Saturday, December 26, 2009

All I Want for Christmas is...

After everyone left on Christmas Eve, Santa arrived at the Lounge. He always does that on Christmas Eve, shows up after everybody else is gone, probably to avoid the crowds and the fuss so he can enjoy his dirty martini in peace. No one notices the reindeer and sleigh parked in the alley now that Leah built the alley fortress doors.

Santa looked pretty healthy and happy and rosy-cheeked. Vitamin D supplements, he said, got rid of those pesky leg cramps and keeps his seasonal affective disorder at bay.

What do you want for Christmas this year, he asked as he fished the olives out of his martini and popped them in his mouth. Have you been good? I avoided the second question. World peace, I said. The elves are already working on it, said Santa, but it's gonna take awhile. I said, the only other thing I want for Christmas is a few more blog subscribers.

Santa tipped his head back and drained his martini. Done and done, he said. He gave me a big kiss (on the mouth!) and disappeared into the night.

The next day, I woke up and found an automated email waiting in my inbox: has subscribed to your blog.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bourbon Balls

(Hee-hee, I just said "balls...")

If Felicia is going to bake Christmas cookies for the Lounge Christmas eve party, which she is, then they are going to contain booze. Enter Mom. Mom first made these bourbon balls in 1983. ("We let you kids eat them - do you think that was okay? It was only a half-cup of whiskey.")

Like all bourbon and rum ball recipes, this recipe contains Nilla Wafers. (I'd love to hear your recipes if you've ever made them from scratch.) And like all good cookie recipes, it starts with a glass of wine.Bourbon Balls

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 Tablespoons corn syrup
1/2 cup bourbon (I used Makers Mark)
2 and 1/2 cups finely crushed Nilla Wafers
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 cup nuts (I used pecans)
granulated sugar

1. Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler. I made a makeshift double boiler out of a pan and a metal bowl.2. Remove from heat and add corn syrup and bourbon, mixing thoroughly.

3. In a separate bowl, combine vanilla wafers, confectioners sugar and nuts.
4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix thoroughly.5. Cover and let stand 3o minutes. Don't skip this step!

6. Form into 1 inch balls and roll in sugar.7. If you can stand waiting, let the balls season in the fridge for a few days before eating them.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Holiday Gift Ideas

'Tis the Season To Be Thrifty
by Amelia Sauter, Ithaca NY

Until the root canal, my partner and I were able to buffer the effects of the recession on our checking account. Then came a second root canal. I found myself getting anxious about the holidays, and like many other Americans, wondering how I was going to buy people gifts this year.

While lying awake in the middle of the night with a hot flash, I came up with a few ideas that I thought I’d share with others who might be shaking in their Uggs at the thought of pulling out the plastic and racking up more debt:

1) Make homemade pancake mix. The people I love are getting ball jars of my famous pancake mix this year, topped with big bows and instructions to add milk and eggs. You can even use Bisquick. They’ll never know.

2) Don’t have children. They’re expensive, they’re messy, and once you let them in the house, it’s hard to get rid of them. Like stray cats. Offer a sympathy bowl of milk to a flea-infested feline who cries at your door and next thing you know it’s sleeping on your pillow. So plan ahead, since the holidays are just a few short weeks away, and don’t have children. And if it’s too late, well, you can save money this Christmas by wrapping your children up and giving them away.

3) Tell your friends you have decided to embrace the spiritual side rather than the commercial side of the holidays, and that you are lighting a votive candle in the their honor. Om shanti.

4) Send electronic holiday cards. Not only is it easier and cheaper, you also get bonus points when you proclaim that you are making a difference in the world by saving trees.

5) Give coupons for gifts you can personally fulfill, like a foot massage or babysitting. When your friends ask to redeem them, say, “I didn’t give you that coupon. I’ve never seen it before in my life.”

6) Don’t drink and shop! I’ve been known to recommend a shot of tequila to take the edge off holiday shopping, but this is to help you spend money, not save it. Alcohol helps you muster up holiday joy instead of bah humbugs so when you’re packed in Walmart, I mean, Greenstar with all the other last minute shoppers, their children running amock (see #2), you won’t feel the urge to beat anyone with a loofah.

When we owe $3K to the dentist, I just can’t justify buying Christmas lights or a plush talking Dug that doesn’t even say “Squirrel!” You’ll have to rent the movie Up if you don’t know who Dug is. Or better yet, save your money for votive candles and Bisquick.

copyright Amelia Sauter 2009

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mixology Monday: Eggnog Martini

Folks, it's time for Mixology Monday again. Head on over to Beers in the Shower where a roundup will be posted in a couple of days or so.

