I went to a funeral today. My great uncle passed quietly in his sleep at the age of 97 while I was out of town. I accompanied my grandma as she said farewell to her brother and could not help thinking how most of that generation is gone now. The people I grew up looking up to, the leaders of the family. All those great aunts and uncles, stepping up to take their turn as elders before moving on to whatever comes next. It gives one pause. Lin Manuel sang, “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory” in Hamilton, and I get it. Though it never used to cross my worried mind, the older I get the mori memento-ing I find myself doing. So, with thoughts of that undiscovered country, I am not ready to explore yet, won’t you join me now as we stand and make, the Fernet Ramos.
So, what does this drink have to do with the frailty of life and the impending passage from one stage to the next hanging over all of us? Absolutely nothing. It just happened to be the next thing on the docket when I got all melancholy. Sometimes that’s the way the dice roll. It was created right here in Nashville by Camille Razo at The Patterson House. Obviously, it was inspired by the classic Ramos Gin Fizz but with a couple of cool twists and a scientific shortcut to that characteristically frothy head.
You are going to need to craft a couple of ingredients before you can begin construction. First up is vanilla simple syrup. This one is easy enough. Boil some water and add an equal part of sugar, stirring till it incorporates, before popping in some vanilla extract. I went with 1 cup each of water and sugar and 1/2 an ounce of vanilla. Let cool and bottle. The second ingredient is a little more complicated. We are making orange cordial, so grab three oranges and peel them completely. Toss those peels into a bowl and top with 1 1/4 ounce of sugar, cover and let sit overnight. That done, combine 2 cups of fresh squeezed orange juice with 1/2 a cup of lemon juice and add the sugar from overnight. I dropped the peels in too and fished them back out to make sure we got all of the flavor in there.
Grab your tins and pop in 1 ounce of Fernet Branca, 1 ounce of blended scotch, I went with Dewar’s White Label; 1/3 of an ounce each of fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice, 3/4 of an ounce of vanilla syrup, 3/4 of an ounce of orange cordial, 1 ounce of heavy cream and 1 egg white. Add some artisanal ice and give it a good shake to the beat of “Since the Last Time” by Lyle Lovett. After 30 seconds or so, strain from one tin to the other and toss the ice before going for a second dry shake. You can’t really shake too long here, so have some fun, but honestly 30 seconds will get it done. With that ready, pour 3 ounces of Coca-Cola into the bottom of a Collins glass and top with your mixture. It’s going to foam up and the entire mix won’t fit, that’s ok. Once the glass is filled, pop it into the freezer for 3 minutes. While you are waiting, take moment and think about the world and your place in it. What sort of a hole would you leave if you were suddenly no longer there? What can you do, today, to make sure that when that inevitably happens, people remember you with a smile? Write that answer down and then set about living that life, after you finish the drink, of course. When your three minutes are up, remove the glass from the freezer and use a straw to poke a hole in the middle of the foam. If the bubbles cling to the straw then pop it back in the freezer for a couple of more minutes, and repeat the process. When the bubbles no longer stick to the straw, swirl the contents of your shaker tin to mix things up and then carefully pour the remainder into that hole the straw made. If the science works, and it will, the foam should rise above the sides of the glass like a soufflÃ©. When it does, pop your straw in and serve.
Is that gorgeous or what? On top of that, it tastes amazing. I never thought I would describe a Fernet and Scotch cocktail as light, but it is. To be fair, there is a lot of citrus going on in this one and that orange cordial is like citrus supreme. Super sweet and almost baby aspirin like, a little goes a long way, but it does a job of work getting there. I am a big fan of the original Ramos Gin Fizz, but I may love this one even more. As my grandpa would have said, this one has a moorish taste, and I agree cause I could just drink more and more and more.
I got the word Uncle Coolidge had passed in a text from my mom, while I was helping build the set for last weekend’s production. It hit me harder than I expected. He was of an advanced age and his health was failing so it was hardly unexpected, but it still caught me flat footed. Now, part of that I am going to blame on my long suffering mother. She sent a single sentence, that I was able to read on my watch without even letting go of the board I was holding in place. No preface, no niceties, just the facts, ma’am. A few moments later I took a break to call her, get the details and make sure someone was with grandma. I also took the opportunity to point out that a little warning would be nice. That was probably a mistake as she simply responded, “There is just no pleasing you.”
She’s correct, of course. I am hard to please, but let’s go a little deeper. A couple of years ago I spent the summer hosting events in 48 states as part of a marketing program with Geocaching. There was quite a bit of planning and I spent most of that summer driving back and forth across the country. While I was working on details for the Michigan stop on our tour, I mentioned casually to mom that I should block out some time to go visit my great Aunt Ivy, since I was going to be in Detroit and she lived in Grosse Point. Aunt Ivy was always one of my favorites, probably because I was one of hers. She always cut up with me and her no nonsense, completely unpretentious approach to life made her a true joy to be around. I had not seen her in a while and her hearing made phone calls impractical, but I was all over going to see my favorite of Pa’s sisters. Mom thought about it a minute and said, “Well, I’ll ask grandma for the name of the cemetery.” Cue the record screech. “What?” I replied, dumbfounded. “Yeah, she passed away, I guess it was six weeks ago. I didn’t tell you?” No, mom had definitely not told me that Aunt Ivy had passed. I’d have remembered that. “You know what?” she continued “You were on the road and I knew it would upset you, so I figured I’d just tell you when you got home.” Or something like that, I don’t quite remember, I was standing there crying. Not what they call a manly tear, either. I was full on, trying to catch my breath and not start caterwauling crying. It was ugly. Mom looked up told me not to go on so, to pull myself together, after all it had been “weeks and weeks” since she passed.
I guess she was right. It was time for me to move on. Never forgetting that, to me, Aunt Ivy had been gone for about 45 seconds. It took a few minutes, but once I regained my composure, I mentioned to her that even if I was traveling, a heads up might be good, just to avoid me having to cram six weeks of grieving into a single minute. So, in her defense Mom did what I asked her to, as soon as Uncle Coolidge had moved on she sent me the modern equivalent of a telegram. She’s not wrong. There is no good way to hear that someone is gone. The older I get, the more I have had to make those calls and I never know what to say. What can you say?
Funerals always strike me as a bit ironic. They throw a big party to celebrate you, on the one day they know for certain you won’t be able to attend. Seems like we should do it better than that. If only it weren’t so hard to tell people how much they mean to us, while they are still here to hear it. I guess, there is nothing stopping us, so let precedent be damned and let’s be better. Take some time and look around, see the people you love and make sure they know it. Yep, it is that simple. You don’t have to get all maudlin like me and have a big old tear roll down your cheek, you can just smile at them, maybe tell them you love them or make ’em a sandwich when they are tired. There are lots of ways to let folks know you love them. Hell, you could write about a drink and mortality, all just so the folks you know and love, will look back and know that you loved them and that there isn’t fear about whatever comes or does not come next. The only real sorrow comes from leaving them in the middle of their story. That’s a thing. Don’t get hung up on tense issues in that last sentence, sometimes things get confusing when you are writing for posterity. Sometimes things get confusing, when you are not, so just go with it.
It’s not always easy, but don’t leave those things unsaid. Whether you get nearly a century, like my Uncle Coolidge, half that or some other number, you owe it to yourself to let folks know how much they matter to you. Say the words. It’s just about that simple. Say the words, so they will smile when they see you that last time and every time they think of you in the years to follow. That is what lives on, long after they send you off, cause like Lyle said, “When they close the lid, they all look the same.” That smile, though, that impulse planted by a life well lived, that is the best legacy anyone could hope for; so stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane my friends.