Tomorrow is like a high holiday for me. It’s both Cinco de Mayo and the Kentucky Derby (please don’t talk to me about cruelty to animals. Believe me, I know. But I love the Derby for sentimental reasons. I will support the end of horse racing, and boxing for that matter, but for now, I will still cheer for the fillies and remember my father.)
Cinco de Mayo, a celebration of Mexican heritage, is really mostly interesting to me because it’s an excuse to impress one and all with my famous margaritas! Long a family favorite, my margaritas really took off after a few lessons in tequila from the very missed musical trail-blazer Nona Gainsforth. One very long night in one of Fort Smith, Arkansas’s many Mexican restaurants (I know, but they are all really good), Nona walked me through the subtleties of the spirit and my drinking life has never been the same. Sipping tequila is a whole bag of knowledge, but for margaritas, the only real key is to buy one that is 100% blue agave. I tend to go with a reposado. So, I’m giving away the secret recipe:
The Happy Girl Margarita (I’m trademarking the name): rub a lime along the outside of the marg glass and then dip the moistened rim in a coarse salt. Ice in the glass. Add tequila (see above) and triple sec in a 3 to 1 ratio. Squeeze in fresh lime (no Roses), and sometimes I do a little squeeze of fresh orange as well. That’s it. Deceptively easy, but so good. The first sip is usually tough for folks but by the end of the glass they’re naming their children after you.
But I won’t be drinking margaritas tomorrow. I’ll be having mint juleps and rooting for this to be the year of an all-white steed to win. Mint juleps are another misunderstood drink. I think most first time tasters expect something green and frothy, but it is a much more nuanced cocktail, though one with very few ingredients – sugar, mint, and bourbon (or whiskey or rye, but trust me, bourbon is the way to go). There’s lots of ways to combine the elements, my way is a bit more complicated, but I think yields the best outcome.
Drohan Derby Julep: Make a simple syrup (1:1 sugar and water heated until the sugar melts and the liquid thickens. I like to stick a mint leaf in there while I’m heating it as well, but fish it out after. Do not let it boil. After it cools a bit, put it in a glass container. If you make it in advance a couple drops of vodka will help it maintain consistency.) In a highball glass muddle a bit of mint at the bottom (spearmint is my STRONG preference). Fill the glass with ice. Add bourbon and simple syrup in a 31/2 to 1 ratio. Stir and garnish with a mint leaf. YUM!
Of course, the best part of the Derby are the hats! I’ve been working on mine all week and it involves a lot of ostrich feathers. Last fall some colleagues and I went to the races at Keeneland in Kentucky and we wore some of my other hat adventures. Here we are in what I call Fillies at the Post: