Fairy Parties and Polar Bear: Why I’ll Always be a Camp Person

It’s the middle of the night, probably around 1 a.m. I’m 12 years old, asleep on a mattress that my now-27-year old body would not be able to comprehend sleeping on — like, ever. Suddenly, I am awoken by the shouts of college-age counselors decked out in fairy wings and tutus, throwing glitter and announcing that there is a “Fairy Party” in the lodge (basically, the common room for just your age group). I love camp.

As discussed here on the blog before, I went to an all-girls sleepaway camp for nearly a decade of my adolescence. I loved it, so much that one of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn’t go back to be a counselor when I was the right age. Hindsight is 20-20, I suppose. Still, from the age 8 to the age of 16, I spent at least part of each summer at Rockbrook Camp in Brevard, North Carolina.

The summer always makes me miss camp — the camaraderie, the spontaneous singing, the traditions that make sense to absolutely no one but the people who experienced them. As Ira Glass recently posited in an episode of “This American Life,” there are Camp People and Non-Camp People. And I will always be a Camp Person.

Camp encompasses absolutely everything I loved about summers growing up: the fresh mountain air, the general enthusiasm for everything, the learning of new skills that may or may not come in handy in the future. But I think all the things I loved most about camp are wrapped up in the silly traditions, like the above “Fairy Party.” These silly rituals took something that present-day me loathes (being awoken by loud noises in the middle of the night) and turned it into something exciting, covered in sparkles and glitter and served with dance music and candy in the lodge.

Camps are full of these types of traditions, but these are a few of my favorites: the Fairy Parties, obviously; the Jungle Breakfast, when we were awoken at dawn to eat breakfast in the lodge in our pajamas and then got to sleep through regular breakfast; surprise shaving cream fights; Birthday Night, when instead of sitting with your regular cabin at dinner you were divided among 12 tables (one for people whose birthdays fell in each month of the year), and there was lots of cake; Biltmore Train, which is basically just lots and lots of ice cream; or unluckily bidding on a blind item on Auction Night, then finding out that it’s Polar Bear and your whole cabin has to go jump in the lake before breakfast (it was summer, but goddamn if it wasn’t still cold AF). The list goes on and on, and I wouldn’t trade it for a thing.

I like the unsanctioned traditions too, the ones that involve less planning and just seemed to happen organically each year — like the one rainstorm where everyone who’s brave enough rolls down the hill, or the unofficial fastest shower-er competition when the deducky (read: bathroom) is over-crowded (yours truly is ‘04 Champion). There are the unsanctioned prank wars (my year had a particularly vicious one with the year below us), the scary stories and camp legends, that one lunch or dinner that is somehow non-stop singing, the way muffins just taste better after the first activities of the day, and finding that spot in camp that feels like it’s just yours and being able to go back to it every year. I miss the inside jokes, the favorite songs, the favorite meals, the intense competition with the boys camp down the road — the little things that somehow manage to continue year after year, because people keep coming back and passing their unofficial traditions down to new campers. And so eventually they become official traditions, official camp legends, new pieces of the camp mythos, on and on for generations.

If I ever have a daughter, I will send her to Rockbrook. If for some reason she hates it, I won’t make her go back, but it’s hard to imagine this purely hypothetical child not taking to this place that I love so much. For so many summers, Rockbrook was my home, those cabin-mates my sisters, and all those silly traditions became more important to me than any holiday for the rest of the year. And my times at camp are still some of the fondest memories of my childhood.

A few months ago, I was waiting for a train at the Nevins Street station here in Brooklyn. As the train rolled in, I spied a girl with a Nalgene covered with a Dolly’s Dairy Bar sticker through the window, her face obstructed by the closed door. I waited eagerly to tell her how much I loved Dolly’s, how it was the highlight of trips to Brevard when I was at camp. And then the door slid open, and I realized it wasn’t just another random person who had been to Brevard: It was my cabin-mate of four years, and my sister for life, sitting fatefully in the train car I was waiting for on a Tuesday morning on a beautiful spring day in New York City.

