Put away the whiskey, cellar the heavy reds and prepare to lighten up the portable bar. Spring is here, and I have it on good authority that summer is bound to be close behind. As such, I’ve been thinking about warm weather cocktails of late. Well actually I’ve been thinking about them since I hoisted my first Singapore Sling in a dark bar in Shanghai all those years ago, but that’s a story for another day.
As I may have mentioned, I recently returned from a life enhancing two weeks on the Continent, specifically the usual highlights tour of Italy: Venice, Florence and Rome. Lest you think it was all Barolo to go, let me tell you that Mr. Slattern and I discovered some new and exciting ways to refresh the palate and calm the nerves at the end of a long day of sightseeing, culture-sucking and trying to make ourselves understood in pidgin Italian mixed with a random assortment of French and high school Spanish. For example:
Mi scusi Signore, mais est-ce que lei sa dove el mercado qui vend el vino, por favor?
Yes, we raised a few eyebrows, but as I have said, the Italians are uniformly among the loveliest, most welcoming people on the planet, and somehow or other we usually got where we needed to go. One thing we got very good at doing, however, was placing our order for a couple of Aperol spritzes at day’s end, and if I’m being honest, at lunchtime, too.
Not familiar with Aperol? Well neither were we, but I went right out and found a source the day we got back, and it’s been all orange slices and prosecco nirvana ever since. Just so you know, Aperol is a bitter orange aperitif, along the lines of Campari, but milder. In the classic Aperol spritz (pronounced shpritz), three parts of prosecco (sweet rather than dry is really best) is poured over ice and topped with one to two parts Aperol (depending on how bitter you like it) and a splash of seltzer water or club soda, whichever you have on hand. This last ingredient is not, strictly speaking necessary, but it does lend a certain bubbly lightness to the drink. I like to garnish with a slice of blood orange for the drama, but if all you’ve got is tangellos or navels in the fridge, they’ll do just fine. If you have nothing but an old bottle of maraschino cherries, that works, too.
The flavor is a delightful mix of sweet and sharp, and is perfect for a warm weather gathering when accompanied by little nibbly things of the sort Martha would probably have her slaves whip up in an afternoon. Because I enjoy a spritz or three before the party starts, I just put out a tray of olives, baguettes and cheeses (Ozzie) and let the spritz work it’s Venetian magic on even the stuffiest of gatherings.
Carbohydrate deprivation at the ragged edge of sanity.
It’s been two weeks since a barbecued potato chip, a buttery baked potato or half a chocolate cherry cheesecake found its way to my plate. Beer is but a distant memory, and wine is scarcer than, well, bread and potatoes. The numbers on the scale are slowly falling, my jeans are showing signs they might one day loosen their vise-like grip on my southern hemisphere, and my ass no longer hits the sofa a full minute before the rest of me — it’s probably more like 30 seconds, though it’s hard to remember to count when you’re collapsing from hunger and exhaustion. Nonetheless, visions of filmy summer frocks and strappy tank tops skitter merrily before the mind’s eye, and I have even entertained the occasional mad thought of frolicking sarong-less on the beach come August. Yes indeed, I am on my way to becoming a diet success story.
Provided I don’t kill someone first.
Anybody really, but I would have to say that the person with a large chocolate eclair in hand is in far greater danger than say, somebody sipping a blameless cup of nasty green tea. I don’t even want to think about what I might do for a Singapore Sling at this point. Consider yourselves warned.
Life on the straight and narrow, I am finding, has all the charm of hard time at Betty Ford with catering by Gwyneth Paltrow. Now I know why she always has that pinched look — she’s hungry every goddamned minute of every god forsaken day. By all appearances the only things Gwynnie’s filling that gob with are mung beans, lettuce shards and air. This is not a meal plan that brings out the best in anyone, I can assure you. It certainly does, however, bring out the thoracic skeletal structure. I, unfortunately, run no such risk.
Now I have lost and regained enough weight to insulate the skeletons of at least four or five brand new, well-fed adults in my lifetime. The dieting process is nothing new, but let me tell you it does not get easier with age. Still, if like me, you embark upon a dietary clean-up with optimistic goals of achieving glowing health, physical perfection and emotional equilibrium by embracing a healthier regime, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration. Better, in my view, to accept that replacing the foods you like with healthy, non-fattening items will be about as pleasurable as a mandatory NPR marathon. Sure it’s edifying and makes you feel all superior and plugged in at first, but after about three hours you know you’d rather be watching the Stooges while working your way through a two-pound bag of Oreos, a bag of Doritos and a case of Coronas.
So in the interest of full disclosure, I would like to disabuse you of a few of the myths surrounding weight loss.
1. Salad is filling.
It is not. Not even a little. You could spend three days at an all you can eat salad bar and you’d still be jonesing for a breadstick. Sure you can eat all the greens you like, but who the hell wants to eat a plate of greens instead of a burger and fries?
2. Salad is satisfying.
It’s about as satisfying as it is filling. Unless of course it’s covered in bleu cheese, croutons and hangar steak. THAT is a meal.
3. Diet/low fat treats are a good replacement for regular treats.
Probably the biggest load of bullshit since Bill Clinton straightened us out about Monica. In fact, to take the comparison one step further, eating one Skinny Cow is about as satisfying as giving an unreciprocated blow job. In my experience all one Skinny Cow leads to is another Skinny Cow, and pretty soon you’re sitting in front of the freezer, bloated and sick, with nondairy stains all over the front of your dress and an empty ice cream sandwich six pack clutched in your sticky hands.
4. After a week or so you’ll stop craving sugary treats/potato chips/cheese doodles/french fries.
Oh ferchrissakes, as my sainted Grandpa Harvey used to say, if that was the case we’d all be slender. You will never pass a bakery or a McDonald’s without feeling an adrenaline rush that is not unlike a great whacking jolt of ECT, or so I am told.
5. You can have a few drinks and still lose weight.
Really? Does anyone buy that? Here’s how it works, children. One glass of wine leads to another glass of wine (see above, Skinny Cows). Two glasses lead to three and so on, and eventually you’re lying on the living room floor with a pint of Phish Food and a serving spoon, wondering if it’s too late to order in a pepperoni pizza which would be delicious with that bottle of chianti you’ve been saving for company.
6. Whole grains taste better than refined ones.
Sure they do. If you like eating mealy cardboard. There’s a reason white rice and bread were historically reserved for the wealthy — they taste better. That Ezekial bread you’re chomping on requires toasting and at least half a cup of butter to be even remotely palatable, whereas a warm hunk of a crusty baguette delights the tastebuds all on its own, completely naked and utterly nude. Add a suspicion of salted butter and a dollop of cherry jam, and you have what I used to think of as breakfast.
7. Skim or low fat milk is acceptable in coffee.
I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.
So why do it? Why not just embrace your God given right to be ample? Well, it’s costly to buy new clothes every year and depressing to have to gaze at yourself in a changing room mirror for more than ten seconds. And looking like the Michelin man in a bikini is more upsetting than you might think. So when you’re waffling on your diet or feeling tempted by the pastry cart, try this:
Would you pass me a carrot stick please?