Here's the thing...
We are terribly alone right now. We are far away from our old friends, the people who helped us know who we are.
We watch documentaries on Netflix streaming. They all take place in NYC. This, maybe, isn't the best form of entertainment choice.
Our house in NJ is trying to destroy us for leaving it. Then there was that hurricane that stopped everything in the real estate market in the northeast. Acts of god are not welcome. We are doubtful and hopeful.
And with a mortgage. And rent. We are squeezed so hard it's making us squirm to catch our breath.
Two months after moving into our rental house, we finally hung two pictures on the wall. Both in the girls' room they share. One is a picture of flowers that I bought at the IKEA in Elizabeth, NJ. It matches the girls' lightshade. The other is a large swatch of fabric from the nursing cover Karen used when she breastfed the girls. For thirteen months. I put them up yesterday in their rooms, right before we loaded the kids in the minivan to go to the pumpkin patch. I stood alone in their bedroom, straightening the pictures. And I was transported back to our house up north which now sits empty. I could feel myself standing at the diaper changing station, looking at the flower picture over and over and over. With twins, so much time was spent looking at that picture. And I remembered my heart breaking a little when Karen cut the fabric of her nursing cover so she could fit it into the frame, only because I knew we were done with it forever, two little heads bobbing under that fabric, Karen tucking them close to her body when we were out in NYC, usually at Shake Shack in Madison Square Park.
To see these two picture, on walls that aren't ours, here in Atlanta. A little something snapped in my head. And instead of going to pick pumpkins, I thought we should pack up and go home. Home to NJ. Go put the pictures back where they belong. In that empty house that soon won't be ours. Hopefully. And not so hopefully.
But in spite of it all. Being poor. Being alone.
In spite of it all, we are happy.
I love my job. More than anything else I have done. I love the people I work with everyday. They eat the cake I make and do not question why I made it. They're just glad for the cake.
We have new friends, Tami and Broderick and Mir, who are taking such good care of us. And those old friends, those beautiful friends who helped us know who we are, still keep good tabs on us, making sure the Southerners treat us right. And they do.
Our friends at Big Summer Potluck gave us a bottle of gin before we left. The bottle of gin in that picture. Because of the people who gave it to us, that gin makes me think of friends and community.
So we decided to build a virtual community around a half-empty bottle of gin. And to share the fruits of our labors.
The fruits of our bitters.
Band of Bitters was named, through an exchange on Twitter, by the Atlantan (Atlantian? Atlanter? Dude?) Zachary D Smith. His off-the-cuff tweet captured this virtual community perfectly. Ragtag. More than a little disorganized. Full of heart and spirits. And our spirit-filled guru is new-dad Michael Dietsch, he of the fantastic site A Dash of Bitters.
I love bitters. A dash of them and your drink explodes with flavor, or gets a punch of depth that a cocktail couldn’t get on its own.
Bitters are like a wingman for your mouth, hooking you up with the gin (or booze) that you don’t really deserve. Except bitters know you better than you know yourself.
Bitters are the thing that fills up the empty space in your cocktail that you never knew was there.
Life is better with bitters.
Here’s the basic recipe for bitters: take a high-proof alcohol (80-100 proof) and add in some herbs and spices. Let them steep for a week or two. Or six. The alcohol pulls out the magic of the herbs and spices, concentrating them deeply. A drop of bitters is like a little bit of liquid that contains all the flavor of the world in it (that might be a tiny overstatement. I can’t be sure). There’s a recipe down below...
Here’s the community part of the whole thing...#bandofbitters is the hashtag we’re using on Twitter to trade small samples of bitters with each other. If we feel like it. If we don’t want to share, we won’t. But we will make bitters and trade recipes and play and learn.
There are no rules for Band of Bitters. No challenges. No prizes. No sponsors. Just play. That certainly assures a very short life for this community project. But that feels right. It’ll flicker out soon enough, but our lives will be fuller for it. And we’ll learn something new.
Or maybe getting tipsy will be a little more flavorful.
Either option seems OK to us.
To kick it off, we made lavender bitters. We’ve never had lavender bitters. It just popped into my head one day. I was sitting outside of Trader Joe’s in the minivan with two of the kids while Karen ran into the store with one of our girls. Penzeys spice store was on the other side of the parking lot. My mind started playing, popping around ideas like one of those lottery drawings with the numbered balls bouncing around. Up popped “lavender” in my mind. A quick Google search, and I found a recipe for lavender bitters. Into Penzeys I went with the kids.
Dried lavender. Some dried orange peel. A couple of cloves. Two slices of ginger. A little 100 proof vodka. Two weeks of steeping. A drizzle of golden syrup. Done.
It’s a deep crazy floral tincture (herbs in alcohol = a loose definition of a tincture). It’s like lavender’s really moody, complex cousin who sort of scares people at family reunions, with disturbing piercings and aggressive tattoos, like it’s all jacked up on raging anger for being featured in too many dried flower arrangements back in the late 1980s. “I’m a man, dammit, not an accent color in a heart-shaped grapevine wreath.” Lavender is unleashed here, and you’re never going to look at it the same way again. Lavender’s gonna kick your ass. In a good way.
What does it look like, these lavender bitters? Brown. It looks brown when it’s all done. We didn’t take a picture of it. It just looks brown. Think in your mind “brown.” OK, there’s your picture. Insert in the post here -->.
I drink gin straight. Karen does not. I added a drop into my gin. A single drop. And it changed everything. For the better.
To put it to a bigger test and include Karen, we adapted a recipe from Martha Stewart for plum gin cocktails. Two parts sugar to three parts water (1/2 cup sugar mixed with ¾ cup water), brought to a boil. Add in three sliced up plums and some ginger (a couple of slices. Whatever. Don’t overthink this). Turn off the heat. Refrigerate.
Drop two plum slices into a glass. In a shaker (leftover sippy cup work great here), add in some ice, two parts gin to one part plum syrup. One or two dashes of lavender bitters. Shake it. Strain into the serving glass where you slapped in the plum slices.
So that’s it. Except the community part of it. I gave some to a friend at work. Another bottle (a little medicine dropper bottle from The Container Store is perfect here) is going to Evan Kleiman at KCRW, host of Good Food. She’s getting in on the bitters making. And the last bottle is going to Janis Tester, who is sending me a bottle of her Keffir Lime bitters.
And so the Band of Bitters marches on. Staggers on. Happily together. If you want to join us, feel free to let us know what kind of bitters you're making. Do a little search on Google. You'll find plenty of recipes. Try something that sounds great. Or weird. Or both.
It’s good to be right where we are. In Atlanta. Right now. Happy.
Lavender Bitters (adapted from Blotto.com)
In a small glass or plastic container that has a tight-fitting lid, throw in everything except the syrup. Put the lid on the container and put it somewhere dark and cool. Let it hang out for a week. Open it. Stir. Look at how brown everything is now. The lavender looks like brown rice now. Cool. Put the lid back on and store for another week.
Place a fine-mesh strainer over a small bowl. Pour the lavender mixture into the strainer. Press the mixture with the back of a large metal spoon. Or use a spatula. You’re forcing out all of the bitter goodness from the mixture.
Discard the remnants of the lavender mixture.
Add the syrup to the bitters. Stir.
Pour the bitters into a tiny little bottle. One with a dropper helps.
Your life is magically better.
Plum Ginger Syrup (adapted from Martha Stewart)
Add sugar and water to a small saucepan. Heat over high heat. Bring to a boil. Add in sliced plums and the ginger. Turn off the heat. Refrigerate.