On Birthday Parties and Our Tiny Lizard Brains

There were ninety minutes to go before guests arrived, and everything was running smoothly.  The bread was out of the oven, and my pimenton mayonnaise had held its fussy emulsion. Cream had been whipped, spiked with Grand Marnier, and prepped for deployment atop mugs full of warm boozy goodness.   Chocolate-Chip cookie dough had been scooped onto parchment and was ready for baking.  I had a gallon of cocoa on a low simmer. Ganache for the chocolate martinis was gently holding over a double-boiler.   A Tom Waits-ey playlist was already murmuring in the background.  I had cleaned the bejeezus out of my apartment, sourced a hat, and was ready to don a blazer. My long-held fantasy of a winter-themed cocktail party for my birthday was about to come into being.

I visualized myself behind the counter that evening while my friends relaxed and mingled.  I saw myself darting in and out of conversations, effortlessly slinging cocktails while making my guests feel welcome and relaxed.  I would laugh graciously and deflect attention from myself. i would specifically tell the female guests (apparently you’re supposed to do this) where the coats and purses were.   All the while exuding my boyish charm while moving with the minimalist efficiency of a Shaolin Monk.

But something happened.

Call it lazyness, call it research, call it quality control, chalk it up to a bad decision.  But with my party prep hanging in the balance – a social event for which I had engaged a professional graphic designer for the invitations and rearranged my furniture and carried THREE 8 pound bags of ice from the corner store -  I decided to have a mug of hot buttered rum.

Just one.  What harm could it do?

Results were predictable  But the real action had occured only a few seconds prior.

My choice of recipe was a happy accident. I had no shortage of options.  Julie posted a recipe a while back, David and Laura gave me some solid advice about making large batches… I felt fortunate not to have to resort to melted ice cream or celebrity chefs.

I had something better.

Now, the human sense of smell never ceases to astound me.  It exists, I think, as an evolutionary throwback, before cave painting or the control of fire or the use of bones as bludgeoning instruments.It doesn’t even need our cerebral cortex -  It’s much more primal… prehensile, even… something to guide  our scurrying slithering protomamalian lizard-selves to our dinner.  Which is why, sometimes, smells can shock you. You don’t have to “think’ about them.

Or, like the evening of my party, when I ground up some cardamom and it nearly kicked me in the knees.

Cardamom has this sweet, peppery resinous flavor, a perfect add to a batter with enough rich sweetness to stand up to it.  As I crushed the teaspoon of seeds for this drink batter, the smell seemed to just supernova right below my nose, and after only a few seconds I decided that I would never ever make hot buttered rum without it.  I mean, sure, there is nutmeg and cinnamon, and other recipes use clove and allspice, but it seems like the trick is to find the right balance of complexity and harmony  And cardamom does it.

Anyway, the recipe for this drink is simple

1 stick of butter
1 cup of brown sugar
(clearly hot buttered rum is not an everyday apperif)
1 teaspoon each freshly ground cinnamon, freshly ground nutmeg, and freshly ground cardamom.  Again – hot buttered rum is not something you will make every day. Freshly grind your spices, Hoss.

Combine ingredients in a saucepan. Melt Keep the batter warm.

Hot Buttered Rum
2 Tablespoons batter
1 1/2 ounces dark rum
Add enough near-boiling water to dissolve the batter and thin out the drink. This is a somewhat intuitive process. You may want the drink stronger or weaker.

Anyway. my point.  One sip for me, and it was Game Over. There was no garnish for the chocolate martinis, I never had a chance to clean off the counter and stage the glasses, i never had the stirring utensils ready, and I think I kind of burned the cookies.  All the while singing Skatallites songs to myself as my guests poured in.  And I was my usual hyper nervous erratic self, spilling drinks all over my newly-mopped (!!!) floor, and goading people into sitting down   I still need hosting practice.  Even if things ended up being… quite fun.


3 thoughts on “On Birthday Parties and Our Tiny Lizard Brains

  1. Thanks, Lan. Actually, yes, it wound up being a good time… as much as I often joke about the difficulties I have simply getting through the day – I really am fortunate to have a great group of friends.