My contribution is the Eggnog Martini, because everybody needs eggnog. We feel compelled to drink eggnog at least once a year during the holidays. Maybe it's the festive thing to do. Even if you don't love eggnog, tradition trumps taste buds.

The Eggnog Latte Martini, which adds Starbucks liquor, is a caffeine-filled alternative. Or simultaneously simplify and upgrade to a premium spirit by drinking eggnog with Jameson in your morning coffee. Like I'm doing right now.

Unrelated side note: I tried to enjoy a cachaca margarita last night. Don't drink cachaca after you've been painting your studio all day. Cachaca smells surprisingly similar to latex paint. I had no idea. But now I do. Trust me.

Related side note: Is eggnog one word, or two?

Eggnog Martini

1 and 1/2 ounces Stoli vanilla vodka
4 ounces eggnog
Dash of nutmeg

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with ground nutmeg.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Local Lover Challenge

This year for Christmas, I'm giving my friends and family members a root canal. Actually, two root canals. In Leah's mouth. But if I pretend I have money leftover, then I am going gonzo for the Local Lover Challenge.

Over 70 businesses in Ithaca are involved this year (including Greenstar, Tuff Soul Clothing, Finger Lakes Reuse, Rasa Spa and Red Feet Wines). All you have to do is stop in at a participating store - like Felicia's - pick up a cute little card, then get it stamped at four more stores. Hand in your card, and you are eligible to win prizes. You get to support the local economy, have fun shopping at your favorite places, and win free stuff. Better than a root canal.

Tomorrow, December 10th, you can save 10% at more than 30 stores. For up-to-date specials, you can follow Local First Ithaca on Facebook. While you're at it, better follow Felicia on Facebook, too. And practice good oral hygiene.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Foodie Detour: Burgers

I don't eat hamburgers all that often due to my fondness of happy cows combined with my somewhat reasonable fear of E coli, but a couple of months ago, I chowed on burgers twice in one week, both at new Ithaca restaurants. For a comparison, let the pictures do the talking:

Five Guys Burgers and Fries has french fries on their side, and lots of them. I'm sure the Five Guys are Nice Guys, and the extra toppings are free, but mine tasted an awful lot like a McDonald's hamburger. Total cost for a burger and fries: about $7

Northstar House cooked my fresh, local burger to order, pink and juicy in the middle. It was big and tasty, and I'm a sucker for local meat, because worse than eating a happy cow is eating an unhappy cow. The handcut fries were a generous serving. For those who prefer their cows alive, the black bean burger also rocked. Total cost for a burger and fries: $10. Add in a a microbrew for an additional $5.

You can guess where I'll probably go back to. And where I probably won't. Moooooooo.

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My mother said it would just be the four of us. Usually on Thanksgiving, Leah and I end up at Leah’s parents’ house. Or we end up staying home and Leah makes turkey meatballs and mashes every type of root vegetable she can locate at Wegmans. This year, I wanted to spend Thanksgiving with my parents for the first time in about ten years.

I asked Leah if she was interested in joining me. “Who’s going to be there?” she asked tentatively. Leah did not like holidays, and she did not like people, which meant she only attended events where Vicodin was on the menu. My parents served wine, port and whiskey which she deemed acceptable substitutes.

Creating holiday traditions with Leah is like trying to convince a seven-year-old boy to take a bath. Okay, I have no idea what it is like to convince a kid to bathe. But I do know what it is like to try to talk my girlfriend into doing something festive that she thinks is fundamentally stupid. But with some pushy coaxing, she finally tries whatever activity I want, like carving a pumpkin or decorating a Christmas tree, and in the end she loves it. The next year we start all over again with her grumpy refusal to partake in celebrations without a kick in the ass.

On Thanksgiving day this year, an hour or two into wine-inspired conversation with my parents, the doorbell rang.

“Well, that’s a lot of ice cream for five of us,” my mom said, taking their friend Jim’s grocery bag. On cue, the phone rang. Judy had decided to come early with her husband and two young boys to have dinner at my parents instead of at her in-laws. The turkey was taking too long and the boys were getting hungry. Just the four of us was morphing into just the nine of us. I refilled Leah’s wine glass.

