Friday, January 29, 2010

Where Have You Gone, Ted Hemenway?


104

Whiskey Cobbler

(Use large bar glass)

2 wine-glasses of whiskey.
1 tablespoonful of sugar.
2 or 3 slices of orange.

Fill the tumbler with ice, and shake well. Imbibe through a straw.

* * *


Don't leave - even if you don't like baseball, because this isn't about that, not really, but it has to start there, on a diamond in Modesto.

If you knew me, you'd know I like baseball. If you asked why, I'd credit my Dad. When we played catch with Tony - 'Wheels' to his friends and family from Hiawatha - he'd always tell his three boys that the further away he got from Carbon County, Utah, the closer he got to the Major Leagues. But playing catch with him? The pleasure of that? Even that time in sixth grade when he had me shagging flyballs at Woodrow Park - no one hit flies like my dad - even then, when the day ended with a dislocated elbow because I tried to throw the ball as far as he could hit? Those times with my dad, the baseball slapslapping into our gloves, did a lot to make me fall in love with the Game.  But there was another man who played a part, too.

Ted Hemenway.

One of your options - if you watched television in Modesto, in 1972 - was, if you were so inclined, to tune into Bingo With Ramona. I was inclined. Broadcast in black and white, I watched it and played it and one great afternoon, I made Bingo. Instead of calling it out, you had to call the station and read off your numbers. I thought I won the cash first prize. But someone dialed faster than my five-year-old fingers, and I had to make do with season tickets to the Modesto Reds.

Baseball tickets instead of money? carped my little self.

My parents, though, they knew better, and so from April through August, we traveled across town and watched a team on its way to winning the title that season.

The Reds were a Class A farm team for the St. Louis Cardinals, and that year they were great.  You wouldn’t have known how good they were going to be based on their ballpark. Del Webb Field was not state of the art. Bleacher seats, one concession stand. One drinking fountain near those concessions, its white enamel stained rust-red near the faucet. But that fountain would become more beautiful than the Trevi on the day I wandered, alone, under the bleachers. Wandered through the skinny crossbeams holding up the seats. Crushing peanut shells, looking for foul balls, instead discovering my first tossed away – but still lit – cigarette. Dragging on it – once, strong – sent me running for Del Webb’s beautiful, rusty fountain.

And sorry, I don't mean to dwell on Del Webb Field, because this is supposed to be about Ted. But the field was so important, and also the people we met there - what was the name of the vendor selling popcorn and crackerjacks, that man who always had his hair slicked back, fifties style? Those stands he stalked were like pews, and we his congregation.

To get to his stands, you walked past the Red's dugout, then up a few steps - the stands were to the left, third-base side. But that landing there? At the top of the steps? You could look right into the Red's dugout from that magic spot.

There was always a player sitting in the dugout, at the end nearest the magic spot. The same player every game. A pitcher named Hemenway.

Ted was a lanky righthander. About my dad's height. 6'2", maybe 6'3". But probably no more than 170 lbs. We went to so many games that year. The year George Wallace was shot. The year of Watergate.  Of the signing of the SALT treaty. The year McGovern chose Eagleton to be his running mate. The year Eagleton withdrew. That all happened during that great season for the Modesto Reds, with Ted Hemenway sitting at the end of the dugout, and me sitting on the other side of the chainlink fence separating us. Me yakking away to a real, live ballplayer. That real, live ballplayer listening.

I started to bring food to the games, food to share with Ted. Sunflower seeds. Oranges. Whatever was handy. And all that time, Ted paid attention, chatted back. Can you imagine? Taking the time to pass the time with a kid, not even six?

During the seventh inning stretch, they'd roll out this target to the mound - plywood, with a catcher painted on it, a hole cut through the plywood where his mitt would be. They'd call numbers - from the programs - and if your number was called, you got the chance to throw from home plate up at that painted catcher. My dad got called once. So close - but his attempt ricocheted off the rim of the hole.

Baseball programs.  My mom kept score in those.  Does anyone keep score these days?
Through all that - the keeping score, the wins and losses - Ted talked to me about Baseball. About how hard the Game was. How great. His worry that he didn't have the stuff to make it to the Bigs in St. Louis. But who cared? I had his ear, he had mine. I even had the nerve to invite Ted to my birthday, right in the middle of the season.

And Ted said yes.

