly never could.

When I was a young girl, I was occasionally overwhelmed with dramatic “it’s-the-end-of-the-world-my-life-is-over” sorrow from a broken heart, completely befuddled by the never apparent reason for my existence, or frustratingly disgruntled over more practical concerns, like the shape of my body or the crookedness of my smile.

I needed time to wallow in my despair and dream of the guy who would take me away from the mundanity of the suburbs….I needed time to think, to analyze, to try and figure out what the point of being good in algebra was if all that lie ahead were jobs and death. (Death! I mean, I was going to die one day!)…And, to complete the tragic teenage trilogy of heart, mind, and body, I even needed time to focus and figure out why I couldn’t make my butt fill out those jeans like so many other girls did or make my teeth miraculously retreat from their ever growing overbite. These things were clearly all of great importance; I wasn’t interested in “getting over” anything.

Try as I might to escape to my room and listen to college radio while blowing smoke rings out the window, my mother would eventually open the door, tell me to use an ashtray, and to get over whatever it was I was distracted by at the moment.

It took me until some time in my 30’s to realize she might have been onto something.

It makes good sense, really. One should use an ashtray when smoking, versus a Dixie cup filled with water. You tip that sucker over and you’ve got a big stinky mess on your carpet.

But the other thing, too. The getting over it. Worrying about something, fuming over a perceived slight, being angry at someone, focusing on a problem that would actually not BE a problem if you just quit focusing on it – things like that. More often than not, getting over it is exactly what’s needed. We need to move on or we get stuck. I’ve seen stuck. I don’t want any part of it.

Of course, I still like to sit with a concern or worry a bit, just a bit, now and again. And even though my ass never did grow into the perfect butt and my overbite gets worse every year, I really have learned to move on. I mean, we’re all gonna die one day! Seems as good a time as any to get over it.


A few years back, I turned my mother on to Bourbon Slush and it has definitely become one of her summertime favorites. It’s also one of my son’s favorites, although I omit the bourbon. He’s only at the beginning of his teenage angst…he’ll get over it too, I’m sure, but in the meantime, the booze is best kept for Mama.

bourbon slush_blog

There are many recipes for Bourbon Slush out there, with the consistent core ingredients of sweet tea, lemonade, orange juice, and bourbon. The ratios and quantities you use – well, that’s up to you. I always encourage experimentation. My general rule is “less sugar, more bourbon.” What I finally settled on is:

  • 2 cups of super strong tea. Something like Lipton. I use the family sized tea bags and put 2 of them in 2 cups of water and let it steep as long as possible.
  • Mix with 1 cup sugar when water is still warm and stir until sugar dissolves.
  • Add around 7 cups of water. Now you have your sweet tea…
  • Add 12 oz of lemonade concentrate and 6 oz of orange juice concentrate. Stir everything until melted and combined.
  • Add about 4 cups of bourbon and mix well. You could add less or maybe even a little more. But I think this amount let’s you know you’re drinking bourbon and still allows the mixture to freeze a bit. Too much, and it may never reach the slush stage. You’d probably end up with more of a slosh…

Put the mixture into large tupperware (or multiple smaller tupperware) and freeze overnight. It won’t ever freeze completely solid due to the bourbon, so just scrape it with a knife or fork to break it up, scoop it into a glass, and done. Slush. SO GOOD.

Lost and Found

The owner of the bookshop was known for his generosity. He provided support – emotional as well as financial – for more lost souls than I think even he realized. The schizophrenics, depressed, socially awkward, or those simply down on their luck – all were welcome in the door and were heard, actually listened to. Unstated requirements for employment were a sense of patience, a profound capability for empathy, and an interest in “other than.” All of us who worked there had a place in our hearts for the downtrodden, a love of books, and each with our own individual sense of social awkwardness.

My boss opened the letter, read it, and handed it to me. The author of the letter referred to the “cute girl behind the counter.” Someone had told him of my boss’s generosity and that we might be willing to send him some books, so he was writing to request some reading material to get him through his days in the county lock-up. As I was the ONLY girl behind the counter, the responsibility of filling the request fell to me.

The request was for some beat authors, Kerouac and the like, as well as some Richard Brautigan and Bukowski. Classic, I thought. A young man and his angst. I knew the angst all too well, as I was a big fan of the same authors at the time. I was still (and am STILL) on the fence about Bukowski. Some of his writings I connect with, but other times, he just comes off as a raging drunkard – which he was, of course, and is part of his appeal. He leaves me in that state of not knowing exactly HOW I feel about him, often enough that I don’t think I’ll ever shut the book on him altogether…but I digress.

I received the letter, gathered up some books, created a bill of sale (we were going to request payment, but rather nominal, to cover postage and our cost of the books), and packed them up and sent them on their way. I didn’t enclose any correspondence, other than the bill of sale and a simple note saying something like:

Here you go. Enjoy your books.
– The girl behind the counter

The letters continued to arrive at the bookstore, almost weekly, over the next few months. I had come to realize that our friend in jail remembered me from the bar where I worked as well. I began to have a vague recollection of who he was, a quiet sort, with a handsome face, that stood back and watched. The kind of guy that I generally didn’t pay too much mind to, other than to hand over a beer and take his cash.