A few minutes later, I was sipping wine in the kitchen with my sister as her kids ran around. “I loved your memoir essays,” she said to me. “Thanks for sending them. I like your creative take on things, especially that rum incident when you were fourteen. You know, everyone remembers things differently. And you were drunk.”

My mom chimed in. “And you get to use creative license and make up stuff, since it’s your memoir.”

I was pleasantly surprised that they supported my “creative take” when it included things they had said and done, but their support also made me uneasy, because, well, I thought the memory was fact when I wrote it. I prodded my sister to share her version of the evening.

Judy recalled that she did not say she was going to tell my parents I was drunk on the night she picked me up at the roller skating rink. She claimed she never told them, that she said to me that night in the car as I threw up into a Styrofoam cup, “I’m not going to tell them, you are.”

I asked my mother how she found out. “Your sister had us paged at the movie theater,” she said. “We came home and she asked us to wait until morning to confront you. She was very protective over you.”

My sister? Protective? “I thought you wanted to see me get in trouble,” I said to Judy. “You were so competitive.”

“I was not competitive,” Judy said.

“Yes, you were,” I said.

“No, YOU were.”

“But you told me how competitive you felt in high school.”

“No, you told me YOU were competitive,” she said. “I never felt competitive. That’s so funny you remember it that way,”

“You’re kidding, right?” I said. I turned to my mother who was stirring the gravy and asked if she had ungrounded me early because she was worried about my mental health, which was what I had assumed because I was so miserable after I got caught.

She said no, that she and my father did talk to me that night while I was drunk, a conversation I have no recollection of, and in the heat of the moment they grounded me for a month “because that’s the kind of thing you do when you’re mad." They recognized later that two weeks would be sufficient and reasonable for the offense.

“What about the rum cake?” I asked my mom. Suffering from a tortuous hangover and the dry heaves, I had to serve rum cake at the church rectory the day after my drunken escapade. “Did you call the cook and tell her to make rum cake?”

That, my mother laughed, was divine intervention.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pumpkin Martini

Warning: Don't try this at home. This martini was made on a closed course with professional bartenders.

Like other annual holiday traditions (such as NPR's Susan Stamberg's Pepto Bismol pink cranberry relish), every year people ask us what goes into our Pumpkin Martini so they can imbibe autonomously on the holidays of evil (Halloween) and gluttony (Thanksgiving). And since we give thanks for you, we are reprinting the Pumpkin Martini recipe on today's blog.

In the photo above, Felicia expat Janet and visiting pal Emily dangerously attempt to make the Pumpkin Martini at home in Janet's Los Angeles kitchen.

Pumpkin Martini

1.5 ounces of pumpkin liqueur
½ ounce of Stoli vanilla vodka
1 ounce of half and half (or try hazelnut milk - my new fave dairy substitute)
dash of pumpkin pie spice (Felicia uses her grandmother's special blend)

Shake with ice then strain into a chiled martini glass. Top with whipped cream and another sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Can I see your i.d., please?

Most people respond with annoyance when you ask to see their i.d., unless they are over the age of 50. At that age, they get excited and think you are complementing them, though it’s obvious that they are old enough to drink and you just didn’t want to make them feel bad by only asking for their daughter’s – oops, girlfriend’s – i.d. The closer someone is to age 21, the more likely they are to be miffed that you want them to produce i.d.

The young ones roll their eyes and say, “Oh my god, don’t I look 21? Gheesh. I just turned 22.” What they will understand a decade-and-a-half from now is that at age 39, I can’t tell the difference anymore between an eighteen-year-old and a twenty-eight-year-old. They all look like teenagers, too young to be drinking. And when they reach age 39, they’ll be bumming that no one asks for their i.d. anymore.

The grad students fumble through their wallets and produce beat-up European or Iranian or Albanian or Egyptian drivers’ licenses. I apologize, but tell them in New York, I can legally only accept a passport if someone is not from the U.S. or Canada.

“But look at this,” a young man who looks like a teenager says to me. He hands me a driver’s license from a far-away country where they don’t have letters, but instead write with symbol things. Might as well be Greek to me. Maybe it is Greek. The date proclaims that he is 24 years old.

The man also hands me a document with the title, “International Identification Card.” Scotch tape attaches his picture in the top right-hand corner. “X bar accepts it,” he says. X bar also serves underage drinkers on a regular basis.