Picture asking a Baseball Player to your house, when you're turning six, and having the Player accept. Imagine that Player coming, and enjoying a meal cooked by your mom. Chicken and pilafi. Meatballs. If you're lucky, you'll get to taste my mom's meatballs someday.

Ted gave me his cap, for a present. Not a new one - his own. He had all his teammates sign it. Over the years, their signatures have faded - but not the HEMENWAY. Printed on the underside of the bill, all caps, black sharpie against green. His sweat staining that green with a salty wave of white.

I love that hat.

And I love baseball, for a lot of reasons. Because it's where I went with my family when I was a kid, traveling in our station wagon to watch Mays and McCovey.  Foster and Kingman.  Marichal and Bonds.  Me and my brothers in the back of our Chevy wagon on the way to San Francisco to watch those guys play, pointing at other kids in other cars when we'd slow down at the San Mateo bridge - they waving their Dodger caps, dreaded blue, we waving Giant black right back. The three of us trying to be the first to spot Candlestick as we headed up 101. George always winning, Dean not caring, me getting mad.

So I love baseball for that, and for how great it sounds on the radio.  And because a baseball player talked to me when I was five, and then six.

What do you think persuaded a man talk to a boy? Why do you think he took the time to answer my questions? To come to my house? I think about Ted a lot. Think about the friendship he shared with me during that season. I keep coming back to the fact that Ted Hemenway was one of the good ones. One of those people you meet, if you're lucky, who impacts your life. Who leaves an impression. Footprints on my beach and all that.

This all came back, in a rush, because I was in Modesto last weekend. My godson was getting married. The rehearsal dinner was at the SOS Club - the Sportsmen of Stanislaus. And Del Webb Field's been demolished, but it was replaced by John Thurman Field, and it's where it's always been, right by the SOS. I hadn't been by that way in years. And all those memories came back. I remembered Ted, and told our story that night at dinner while we drank good, homemade wine.

When I got home, I decided to see if I could track Ted down. Why hadn't I done that before?

Baseball's beautiful because there are stats for everything and everyone - even a minor leaguer who played his first game for the Cardinals farm system when he was 17. I found out Ted was born in August of 1950. Which means he was only 21 that spring and summer. Somehow I always thought Ted was older. That meant Ted would be 59. Not old, not old at all.

Would be. Except.

Ted Russell Hemenway died last February. He was 58. Services were held for him on the 16th of that month at St. Peters Episcopal Church, in Ladue, Missouri. I wish I had tried to find Ted Hemenway earlier. I wish I had the opportunity to say thanks. To ask him some more questions, to hear his answers. To let him know that I treasure the time we spent on the steps of a field that now exists, like him, only in memory.

*   *   *

Some of Ted's friends set up a Memorial Fund. In their words:

"Throughout Ted’s life, he constantly gave more than he took, with countless examples of Ted volunteering to help others when nobody else would.

"With Ted’s sudden passing on February 12th, some of the family’s friends now believe it is time to return the favor and give back to Ted by establishing this foundation.

"This Fund will help pay for the remaining educational costs for Ted's children during this difficult time.  If you would like to support the Hemenway family, please click on the "Donate" button below and you can use Paypal to donate online.  If you would prefer to write a check, the mailing information is listed below.  This foundation’s goal is to raise over $25,000.  Every contribution, whether large or small, will make a difference.


"If you would prefer to write a check, please make it payable to and send it to: Ted Hemenway Memorial Fund, 10130 Bauer Road, St. Louis, MO 63128.

"Thank you – Friends of Ted and the Hemenway family."

*   *   *

I'll be making a donation - if you could, too, I'm sure his children would appreciate it.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe





When I look up from the grave of Edgar Allan Poe, I see a street sign, “The Poe House,” with an arrow thataway. I actually didn’t know that Poe’s house still stood. I knew he was buried in Baltimore; that’s all I knew about Baltimore, really.  But his house? That was news.

I tighten my laces and walk, thataway, leaving behind Poe’s quiet gravesite in the grounds of Westminster Church - the church all brick, bloodred and gothic - but taking with me his collected works and the flowers I had planned to leave on the grave.

Roses, they have to be roses.

At the corner of Fayette and MLK, horns blare and a Baltimore cop directs traffic. I call out, “Is the Poe House this way?” and he calls back, after waving an Audi on by, “Not your kinda neighborhood.”