I hadn’t spoken to her outside of social media in years, and we had a mere three stops on the subway to catch up, but it felt normal. Unhindered by awkwardness, we just picked up where we had left off. Since that meeting, she’s spent the past couple months hiking the Appalachian Trail — the most summer camp thing an adult can do — working her way from Georgia to Maine. It’s something I’d love to do but really don’t think I have the wherewithal for (although I’d like to think that if I decided to, camp would have prepared me well). My camp friends and I may be in different places now, all adults doing adult-ish things. But we’ll always have the Biltmore Train, and the sing-a-longs, and Polar Bear, and the Tevas vs. Chacos debate, and having to explain to non-camp people what a Crazy Creek is.

There’s something unique about camp friendships, and I think it stems from all those weird and silly traditions along with the serious ones. The songs and the shaving cream fights are just as important as Spirit Fire: They’re what make me get all warm and fuzzy when one of my camp friends comments on a picture I post, or when someone says something that intros a camp song that I just can’t not start singing. Camp brought me friendships with people I never would have found otherwise, people who are so different but all so wonderful in their many varied ways. Camp is strange, and wonderful, and beautiful, and so hard to explain to those who did not have the privilege of experiencing it (and sometimes even if they technically did, but they’re just not Camp People). I am a Camp Person, and I will always be a Camp Person. Rockbrook Camp Forever.

Pride

June has been crazy busy around here, Much of it has been consumed with my move from one end of Brooklyn to another, plus there’s been a number of concerts, live podcasts, end of school/fiscal year celebrations, etc. And because of the stress and excitement of all those things, I kind of let it slide that June is Pride Month. I mean, it’s not as though I forgot completely, and I’ve worked various pride events that my employer put on. But this is my first pride as an officially out bisexual, and as the end of the month approached, I felt woefully unprepared.

This past Sunday was the official NYC Pride Parade, among other events. I felt like I should go, but I was torn. I was nervous about going alone; the queer friends I would normally go with were all whisked away to weddings for the weekend, and the straight friends who I would ask to go with me ended up having to work. I’m still sort of figuring out my place in the LGBTQ+ scene here in New York, and in general. I’m constantly going back and forth between “Am I queer enough to be in this space?” and “BISEXUALS EXIST AND ARE VALID GODDAMNIT.” So I was apprehensive about going into this long-existing queer space and not really knowing what to do. I’m not really a people person — or at least not a “let’s-go-to-this-place-and-be-surrounded-by-people” person. I was unsure of Pride etiquette. And I didn’t have anything to wear because of the whole moving thing.

Still, I felt…obligated, I guess. So I posted in my meet-up group to see if anyone had plans I could crash. There were a few takers, and I ended up spending the afternoon with some acquaintances walking around the West Village and attempting to enjoy the parade and the PrideFest street fair.

Like most parades, Pride has become fairly corporate. Big companies sponsor floats for promotion, but also as a show of support for their LGBTQ+ employees. Even with the logos, seeing the sparkly floats roll past as they blasted Whitney Houston and Cher was one of my favorite parts. The street fair, on the other hand, was perhaps a little too commercialized for my tastes. I listened to my guides lament the lack of independent vendors that used to line Hudson Street in previous years. Still, corporations buying tent space = lots of free promotional swag. And the food was good. So, it’s not all bad.

The parade itself is hard to get a good view of without arriving super early, and my cohorts and I were not about that “getting up early on Sunday” life. Instead, we perched on some scaffolding to watch at least a little of the parade, which brought my favorite moment of the afternoon: the great roar of joy when the Park Rangers carrying the Stonewall National Monument banner passed our section. I didn’t hear a louder cheer all afternoon.

We moved farther down the parade route, and I perched myself on a potted plant where I stayed for another hour, until my feet fell asleep and I sweat through my dress and I decided to call it night. I think if I had had more time to dedicate to my attendance, I would have been more enthusiastic. I might have gotten up early and found a good spot on the parade route, right up against the barricades (because I love a parade, but it kind of sucks when you can’t really see and there’s a very small tree digging into your calf). I would have bought this shirt and been ready for the crowds, and I probably wouldn’t have spent the entire day beforehand moving.