“If it helps,” the man tells me, “all of my American friends have i.d.’s.” He points to a table filled with young faces in the rear of the bar. “It helps them,” I say, but I tell him as much as I’d like to give him a drink, I still can’t serve him.

He pulls out a college i.d. Then a business card that states his role in the chemistry department at the college. "I'm sorry," I say.

It’s not that I didn’t believe him. In fact, I’m pretty sure he was over 21. But I wasn’t 100% positive, and one slip-up at the wrong time could cost us our liquor license. In a college town, you can’t be too careful about serving underage drinkers. Liquor authority goons lurk in the shadows and set up sting operations when you least expect it.

The lesson? Get old: Recede your hairline, get some wrinkles, add grey hair to your demeanor. Or, if aging quickly is not an option, bring your passport.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Drinking and Writing

Writing is weird. Each time I sit down to write, the story pours out of me and leaves me achingly empty, and I wonder if I'll ever write again. I could write in my head - or on the computer - for days, waking in the middle of the night with the perfect adjectives to describe the latest drunken character or wacky bar incident, getting up at 5am to write, or staying up til 2am, and I write it all down and then nothing. Empty. I have no faith that I will find words worthy of writing again. I think, maybe I need a mentor. An inspiration. A drink.

Nothing compares to a glass of wine when one is seeking to enter the creative realms of the deepest, darkest corners of the brain. Okay, a good smokey porter compares. Or a shot of Finger Lakes Distilling rye. Or a dirty martini. What's your drink of choice to keep the words lubricated when you write? Do tell.

On a side note, Leah just made me the most amazing meatloaf (ground turkey-carrots-chard-apple-onion-chipotle-tomato glaze) in the world. It paired beautifully with a bottle of (not Sheldrake Point) Argentinian Vistalba Corte B 2005 (thanks, Adam). And now I write.

And may I add, kudos to Sister Ellen, I shall remain fully incapable for the rest of my days of using one space after a period instead of two.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Halloween 2009

Of course the pictures are poor-quality, blurry action shots! I forgot my camera, and you were drunk. It's your fault. Send me better ones if you find some.Felicia's Haunted Cocktail Party extravaganza.

Look out, little girl! Behind you!

Please don't hurt happy Crabby...

Award-winning Jolly Green Giant and his pals.

Dog and dog's best frenemy

Tea bags

The jedi in classic jedi lunge position. Don't hurt your jedi groin.

Dog and Tea bag

Last but not least: Bitchtooth.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Is bitchtooth one word or two? Did anyone figure that out yet? Grumpy root canal girl refused to dress up for the Lounge party this year until I suggested she go as a bitchtooth, and then she spent the entire afternoon building the perfect angry tooth. The pictures say it all. Check back tomorrow for photos of everyone else's great costumes and don't forget to change your clocks. See you at the party shortly...

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Mixology Monday: Anti-Vermouth

This month's Mixology Monday, hosted by Cocktailians, challenges us to post a tasty vermouth cocktail recipe. Vidiot says we can use any aromatic, fortified wine. So being the rebel she is, Leah created a cocktail, um, without vermouth.

Since Leah is in the midst of a three-week root canal with complications, she gets to be a beast and not follow the rules. You've got a "Get Out of Jail Free" card, I tell her. I don't argue with a woman who has a wild look in her eye, who is pacing the hallway like a panther, and who says it feels like someone is splitting her jaw open with a hacksaw. Vicoden is child's play, she tells me, downing a shot of whiskey and popping open a bottle of Brute. That's right, Brute with an "e."

We became acquainted with Ithaca Beer's Brute last week at a lovely beer-tasting dinner at Cornell hosted by Hotel School students and Ithaca Beer's brilliant master distiller, Jeff O'Neil. The Brute proved to be the life of the party: a citrusy sour ale the color of champagne, served in a flute, and paired with some biting cheese.

Okay, it's not even close to fortified wine, but Brute IS brewed with champagne yeast. And with a bouquet reminiscent of a barnyard, Brute certainly could be deemed "aromatic." One taste, and Leah decided Brute would make a great vermouth substitute.

The result? You can call it an Ithaca Negroni. I call it a Brutoni. Leah calls it a Bitchtooth: equal parts gin (we used Plymouth), Campari and Brute. The sour and bitter and gin blend together perfectly, and the cocktail has a tad of sparkle to it, not unlike a Sparkling Negroni that I saw on Rachel Ray's website a few minutes ago. It was an accident. I really don't hang out on Rachel Ray's site. Unless I need to find a good thirty minute meal. Leah says stop talking about Rachel Ray.