It’s a Saturday in May. The little eagle on his badge glints carefree in the sun. I couldn’t ask for a better day, so this traffic-cop isn’t going to prevent my pilgrimage to Poe’s house. I mean, we’re talking about Poe. Edgar Allan. “Do I keep going straight?” I ask, and again he says, “Not your kinda neighborhood.” I think he’s looking at me, but it’s hard to tell because of his mirrored shades. So I just keep looking at him until finally he says, “Yes, that way.”

The surroundings change, fast. The further I walk, the more abandoned buildings I pass. An apartment row teeters, ready to fall like the House of Usher.  Apartment #13 is boarded up, and stenciled words warn, “No Loitering. No Trespassing. If Animal Is Trapped Inside Call 396-6286.”

Then this guy approaches, this guy with holes in the toes of his shoes. About the time he notices the flowers in my hand, I notice his eye. Like the old man’s eye in the “Tell-Tale Heart,” it’s clouded, grey. When he asks if I can help him out, I reach for the change jingling in my coat pocket, leftside. So then he wonders if I have any smokes. Yes I do. Coat pocket, rightside. I don’t smoke, not really, but if someone asks, I like to be able to oblige. “Marlboro Reds!” he says, all excited. I flick open my Zippo, light the Red, and he puffs, happy.

“I’m searching for the Poe house. Any idea where it is?”

He looks at me with his good eye. And looks at the houses all around, the one there with a windowpane, spiderwebbed with cracks, another with a door that used to be bright green.  “Shoot,” he says, “you can take your pick.  All the houses around here are po’ houses.”

I hold it for a second before I laugh. And then he laughs, both of us just laughing on a beautiful Baltimore afternoon. After I thank him for his time, he puffs again and says, “God bless you, my man, and good luck.”

At Fayette and Schroeder, another “Poe” sign with another teasing arrow. As I search Schroeder, I pass this family - mom, grandmom, and two little ones - sitting on a stoop, in the shade, sipping lemonade. The mom says to me, “You looking for the Poe House?” When I nod, she hoots and the grandmom hoots. “I told you,” she says. “The only reason for a white boy to be in this neighborhood,” and mom and grandmom clink lemonade glasses, “is that Poe House.”

The kids are smiling, too, and the younger one? His smile would stop a truck. He sparks that smile and the entire block shines. His mom squeezes his shoulder. “It’s about time we were getting home,” she says to him.  Then to me, “We pass that way. C’mon.”

The boy’s sister stands taller than he does, and she sports a pretty dress with yellow daises. Although it’s Saturday, the dress is looking like her Sunday best - all crisp and ironed. So starched daisies lead the way. And the Poe House is down the street but then you turn left and it’s over on the other side, on Amity Street, and I would never have found it so I say, “Thanks,” and daisies wave and a smile sparks and the mom says, “Take care.”

There it is. The Poe House. Not gothic at all, not like the church where he’s buried, the church where for nearly 60 years a Mystery Visitor in the darkdark of night left roses and a bottle half-full of cognac on Poe’s grave, leaving the gifts to toast the day of Poe’s birth – January 19th.

Poe’s house. Just a little brick house with a little brick chimney.

Poe’s house. Home to the man I read and reread. Too many times when I was too little, probably. Poe who invented the mystery story. Poe whose poems still tintinnabulate through my head.

Poe’s house. And in front of that little brick house three boys play like my brothers and I used to. Three boys, climbing the lightpost outside a simple house on a plain street. I look at the kids as they scramble around; I think about Poe and his words. Just whiling away some time on a Saturday afternoon. One of the boys - almost lost inside a Baltimore Ravens t-shirt - laughs loud and so I laugh, too. Then I lay three roses on the steps, touch red brick, knock on the white door and go.

Not my kinda neighborhood, indeed.


***

Addendum #1, January 19th, 2010:

This was written years ago when I visited Baltimore for the wedding of my godbrother

Nevermore, quoth the raven.  Today there was silence in Baltimore.

I liked the tradition, its mystery - so as not to forget, I'll raise a glass of cognac to Poe tonight, and if you'll join me, I'd appreciate it.


***

Addendum #2, January 19th, 2011:


Now, for the second year in a row, the Mystery Visitor has not appeared.  There were impostors early this morning.  One man arrived in a white, stretch limo - hardly the Visitor who, for 60 years, under cover of darkness, dressed all in black, would pay his respects in a manner as unostentatious as possible.