But despite my lack of preparation, I did have fun. Maybe next year I will plan better. Maybe I will attend the slightly more low-key Brooklyn Pride and stay true to my personal brand of almost never leaving my chosen borough. But this year, I left sweaty, covered in glitter, and with free toothpaste. And I think that probably counts as a success.

Five Things / Five Years

Well, dear readers, I’ve reached yet another New York City milestone. Yes, it is again time to pack up all my things and move them into yet another apartment, my third in this city. I loathe moving — or at least, I loathe the way it happens here in Brooklyn. Maybe outside our supposedly cosmopolitan conclave, moving is a more straightforward affair; I can’t really speak on the fact as I’ve never looked for an apartment anywhere other than New York. I assume there are places where, if you know you’re going to move, you can start looking for a new place a month to two months before the actual move date. But in New York, finding an apartment is a whirlwind process that requires large amounts of cash on hand and the ability to commit to a place after having seen it for only ten odd minutes (which if you’re me and my friends is long enough to set off the emergency exit alarm and bolt from the premises…hopefully our new neighbors won’t hate us).

On this most recent apartment hunt, we looked at our apartment, applied for it, and handed over an absurd number of twenties in a blank envelope in a period of about 45 minutes. It’s all very trying (as Zelda knows) and you don’t have time to think twice, even if you’re tossing and turning for the next 48 hours trying to figure out if you made the right decision. At this point, the correctness of the decision doesn’t matter: We have the apartment. It’s a nice apartment, it’s in the neighborhood I wanted, and my commute to work will be significantly shorter. But now….we have to move. And as anxiety-ridden as the apartment hunt may be, nothing intimidates me more than the actual move.

We’ve lived in our current apartment four years, longer than I’ve lived anywhere other than my childhood home. The sheer volume of things that can be accumulated in this period of time is amazing. One of the things that always bothers me about those pretty pictures of “small” apartments online is those people’s lack of things. I’m by no means a hoarder, but I’m also not a minimalist. And if you’ve been with us long enough, you know how much I love rearranging my stuff as a de-stressing mechanism. But this takes those little moves to a whole new level.

My new apartment will require a bit of down sizing on my part — mostly because we are going from four roommates to two, and that means less space — but getting my head around fitting things into less space is a little harder. So there’s been a lot of “cleaning out” and Marie Kondo-style purging of things that I don’t need. But I don’t think I can, or should, go totally minimalist. There are a lot of useless things I own that bring me great joy. I’ve been in New York for early five years now, so in the spirit of Zelda’s somewhat adjacent example from her own move, here are five things I’ve found while packing, for each of my five years in this city.

My Master’s Thesis, Supporting Documents, and Gavel: I moved to New York to pursue an M.A. in Arts Business, to learn about the art market and maybe work at an auction house one day. That first year in the city was full immersion into grad school (and into realizing that maybe the for-profit art world wasn’t for me, but I never would have known that if I hadn’t gone to grad school). And if I hadn’t gone to grad school, I never would have written a thesis on Art History Education and New Media, and I never would have ended up where I am now, in a job I love and that I’m good at. I’d also never have received a gavel. They don’t give them to you when you finish non-auction-related masters programs.

A Ridiculous Collection of Playbills: One of the things that’s kept me in New York so long is the access to live theater. Nowhere else in the world can I get off the train, stop at a box office, and see a Tony Award-winning show (and many many non-Tony award-winning shows). The theater is expensive, yes, but with handy sites like Broadway for Broke People, apps like TodayTix, visits from the Momma, and having friends who occasionally get comps because they work in this business we call show, I’ve managed to see many shows in the past five year, and I’ve always kept the playbills. I started doing it after I came to New York for the second time at 16. A friend of mine’s older sister had all of hers pinned up in her room like a wall of theater fan merit badges, and I wanted that too. Now I don’t have room to pin them up, but I continue to collect them.