Not in Ithaca? You lose. Brute is a beer that goes beyond beer and into the realm of the extraordinary. Get yourself to the Ithaca Beer brewery to try some, or have a friend send you some. Either is a worthwhile endeavor.

Ithaca Negroni

1 ounce Plymouth gin
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce Ithaca Beer's Brute

Stir with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Zaya Rum

A long, long time ago, long before silly rules existed about bloggers disclosing freebies, specifically August 2009, the folks who promote Zaya Rum sent me a bottle of, um, Zaya Rum.

We opened the Zaya at the Lounge and taste-tested it with the staff on hand, both those who were working hard and those who had stopped in to laze about and sip drinks, as so many of our staff are wont to do. Some of our staff gave this dark, Trinidad-bottled rum a thumbs up (sweet - caramelly - rich - full of flavor) and others weren't so excited about it for the same reasons. I made it into a mojito, with similar results. Love the flavor, too much flavor. Zaya is not your standard wimpy rum.

Then we forgot about it. The bottle sat on my desk with a sticky note that read "do not drink" which if there was space would have read "do not drink until I write a blog about it which I will soon and it's the least I can do since it was a freebie."

Fast forward to this week. Leah has a toothache. She's up every night at 3am or 4am to take Advil and while she's up she reads blogs, obsesses about whether or not the pulp in her tooth is dying permanently or if her nerve is just having a nervous breakdown, and she actually answers some emails so perhaps it's good use of her time though not the best timing. During the day she seeks out nips of hard liquor to dull the pain when she thinks no one is looking. I know, I know, she should see the dentist. She did. Twice. And it traumatized her and left her wondering if the poking, prodding and drilling further irritated the pulp (i.e. tooth innards), so now she is waiting, hoping to wake up one morning and find the pain simply missing.

Today, she found my bottle of Zaya Rum, stuck the "do not drink" sticky note to the bar, and pronounced the bottle her salvation. "Where did this stuff come from?" she asked me, sipping it straight, clearly not remembering our previous tasting in August. "This is good shit. Mmmm. Sweet explosion in my mouth. Kind of smoky, peaty, and full of molasses. I swear my tooth is feeling better."

So there you have it, folks. Zaya tastes great, and it cures toothaches (at least for a few hours).

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Felicia!

In honor of Felicia's Atomic Lounge's fifth birthday, here's an excerpt from my upcoming bar memoir book (still looking for a publisher), which should probably have the title, What the Hell Were We Thinking?

Fortunately, the stars were on our side. Here's to you, Felicia, and to Leah for talking me into doing one of the craziest things I've ever done in my life:

“I have an idea.” Leah’s face was pressed up against the empty tavern window, hands cupping her eyes. “We should open a bar.”

Leah always had ideas. I heard the line come out of her mouth daily. “I have an idea….”, followed by an elaborate plan to start her own business and become rich. Hand-painted t-shirts. Designer cat litter boxes. Carved wooden yoga blocks. A thing that plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter and statically draws all the floating dog fur into its jaws.

“You said you never wanted to open a restaurant,” I said, peering in the window beside her.

The tavern was dark and filthy. Floor tiles were missing, and the ceiling had a hole in it where someone had fallen through from the attic. On the front of the bar where your feet would kick, wavy lines of glue were all that remained to inform us that tiles or plywood had been torn down. On top of the dusty bar, a number of gray glasses stood and others lay on their sides. The walls were covered with an almost-black wood paneling. Bob’s Tavern had stood empty for years. Until the trendy coffee shop opened next door, we had no reason to visit this rundown neighborhood.

“A bar is different,” Leah said, sipping her iced latte through the straw. “Less work, higher profit margins. And we’d have our days to ourselves.”

I was not convinced; I was never convinced. Leah told me once that if she was a kite, flying high in the sky, kept aloft by her ideas as if they were the wind, then I was the string, yanking her back to the ground.

“A bar could work,” Leah said again. We walked side-by-side to our car which was packed to the gills with camping gear, gripping our coffees that would fuel us on our eleven hour trip to Maine.

Leah would have ten days in the wilderness with me to convince me, an uptight social worker who didn’t know how to make a gin and tonic, to open a bar.

copyright Amelia Sauter 2009

Photo note: I'm the one with the little boobs. The ones you can't see. Even if Leah wasn't standing in front of me.

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