You may or may not know this, but I’m kind of a wannabe Catholic. I collect Virgins of Guadalupe and got to see the Pope a few years back… but I’ve never been baptized or anything. These days, if I were to find religion I’m 50-50 on whether I’d go Catholic or Presbyterian. I like the ritual of Catholicism, and all the saints that look over you, but Presbyterians are so nice and giving, always taking mission trips to Nicaragua and giving out hugs. I grew up in a predominantly Catholic town, and was probably the only kid in my sixth grade class who didn’t go to CCD (we were Episcopalian). Every year when Lent rolled around my classmates would talk about what they were giving up- usually sweets or soda- and eventually I started doing it too.
These days, I use Lent as a time to recommit to my New Year’s Resolutions, and as an opportunity to break bad habits I’ve picked up. A few years ago, for example, I gave up Diet Coke (I could still drink Fresca though… see, I really was meant for Catholicism!) As this year’s Lent begins, I’m using it to extend another one of my New Year’s resolutions: I quit drinking.
It seemed cliche to bring it up at the time, but at the beginning of the year, I decided to stop drinking for six weeks. My reasons for this were primarily vanity (ie lose weight), but also went a bit deeper. I didn’t like the way that I automatically said yes without thinking about it when someone asked if I wanted a glass of wine. I didn’t like the fact that a cocktail after work had become habit. And I really didn’t like the way that two or three drinks could derail my early morning workout plans. I figured that I’d start with six weeks: New Year’s to Valentine’s Day. If I couldn’t go six weeks, I’d have bigger problems than the 10 pounds I wanted to lose. So I stopped.
It wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I lost weight. I slept a million times better. I saved a ton of money.
People I’ve shared this with are somewhat incredulous, though many have also expressed the desire to do the same. “Did you have a problem?” someone asked me at a party last weekend. No. I’m not starting a 12-step program or going to meetings, I’m just hitting the reset button. “Don’t you feel like you’re missing out?” another asked. Not really. I’m 30 years old. I can drink anytime I want. The booze will still be there when I decide to go back. I don’t see Tanqueray going out of business anytime soon. “Isn’t it boring going to bars and not drinking?” I generally go to bars to see my friends. If I need beer to make them more fun or more interesting, I need new friends.
When Valentine’s Day rolled around I gave myself license to drink when I felt like I wanted to. A few days later, I took my mom to dinner and a concert, and enjoyed a couple glasses of wine. We had a great time, but I woke up the next morning feeling like I’d been hit in the head with a brick. I also imbibed at Lamb Jam, and same thing. I don’t think my body has ever metabolized alcohol particularly well and I think it’s getting worse as I get older.
Now, as Lent begins, I’m extending my teetotaling. I like the progress I’ve made, and I like the way that I feel. I also have some other fitness goals that I want to reach, and quite frankly, I’d rather eat dessert than drink wine.
When I do go back, I’m planning to adopt the same strategy I have with food to alcohol. I’ll think about if I want a drink, the same way I’d think about whether I really want to eat steak or fish. I’ll use the same standards in choosing a drink as I do in choosing a meal. And I’ll focus on portions of alcohol, just as I would portions of dessert.
In the meantime, it’s kind of interesting to explore the realm of mocktails. Tea is always a welcome friend, especially on a chilly afternoon, but also iced, as a substitute for soda. I discovered chai spiced hot chocolate, and was heartened to see this story about bartenders in New York creating drinks with twists, but no booze. At Teranga, a Senegalese Restaurant in the South End, I was delighted to try ginger juice, a spicy and sweet concoction of ginger root, pineapple juice, orange flower water and vanilla sugar that manages to slide down your throat and hit you in the nose at the same time. And at Russell House Tavern, I was happy to learn they make their seltzer in-house, and serve it free just as they do still water.
My soda siphon has become a staple. Carbonate some water and add a few slices of grapefruit or strawberry and you have something cocktail-like, but also really good for you. Or add some flavored syrup for an Italian soda. The following recipe, is technically an Italian soda, as it entails making a flavored syrup and then mixing it with carbonated water. But calling it ginger ale is so much simpler… everyone knows what ginger ale is. This concoction is just slightly sweet. The fresh ginger lends a hint of spice, which the blood orange and cucumber play off of while adding their own fresh notes. If you’re inclined, some gin or vodka would make this into a full-blown and wonderful cocktail. But there’s also enough flavor here that you won’t notice their omission, at least not until the next morning, when you wake up with a clear head.
If cucumber isn’t your thing or blood oranges aren’t in season, feel free to adapt using citrus of your choice. Muddled mint or basil would also be nice additions.
Homemade ginger ale with blood orange and cucumber
1/2 cup ginger, peeled and sliced into quarter-sized pieces
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
soda water/club soda
6- 12 thin cucumber slices
6 slices blood orange
Combine ginger, water and sugar in a small saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. When mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer mixture 10 minutes. Let cool and strain ginger from syrup into a jar or pitcher or other vessel.
Add 1-part ginger (ie 2 ounces using a conventional shot glass) to 3-parts carbonated water. Alternatively, if you’re having a party, you could make a pitcher of drinks, keeping the 3 to 1 ration of soda water to ginger syrup. Squeeze in blood orange wedges, and then add one or two cucumber slices per glass. Stir well and enjoy.