Beer Flash Cards: I spent two years post-grad school working part-time at the Museum and working the rest of the time at craft beer bars. These are a relic of that age, when I was being quizzed on styles and asked to recommend pairings. I love beer, and I met a good number of my New York friends through the industry. I sometimes miss the days when my Fridays consisted of lunch shifts when distribution reps came in and everyone on staff got to have a little flight. I’m not planning on making my way back into the beer industry anytime soon…but I can’t bring myself to get rid of these cards just yet. I guess I like knowing that I could call on these if I did.

A Brides/Groomsmaid Dress and a Handmade Paper Bouquet: Last year, I got to be in two weddings, both of them for friends I’ve made since I moved to New York (and both with brides so chill I got to wear the same dress twice). Until I went to college, I had attended the same school for 13 years, with most of the same people. Then I went to college and was with the same friends in the same very small space for four years. I never thought I could be as close if not closer to friends I made after I moved here. Surely these things take time and incubation. But as hard as making friends as an adult is, I’m so grateful to have found people who have let me into their life in a relatively short time, and who care for me enough to ask me to stand with them on one of the most important days of their lives. And I also got this awesome bouquet made of comic book pages: bonus perk.

Some Relatively Underused Business Cards and a Cross Stitch: One of the greatest things my time in New York has given me is this blog. As hard as it is sometimes, at the end of the day I like that it forces me to regularly put fingers to keys or pen to paper. And it’s a great excuse to collaborate with my best friend. It’s been almost five years since I moved here, four since Zelda did, and three since we embarked on this written journey together. With all the ups and downs, I’m grateful for it. Maybe we’ll never be internet media lifestyle luminaries, and maybe these business cards will stay packed away in their boxes, but we’ve grown and changed and learned, and I think that’s all we really set out to do in the long run.

Thanks for sticking with me. To the next five years.  

Brooklyn, NY to Louisville, KY Summer 2017

We drove a lot when I was a kid. Road trips were fairly standard as the highway was often the most efficient mode of transportation for getting to the small town that my grandparents made their home in, or to the tiny island off the coast of South Carolina where we often vacationed. I know as a child I complained from my spot in the back seat, murmuring the dreaded, “Are we there yet?” But I’ve grown to enjoy immensely the feeling of the road beneath my wheels…or under someone else’s wheels that I’ve borrowed, as I no longer have any of my own — such is life in New York.

Summer is the perfect time for a road trip, especially if that road trip means leaving Brooklyn. Summer in the city brings hot sticky days and nights that are not much better, as the stench of hot garbage invades every space. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Trust me: Stick with your idyllic images of New York in the fall, because New York in the summer is anything but. So sometimes you just need to climb in a friend’s car and escape, and for Zelda and me, the perfect escape is back to our hometown of Louisville.

Road trips hardly ever play out the way we want them to. We’re too often hindered by time or money constraints to really give in to the romantic ideals of just following the road wherever it may take us. But sometimes we can almost get there. We can choose a rough approximate of a route, stop when we feel compelled, and let the journey be the destination. I’ve done this once before. For spring break during  my senior year of college, I foreswore the beach to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway and explore the wonders of the Appalachians with friends, eventually dragging them back to my hometown. It was pretty much everything I wanted. I stood on the Eastern Continental Divide. I saw the sun set over the Blue Ridge Parkway. I even taught a friend to drive a stick.

I found in planning that road trip that the best course of action is to have a few points of interest picked out to guide your route, and then to let the journey do the rest. This summer, I’m taking friends-of-the-blog Jason and Sarah for a grand tour of the old homestead, and since they are among those rare unicorns known as “New Yorkers with cars,” we will be kicking it road trip style. Now I know we won’t have time for the leisurely journey of my dreams (#adultingproblems), but if we  did, this is what it would look like. This is my rough guide to get your road trip from North to South started, from my current home to my always home. Turn on our first-ever playlist, Highway Cruisin’, and join me on the adventure.

