Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lazy Summer Days

While all my favorite Northern blogs are finally experiencing the bounty of spring and blog posts abound on ramps, artichokes, fiddlehead ferns, etc, spring has long since come and gone in South Texas. For Easter I had such lofty ambitions of using the above ingredients to create light and delicious seasonal and locavore sides to compliment my Mom's annual leg of lamb, but it has proven a more difficult task than expected.

Because it's summer here. It may be April still but we're in full blown summer mode. It's in the mid 90's, I've shed all my jeans and long pants in favor of shorts and sundresses, and even the nonstop in me is having a hard time tearing myself off the couch. If only my parents had a porch, with a wicker rocking chair and if only I had made that split second decision to pack my adorable floppy straw hat,  I'd be happily lazying away the summer afternoon, chatting with my folks, making sun tea and of course, indulging in my Dad's perfected mint julep.
I have to hand it to the man. For a guy born and raised about in South America, with a mother (my wonderful, amazing, and frustrating in the most lovable way Grandmother) who had never even visited the states until she married my Yankee Grandpa, who was just a farm boy from Indiana with big dreams of traveling the world, my Dad has no ties to the "South." Even my Mom, while technically born in Virginia and with family from East Texas, was a navy brat living in all sorts of exotic locales like Cuba, Japan, California, so he didn't pick it up from her. And those in the Southern states can definitely argue that while Texas was on the "right" side of the Civil War, the deep South it certainly is not.

But hot, humid and sticky South Texas is the perfect climate. I remember as a child, before my parents had the bright idea to plant their own, my Dad having us run over to our neighbor Mrs. Bell to ask to "borrow" some of her mint (smart move because no one can turn down the request of a smiling and pig-tailed little girl). And she always complied of course, so afterwards we would hover around our father as he concocted this summertime grown up drink. Simple syrup made, the mint steeped in the bourbon and then muddled, the mixture combined and then poured over crushed ice. This is where Bourbon obsessions are born.

From Richard Barksdale Harwell's book The Mint Julep the process is described by Southerner General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Grandson (of course) of the Confederate General Buckner as a revered artistic creation.
"A Mint Julep is not the product of formula- it is a ceremony and must be performed by a gentleman possessing a true sense of the artistic, a deep reverence for the ingredients and a proper appreciation of the occasion. It is a rite that must not be trusted to a novice, a statistician nor a Yankee. It is a heritage of the Old South, an emblem of hospitality and a vehicle in which noble minds can travel together upon flowerstrewen paths of a happy and congenial thought."
So with that in mind, I'll try my best to lay out the recipe for my Dad's Mint Julep. Others may be different, some may disagree based on the sole fact that my family's pedigree doesn't trace back to some tragic Confederate general (though my Mom swears we're related to Stonewall Jackson) and we don't happen to reside in Bourbon country, or Virginia, or the true deep South. But it's a drink he understands, the gentleman's drink, to sip leisurely while gazing across the land. A drink for sitting still. A drink that washes away all worries and just lets you enjoy life in the moment, preferably on a porch on a beautiful blue sky day with your family surrounding you and not a care in the world.

"Texas" Mint Julep
(makes 1 Mint Julep)
5-6 healthy sized mint leaves
2 shots of Bourbon- don't use the good stuff, but don't go with low end either. Can be more or less depending on how strong you prefer
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 shot of water- just enough for sugar to dissolve
1. Let mint leaves in Bourbon and let soak for about an hour and then muddle. Meanwhile dissolve sugar in water to create a simple syrup. Take out muddled mint leaves, but reserve and pour simple syrup into Bourbon and pour those back and forth a few times between glasses.
2. Crush ice- almost until it has a slightly chunkier snow cone consistency. Place reserved muddled mint leaves in bottom of a julep cup or a tall glass and put crushed ice over. Add in the Bourbon-simple syrup mixture. Put a unmuddled mint leaf on top for decoration and enjoy. Also resist temptation to simply refill glass with Bourbon when done.

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