He eventually asked me my name. I reluctantly told him, as I had grown fond of my nom de plume. I eventually ask how he landed in jail. He reluctantly told me. Apparently, he was upset with his girlfriend at the time (I don’t recall why), got very drunk, piled all her clothes in the driveway, and lit them on fire. She was none too pleased and called the cops.

And then, one day, he got out of jail and hitchhiked half way across the state to see me. We had a nice visit, walking and talking as if we’d known one another for years. He tried to find a job and hung around town for a couple of weeks and then…he was gone. He decided to follow his dream of becoming a writer, broke his probation, and headed West.

I haven’t heard from him since.


california whiskey_blog

Low Gap, a California whiskey gifted to me for my last birthday.

Dreamers may go to California, but the results of those dreams sometimes make their way back to us on the East Coast. A very light, easy, and extremely pleasant sip. No fires lit, no cops called. All is right and well.

Authenticity

My days selling used books were followed by nights slinging beer in a bar. My daylight hours wereI often found myself chuckling at the absurdity of days spent with people looking for answers followed by nights with people avoiding the questions. But it seemed to be exactly what I needed at the time.

While working in the bar, I didn’t take any shit. Granted, being surrounded by about 8 guys who have your back on any given night allows one to feel a bit brazen and self-assured. That being as it was, there were times when I was the one called upon to lead an asshole out the door. We had realized that a drunk is much less inclined to start a fight with a 5’4″ girl than a big guy working the door, even if she was wearing Dr. Marten’s and had a pack of Camel’s rolled up in her sleeve. It always gave me great pleasure to see the look in the guy’s eyes when I pushed my way through the crowd to tell him, “You. It’s time to go. You gotta GO. NOW.” As confused as they might be, they always left. Peacefully.

You see and learn a lot about human nature while standing behind a bar. Almost as much as you learn working in a used bookstore. Granted, the drunken, twenty-something and none-of-us-know-what-the-hell-we’re-doing kind of human nature is of a different sort than the nature of the tortured soul, depressed writer, struggling student, or ignored housewife who wanders the aisles of a bookstore…Or is it? You’d be surprised at how little the two populations overlapped, but when they did, I was grateful for the rare opportunity to serve in both capacities – as one who assisted on a quest for knowledge as well as provided the tools to momentarily forget what they already knew.

Ultimately, I felt much more of a connection with the answer seekers, be they a bit mad or unstable at times, than I did with the question avoiders. I had much more patience listening to the delusional ravings of a guy off his meds than to some tired ass line from a dude in a bar. They’re both exhausting, but the madman is at least being authentic.

Authenticity. I know it when I see it. I also know when it’s not there. An abundance can be found in both books and booze. You could also discover a complete lack therein. It all depends on your approach.


Straight up, no bullshit.

weller

 

 

Sunday on the Porch

I had just gotten off the train from Baltimore. I had spent the last three days discussing and sharing information on suicide, the philosophy of it, the psychology behind it, the social and cultural aspects of it. And while all of that was fascinating and enlightening in and of itself, the point is that I had just gotten off the train and was waiting at the old Amtrak station for my then-husband to pick me up. As I sat there on the curb, with the sun lowering in the evening sky, I experienced a moment that I never forgot. A moment I relive with each remembering. A moment which resonated with the thought: “This place. I KNOW this place.”

The trees across the street, the sounds of downtown in the distance, the smell of the dirt, the heat coming off the asphalt. I knew it. It was part of me. I felt as if I could get lost in the soil at my feet, that if I were to taste it I would be tasting a morsel of who I was. It was so visceral, the sensation that “I” was part of that moment, that place.

For many years, I had assumed “that place” was Raleigh, as I had lived there for most of my life and felt deeply attached to my hometown. Yet – and perhaps this is something we all come to know eventually – I now realize the place I connected with doesn’t have as much to do with where I was/am geographically as it does to where I AM. I could be walking on a dirt road in Chatham County, riding in a car in Sicily, sitting in an airport in Iceland, drinking and discussing dreams in a bar in Raleigh, or sitting on the porch with my dog. Come to find out, I felt the sense of connection just as profoundly in every one of these moments as I did at the train station. I’ve simply become more adept at paying attention, more attuned to the vibrations, the connections, and to the morsels of who and what I am.

Energy. Fire. Water.
Stardust, baby.

stardust


Today was a day spent on the porch, cleaning, purging, readying for a season of settin’ and sippin’. Which, of course, brings the raspberry shrub that’s been “resting” in my fridge since Thursday to mind. I know the flavors will have mingled together that much more over the next few days, but I’ve never been known for patience. Hence, we have a perfectly lovely Spring libation:

gin porch sipper

Gin Porch Sipper

  • 1.5-2 oz of gin (you could also easily make this with vodka or even tequila)
  • 1.5 oz of raspberry shrub
  • squeeze of fresh lime juice
  • 3 ice cubes, topped with club soda

I will go into details on making shrubs soon, but in the meantime, for those of you who are unaware, a “shrub” is a mixture of fruit, sugar, and vinegar. Delicious!!!!