Brooklyn, New York to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

When you’re leaving New York, if you live in Brooklyn, I highly recommend you leave via Staten Island over the Verrazano Bridge. The tolls are a bitch, but it’s worth avoiding having to drive anywhere in Manhattan. Plus, the bridge itself is beautiful. If you’ve got at least three people, you can make use of that high-occupancy-vehicle lane and wave goodbye to the non-carpoolers as you speed by them (I especially revelled in this last fall when we left the city around rush hour, and traffic was at an almost standstill). As you cross into New Jersey via the Goethals Bridge (not as picturesque as the Verrazano, but it does the job), we can really get started.

New Jersey should come with an initial snack stop, preferably at Wawa. I learned of the wonder of Wawa from the many Mid-Atlantic dwellers at my college, who constantly sang its praises. It is, unequivocally, the best road trip food stop ever. Cue indie movie shopping montage: Grab a hot sandwich and a cold fountain drink; stock up on sour gummies, salty pretzels, and, if you’re lucky, some Old Bay Chips; and head back to the road, fully ready to appreciate the wonders that await.

Our first stop is Bethlehem, Pennsylvania — once the center of the American Industrial Revolution and the home of Bethlehem Steel. Fun fact: The Verrazzano Bridge you crossed to leave Brooklyn was constructed from Bethlehem Steel, not to mention many other American landmarks (including but not limited to: the Chrysler Building, Alcatraz, and the Hoover Dam). Bethlehem Steel declared bankruptcy in the early 21st century, and the steel plant has since been turned into a thriving arts and culture district called SteelStacks. The plant’s five tall blast furnaces, now defunct, stand as a backdrop to this new area, which is home to several arts venues as well as a casino. If you show up on a weekend, there’s bound to be something happening, plus it’s a short walk to any number of restaurants and bars in Bethlehem’s South Side. If you’re feeling done for the day, you can stay at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem. It’s supposedly haunted.

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

If you’re like me, your vacations mostly revolve around which museums you can go to and what historical sites you can see. The history nerd in me will never die, and our second guiding point on this fictional journey is an homage to that. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is best known as the site of the Civil War battle that bears its name. The battleground is now part of the Gettysburg National Military Park, and in these times when the NPS is leading our social media rebellion, I feel it’s right to pay a little visit to one of our nation’s hallowed spaces. Plus I’ve wanted to visit since I had to memorize Lincoln’s famous address in the fourth grade.

The Battle of Gettysburg was the deadliest of the whole Civil War in terms of casualties, and President Abraham Lincoln, in his address, originally dedicated the battlefield as the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, four months after the end of the battle. If you’re pressed for time, you can make a stop at the visitor center, get the official map, and take a self-guided tour of the important spots via car (or you can download the map here). If you have a little more time, the site has daily talks and hikes led by park rangers. We here at Zelda and Scout usually opt for the latter; the people who work at places like this usually have an unrestrained amount of passion for the place, and, if you’re lucky, a little bit of theatrical ability as well (Years ago, Zelda and I had a particularly good experience with a Beefeater named Alan at the Tower of London. 10/10 would recommend).

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Huntington, West Virginia

But maybe history’s not your thing, or you just don’t want to spend the day wandering an old battlefield. Just get back in the car and head southwest toward the great state of West Virginia. I have some mixed memories about road trips through West Virginia. The fastest way to get from Louisville to Baltimore (where I attended college) was to cut diagonally through the state, and for a long time it was the bane of my existence: a stretch of 100 or so miles where there was nary a gas station to stop at, or so it seemed. But when you’re not trying to get from point A to point B in the most expedient manner possible, West Virginia really lives up to its state slogan: Wild and Wonderful.

Our next official stop is the greater Huntington area, but it’s a long six hours from Gettysburg to there, so I urge you to give in to your spontaneous road trip heart and stop whenever the spirit moves you along the way. Maybe grab a bite to eat in Morgantown, or pause to enjoy nature at one of the many state parks, or make a pitstop in Weston at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum where you can take a paranormal tour — whatever floats your proverbial boat.