Poe is Dead.  Long live Poe.


*  *  *

From Jerry Thomas'  Bartenders Guide:

213

Brandy Straight

(Use small bar glass)

In serving this drink you simply put a piece of ice in a tumbler, and hand to your customer, with the bottle of brandy.  This is very safe for a steady drink, but though a straight beverage, it is often used on a bender.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Daddy Days


16

VANILLA PUNCH

Use large bar glass

One tablespoon of sugar
One Wineglass of brandy
The juice of one-quarter of a lemon

Fill the tumbler with shaved ice, shake well, ornament with one or two slices of lemon, and flavor with a few drops of vanilla extract.

This is a delicious drink, and should be imbibed through a glass tube or straw.

*  *  *

Friday is Daddy Day, which means I've got my daughters until Karen comes home from work and we're back deploying a two-on-two formation.  I love Daddy Days because I get to be the focus.  I realize that when Karen's around, she's #1.  There's nothing easier to keep an ego in check than to have a two-year-old burst out crying when she sees that it's you entering her bedroom in the dark of morning and not the favored parent.

Or when you say, "Ok, kids, I've got to go to work," and they respond, quick and easy, "Close the door behind you."

It's like when, more than five years ago now - our oldest was still a newborn.  Karen asked me one of those questions.  You know the kind.  It's not like you're being tested, but you are, and it's not like anything hinges on the answer, but lots does.  So Karen's holding our daughter, and she looks up all kind of misty-eyed - new moms can do this look really well - and Karen asks, as she looks back down at our slumbering daughter, all wrapped in pink, "Do you love her more than you love me?"

I thought my answer was ok, especially since the question came out of the blue, or the pink, I guess - and I answered that my love for our daughter was a different kind of love than what I felt for her, and so it wasn't possible to really compare them.

Karen laughed and said "Really?  Because I love Elizabeth more than you."

And yes, yes, there was laughter in Karen's voice.  But truth, too.  My girls, all my girls, have something special going on.  I get that, and it's ok.  To hear my daughters chant "Mommy's home, Mommy's home," as Karen walks into the house after her workday, to hear the girls yell out "Mommy rocks" after Karen comes up with some delightful project to get our daughters happy and occupied - can you say biscuits cut out with our Christmas cookie-cutters? - makes playing second fiddle sound terrific.

After all, Karen has to deal with having three Tauruses in her house, all against her lonely Capricorn, so I've got that.

Anyway, Daddy Days are great, with Music Class and walks to count cats and detours to the bagel shop - but they can be tiring.  People who raise kids by themselves, without a partner?  I have no idea how they do that.  If a Daddy Day turns out to be long, and after almost six years, sure, we've had some long ones, but if that happens - just the knowledge that Karen is going to be coming through that door at some point, that's often all the support I need.

That and the fact that a good, stiff belt may follow soon after.

This last Daddy Day was a good one.  Our youngest got to watch the painters outside for long stretches.  "Pepito.  Pepito.  Over here," she'd call, trying to get the attention of one of the men outside.  And then big fun was had at the Nob Hill picking up sandwiches for the guys, the lady in the deli asking if she could have my daughter's pink, fluffy coat.

But then the other aspect of the day was trying to figure out how to use the lemons that Maria had given us, winter lemons fresh from her tree.  The Professor answered the question, with Recipe 16, above.  The only problem was that while I had the lemons waiting to be squeezed, I didn't have brandy.

Ah well, make do with what you have, yes?  And since I'm Greek, I had plenty of Metaxa.  Metaxa would be a little sweeter than brandy, but easy enough to cut down a bit on the sugar.  I also was feeling lazy, so I didn't shake it all with ice, I just served it over.

The Professor really has it going on.  This drink is indeed delicious.  I'm not very good at describing wine with the terms that come easy to oenophiles - oak and leather and chocolate and cherry - but when you add sugar to lemon to Metaxa and drop in some vanilla, hey, even I can identify what I'm tasting.

So I mixed that up, took a sip, marveled at the meld of flavors, and placed the drink on the coaster from the set that my good friend Jenn bought me years ago.  I have seven coasters to choose from - the Whiskey Sour one is broken or lost - but I always use the Side Car coaster.  And drinks taste better in crystal, they just do, ok?  So I placed my Vanilla Punch, cold in crystal, on Jenn's coaster, savored the flavors - the lemon chasing the Metaxa chasing the sugar, with vanilla slipping in and out.

