Bourbon

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It is a well-established fact that I love booze. Ales? What’s better than a frosty cider on a hot summer day. Gin? I could write prose about gin. Wine? There is decently likelihood that wine gives me hives and I still love it. Got that? I am probably allergic to wine and I still drink it (almost daily). That’s commitment.

But amber spirits? I’ll pass. Scotch and whiskey turn my stomach sour. Brandy and cognac are only good for baking. Rum tastes like bad college memories. And tequila? Oh, tequila. Of tequila we do not speak.

Now, bourbon… she’s a different mistress all together. Bourbon treats me wrong every damn time, and still I love her. Bourbon surprises me and makes me wistful all at once.

If you asked me to name my single favorite cocktail of all time, there’s a good chance I’ll tell you a Milk Punch from the Bourbon House in New Orleans. It’s divine. Be forewarned. If you come with me to NOLA, you will be drinking Milk Punch.

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I love bourbon so much, that, when at a wedding in Louisville, I dragged five totally disinterested girlfriends on a two-hour road trip to the Maker’s Mark estate. Guess who are all fans of bourbon now?

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Like food, the taste of a certain spirit will bring you back places (and, I never want to be taken back to where tequila goes). Bourbon brings me down the bayou. With memories of sitting on the beach in Biloxi, MS, looking at palm trees still bent over from their battle with Katrina. Memories of dancing to slow moving jazz on Frenchman Street. Memories of rocking on a wide Southern porch of a volunteer house, eating strawberries and resting my weary feet.

It brings me back to the amazing group of volunteers that I’ve sweated with in that humid landscape – those that I may have known for only a day, and those who became like sisters. The end of most rigorous days, spent working tirelessly to help a community back to its feet, meant sharing a cool bourbon cocktail and sharing war stories. It’s a special spirit.

If you are now jonesing for a bourbon drink, you’re in luck. This one’s a gem:

The Big Texan Bourbon-and-Grapefruit Cocktail

. 2 tablespoons fresh grapefruit juice
. 1 1/2 ounces bourbon
. 1/2 tablespoon simple syrup (see Note)
. 2 basil leaves
. Ice
. 1 grapefruit slice and 1 preserved cherry, for garnish

In a cocktail shaker, combine the grapefruit juice, bourbon, simple syrup and basil. Fill a chilled rocks glass with ice. Add 5 ice cubes to the shaker and shake well. Strain the drink into the ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with the grapefruit slice and cherry.

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Source: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/big-texan-bourbon-and-grapefruit-cocktail

Volunteering

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I am a somewhat spiritual person, but I really don’t believe in any organized religion. Which is why it’s pretty darn funny that one of my greatest beliefs comes from a verse in the Bible (Luke 12:48, to be exact). The Bible has been translated millions of times, but one common version is, “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.”

I feel as though in my life, I have been given much – smarts, compassion, dedication, not to mention a loving family, husband, pets, a bevy of great friends, and a moderately successful career. With all of these riches, my debt to the greater world is deep and I’ve spent a lot of time and energy over the years seeking to pay it.

I have done a lot of volunteering. A LOT. I absolutely love it. It’s generally hard work, but there is little that fills the soul more. In addition to doing some good for others, it’s a great way to meet friends, learn new skills, or experience new places.

I hope you might be reading this and thinking at the same time, “I’ve been given a lot; I should do more!” You should! And wouldn’t you know it, I have some suggestions for you from some of my all time favorite volunteer experiences.

Do you have an hour a week? Help develop a kid’s literacy skills and build his or her self esteem by reading a story aloud over lunch. I read to kids for over seven years in a program like this. We all know that reading is important, but did you know that children with strong reading skills are less likely to end up in jail and are less of a drain on our national health systems? Seriously. One hour a week with a kid can help our society. Not a bad ROI. Check out Read to a Child for more.

Do you have two hours a month? Give out food to hungry families. One of the most rewarding things I have ever done is to help set up a mobile pantry and dole out much needed food and groceries to students and parents at a school in a low-income section of Boston. Food is a basic fucking need. The fact that people in this country go without is outrageous. Contact your local food bank and do something about it.

Do you have two or three days a year? This country has seen some SAVAGE natural disasters in the last few years – Hurricane Katrina, the Joplin tornadoes, California wildfires, Hurricane Sandy. Every time one of these things hits us, it leaves a wake of physical and emotional need for years to come. Sign up with the local chapter of the HandsOn Network in any of these areas and they’ll have no trouble putting you to work in human services or rebuilding property for a few days.

Do you only have a couple of hours a year? Decorate a youth shelter for the holidays. Being a teenager sucks in general. I seriously can not imagine the pain of being a homeless teen. Living in a shelter with little privacy, too few warm clothes, and beaten down common areas for eating, studying, and entertainment? It’s heartbreaking. A small, but meaningful gesture that you can do for these kids is to help decorate their space for the holiday season. I did this project for several years as part of Harpoon Helps in Boston. But even if this doesn’t exist near you, go buy a tree, a couple of strands of lights, and some bulbs and drop them off.

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Truly, any amount of time you have can be put to good use and I’d love to see everyone get out there and give something back. If you don’t have a second to spare (I know that feeling), money is always good too – donate generously to your favorite cause.