It is winter. Not the picture postcard, Currier & Ives variety, but the honest to goodness, dark, dreary snow on top of the mud, howling wind and early darkness kind. A time of year that makes you want to stay indoors. A time for quiet reflection by the fire, which often leads to thoughts of mortality. Somehow, that specter seems a little closer when the winds blow outside, icy fingers reaching through the cracks and all. Those of you who live in modern houses may not get that, but in our old farmhouse, you can always feel a bit of a draft when the cold winds blow. So, we are making a hot cocktail to try to warm things up a bit, even if the mood is darker than usual. Won’t you please join me now as we stand and make, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.
That’s a mouthful, huh? This drink isn’t a bit shy or reserved, when you kick the door in and recite the first line of a Dylan Thomas poem, well, you better deliver. This one was created by Chantal Tseng of DC’s Mockingbird Hill and I have been looking forward to trying it for some time. I am a big fan of teacup cocktails, but I have not, historically, enjoyed hot alcoholic drinks. Though, the Horwich Hall proved me wrong and has been one of my favorite discoveries of the season, so I have high hopes for this one.
Put the kettle on and almost boil some water to make a nice cup of tea, according to your preferences, in this case I used 1 teaspoon of Twinings Earl Grey to 6 ounces of water, steeped for 5 minutes in my teapot. Once the tea is ready, pour 4 ounces into your serving glass, teacup or mug and add 1 1/2 ounces of peated Scotch, I chose Laphroaig Quarter Cask; 1/2 an ounce of honey syrup, 1/4 ounce of St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram and 1/4 ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Go for a little spoken word and enjoy a dramatic reading of this classic poem that inspired the drink as you stir and blend in the glass. Garnish with a dehydrated lemon wheel and scorched pod of star anise, because you get to use the kitchen torch.
Of course this is lovely and stands up to the promise of its evocative title. One could argue that a nice cup of Earl Grey tea, hot, pairs well with almost anything, and you’d be right. I have to say, though, that scotch, allspice honey and lemon, is a perfectly suited accompaniment for a hot cuppa on a cold winters night. I think the tea base is what saves this one from being just another toddy to me. I have never really enjoyed a straight toddy. They always seem like watered down whiskey served at a temp built to find the harsher edge of the alcohol, but this one has those rough edges polished a bit, a nice hot cup of tea, improved.
If you haven’t read it lately, look up “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” and read it again, or listen to the excellent version I linked above. Those words hit differently now than they did when I first read them in college. To be fair, they hit differently now than they did at this time last year. I don’t know if it is just being closer to the end of the story than the beginning or if it is the loss along the way that makes the difference. Loss is a part of life. There is no denying that. The great joy and pain of our human existence centers around the fact that the more you love, the more you will eventually lose. Yet, we keep loving and that makes us amazing.
This last year has been filled with loss, so much loss that a lot of it has not even truly registered. Our normal ways of processing grief have been upended. I have lost a surprising number of friends and family members this year and been to very few funerals. Our normal ways of grieving, the ceremonies that help us process and share our loss have often been limited to a small family graveside service or no service at all. Instead of coming together to show each other how much we care, we have left messages and sent cards and flowers where hugs and tears should have been. In some ways, for me anyway, this has made things a bit surreal, as if these friends are not really gone. A couple of weeks ago my wife and I took a drive in the country just to get away from the farm for a bit. We passed the house of an old friend and laughed about some stuff that happened the week we got married and how he had helped save us, before it hit me that he did not live there anymore. He passed at the end of summer, just another of those statistics, another covid death. Of course, I knew he was gone, but I had forgotten for a moment. There wasn’t any service, no group of friends standing around laughing about old times through tears. Just one day he was there and the next you get a text that he had gotten sick and was gone. For us, there was no period at the end of the last line of his story.
There are a lot of people out there hurting tonight. Too many folks grieving alone. As horrible as the numbers are, you can’t let them become just another statistic, just another number. For every one of those deaths there is a family going to bed tonight without a parent, a sibling, a child, a cousin, a friend. Keep them in your thoughts, extend a kindness where you can. Honor their loss and remember that most of us are reliving that grief, day after day, one small reminder at a time of a friend no longer there. It is easy to see that there is a certain darkness around all of us in these unprecedented times. Part of it is the weather, part of it is the loss, but a bigger part of it is how we are treating each other and how we aren’t seeing one another as equally beautiful humans. That is the kind of darkness that we can do something about and we should. So, “do not go gentle into that good night; rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Look out for each other and if you can’t find a light in that darkness, be one. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.