Thanks, Professor.  A fine end to a Daddy Day.


ps.  Jenn's coasters come with the recipes:

JENN'S SIDE CAR
3/4 oz. brandy
1/2 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. cointreau

shake with cracked ice
strain into glass rimmed with coarse granulated sugar

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hunting for Jerry Thomas' Bar-Tenders Guide


5

SCOTCH WHISKY PUNCH

Steep the thin yellow shavings of lemon peel in the whisky, which should be of the best quality; the sugar should be dissolved in boiling water.  As it requires genius to make whisky punch, it would be impertinent to give proportions.

*  *  *

We began this endeavor, you and I, after grabbing a copy of Jerry Thomas' book from my shelf.  Do you remember the book?  I know there's been some drinking between now and then, but really, it has just been a few days.

Still foggy?

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
 
To refresh.  Professor Jerry Thomas was a colossus of the 19th Century, striding behind and presiding over the most famous bars in the U. S. of A.  Today's slow-fooders would appreciate the Professor because he was interested in creating drinks using only the freshest, only the best ingredients.  And local was always better.  So he was a giant, ahead of his time, grew wealthy behind his bars, attended to Kings - but his concoctions still would be lost to us except for one amazing thing - the Professor wrote it all down.  And then in 1862 it was published.  The first bartending guide in the United States.  I have a facsimile of the book, reprinted a few years ago.  It's just brill - copied word for word as if by a monk transcribing a gospel.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.
 
Such a splendid trove of treasures.  I mean, check out Recipe #5, above.  The Professor was fond of punches, he was, so he includes the Scotch Whisky Punch - and while he lists the wonderfully spare ingredients, he has the cheek to not list the proportions.  If you didn't have the genius to figure it out, woe was you.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on."
 
But then I think, 1862?  What was the Professor thinking, devoting a book to the devil's drink, in all it's forms?  Weren't there other issues to focus on in '62?  Like our Civil War?

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
 
Of course, the Professor was in New York during the war years.  That meant Tammany Hall, with its Overlord, the corpulent Tweed.  We flatter ourselves with our righteous pillorying of the Madoff's of our time, as if their corruption was somehow novel and our indignation somehow exalting.  But there was Ponzi before him, and Tweed before them both, and Tweed's thievery wasn't even disguised.  There were no schemes involved, just good old fashioned American theft.

Whoops, sorry, little help?  Lend me your hand?  Fell off my soapbox.

*dustdust*  Ok, back now.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
 
So yes, it was 1862 when the Professor's book was published, just a few months after Julia Ward Howe's Battle Hymn of the Republic was also seen for the first time on the cover of the Atlantic Monthly.  And while the bloodshed continued (we are rightfully horrified when three soldiers die by a roadside bomb in Iraq; picture then the horror of hearing that eleven thousand men died in the two-day Battle of Seven Pines; that battle led to Robert E. Lee assuming command of the Army of Northern Virginny during June, the same month the Professor's book was first advertised in Harper's Weekly) so while blood continued to be splashed over newspapers, maybe The Bar-Tenders Guide was the tonic the country needed to get them through parts of that hot summer.  More battles would be waged.  Years more.  Half a million lives lost.  Maybe...

...maybe the Professor's fortunes, linked so strongly to that little book, maybe they rose only because it was something so superfluous.  A celebration of the American cocktail?  Really?  But another American war rages while a pretty bauble like Avatar reaps rewards all out of proportion to its worth.  And while we are fortunate enough to still have the option to buy the Atlantic or Harper's, it's instead People and Us Weekly that are purchased more frequently.

Lord, how much longer do you think we'll be able to buy the Atlantic?  Or Harper's?

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.
 
*stumble ouch*

*dustdust*

Sorry, soapbox again.

*dust*

Really, all I meant to say was, wow, what a cool little book.  And also, well, here's a little something I know you know about me.  My book problem.  And it's not so little.  When a book calls, it's impossible for me to turn away.  So when we grabbed the Professor's book from my shelf, you commented on what a pretty copy it was.  And it is.  Hesperus, in London, did a fine job.  And at only £9.99, a bargain.  But still.  It's a copy, and you know how I feel about copies.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.
 
I don't know why I need first editions, but I do.  Just like you need that thing.  You remember, you were talking about it again just a month ago - but I didn't understand.  Couldn't get the attraction.  You remember, right?  You can feel the allure right now.  Just bringing it to mind makes you realize how much you want it.  To own it.  That thing you desire - whatever your thing happens to be.  Mine's books -you know that.

What you don't know is this - New Year's Day, I found one for sale online.  A stunning edition of the Professor's book.  Published in 1887, two years after he died, it was the last updated edition of his book ever produced.  Such a glorious little beauty.  So I bid on the book.  And for a heartbeat, I had the high hand.  But just for that moment.  So I bid again.  And again.  Each time, with the auction's end coming ever closer, I could feel the thin volume in my fingers.  Could see it in yours.  Imagined the highs we could reach, you and I, if we held an original of the Professor's book.  Bid, damnit, bid again.

And we did, and we did, but in the end - we lost.  The quarry escaped.  Jerry Thomas' Bar-Tenders Guide, published by Dick and Fitzgerald, sold for $307.88.

We should have bid in London.  £190.46?  We could have offered that.  Doesn't sound so dire in pounds.

So anyway.  That's really what I wanted to tell you.  That I caught sight of the Guide on the very day after we agreed to go on this journey together with the Guide as our guide.  I don't believe in coincidences, and I know you don't, either.  And yet - it eluded us.  Such is life.  We'll still make do, yes?  Make some more delectable drinks, even if we refer to a copy.

But, you know, eyes and ears open, ok?  That rustling sound you hear might be another original edition creeping along.

Barely.

Out.

Of.

Reach.

So let's get ready to pounce.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

For Erin, a Tom and Jerry


#134

TOM AND JERRY

Five pounds of sugar
Twelve eggs
One-half small glass of Jamaica rum
One-half teaspoon ground cloves
One and one-half teaspoon ground cinnamon
One-half teaspoon ground all-spice

Beat the whites of the eggs to a stiff froth, and the yolks until they are as thin as water, then mix together and add the spice and rum; thicken with sugar until the mixture attains the consistency of a light batter.

To deal out Tom and Jerry to customers:

Take a small bar glass, and to one tablespoon of the above mixture, add one wineglass of brandy, and fill the glass with boiling water; grate a little nutmeg on top.

(A teaspoon of cream of tartar, or about as much carbonate of soda as you can get on a dime, will prevent the sugar from settling to the bottom of the mixture.)

* * *

My New Year's Eve did not include a Tom and Jerry, but a good bartender always takes requests - and I had a request for the Professor's version of this drink.  Happy to oblige.

By the way, if you ever see a mug in an antique store emblazoned Tom and Jerry, it wasn't intended to advertise the cartoon cat and mouse - it was meant to hold this lovely winter drink. Try substituting bourbon for the brandy and hot milk instead of boiling water.


New Year's Eve for me did include margaritas, with the limes squeezed the night before by Harry, our host. I usually don't go in for tequila drinks, but Harry has a wonderful hand, and he casually omitted the salt on the rim (at my request) then finished it off with a dash of Grand Marnier. Inspired. The liqueur really smoothed out the drink, and I won't have another margarita without this splash.

Then we rang in the New Year when it was Midnight in Manhattan, meaning we drank and kissed at 9pm our time, allowing us to walk home under a beautiful blue moon and get the kids in bed by 10 (home being only a block away). And then we tried hard to stay up till 12.

God, we're getting old.

Our staying up was helped by a call from Athens - my Theo Niko wishing us hronia polla. It was after 8am his time and he probably hadn't hit the sheets yet. But while he's got 30 years on me, he can stay up as late as he wants and show no ill effects.

That's the magic of Greece.

More good news? The sounds of east-Oakland gunshots didn't ring across the water as they have done for the ghosts of many New Year's past. And then the neighbor's kids happily took up the pot-banging tradition handed to them by Karen and me. They weren't inclined to do the bangbang in the driveway of the neighbor who thinks I'm a jerk - THAT'S another story - but they did provide a happy clamor and clangor early on that Friday morning.  I mentioned that there was a second party, the Fondue Shindig?  These kids are from that house, so I moseyed on inside after them.  John didn't even blink, just disappeared into his kitchen and reappeared with a shot of some lovely 12-year-old scotch.  Happy New Year, indeed.

Tomorrow's Monday, which means that 10 is really here. It's started off tasty and smooth - let's keep it that way.