Huntington lies on the border of Kentucky and West Virginia, just adjacent to the town of Ashland – close enough that they could be lumped together as one greater metropolitan area (in order to get over my years of ingrained anti-West-Virginia bias, I hang on to that little nugget). West Virginia tends to get a bad rap, but it really does have a lot to offer. Huntington is home to Marshall University, several historic districts, a number of cultural festivals throughout the year, and the internet’s own McElroy Brothers (who’ve done a number on your author’s preconceptions about West Virginia).

If you’re there in July, you might make the West Virginia Hot Dog festival, and in August there’s the Rails and Ales Beer festival. If there’s not a festival of some sort going on, Huntington has eleven public parks equipped with walking trails and footbridges to help you take in the suburban Appalachian scenery. If you’re more of a thrill seeker, you can check out Camden Park and ride the Big Dipper, a wooden roller coaster built in 1958 (I’m more of a log flume girl myself, and they’ve got one of those too!).

Before you head out, stop at Jolly Pirate Donuts to grab some good good snacks to go in their signature treasure chest.  

Huntington, West Virginia to Louisville, Kentucky

On this final stretch of the trip, the only stops you should make are at distilleries (okay maybe there are a few other stops that might be worthwhile — some scenic overlooks, a cave or two — but you’re reading this blog, so we assume you’re in it for the bourbon). Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, and Buffalo Trace are just off your route, and I know from experience that both tours are well worth a stop. Buffalo Trace is an especially scenic distillery, and the guides there are as passionate about the history as they are about the bourbon. You will learn things, but you will also get to drink (though you do need to drive to your final destination, so drink responsibly).

Take the rest of the drive up I-64 to reach our final destination of Louisville. I’ll save my tips for all the things you can do there for another post — or several  — but in the meantime you can read about some of Zelda’s picks in the New York Times!)

Sometimes a break isn’t about where you go. Sometimes it’s just about taking a second to appreciate the scenery. Don’t just roll those windows down: Actually look at what you may be passing by. And if something strikes your fancy, go ahead and stop for a spell. You’ve got plenty of time.

Photos via: AJ Indam, CyberxrefWV funnymanKittugwiki

A Short History of the Mint Julep

The first week of May has us here at Zelda & Scout in intense party prep mode. This Saturday, we dust off our wide-brim hats and our fascinators, and pull out our many years’ worth of glassware, and make some probably-less-than-stellar decisions regarding both gambling and inebriation. Because the first Saturday in May brings the Kentucky Derby, which at Churchill Downs means the consumption of hundreds of thousands of mint juleps.

And sure there are people who will tell you that mint juleps are gross, and taste like soap, and are only good on Derby. But we are staunch defenders of the julep tradition and its importance as a truly Kentuckian drink, no matter what some articles in the course of this research might like to suggest. Most agree that while the julep probably wasn’t invented in Kentucky, (though the lore does state we can lay claim to another classic bourbon cocktail — the old fashioned — so our whiskey bona fides still check out), since its inception, the great Commonwealth has become its one true home.

The mint julep has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1938, but the julep has a long and storied history before that. In the 18th century, “julep” was a general term that applied to a number of sugar-based cocktails popular during the Revolutionary War period. Often these sugary elixirs were used as means of masking the taste when ingesting medicine…or you know just alcohol, which was also medicine. It could be made with a number of spirits: rum, gin, brandy etc. But bourbon whiskey is what stuck.

The word “julep” itself is originally derived from the Spanish julepe, which in turn comes from the Persian root gulab meaning rosewater. Thus julep was applied to any drinks in which sweetness was the dominant note. The addition of mint to what we now recognize as our mint julep may have originally been intended to soothe stomach pains, but there is no definitive proof.

The julep slowly changed from a medicinal mixture into one of leisure. As its popularity increased, it became a status symbol, largely because of the ice. Ice was, rather ironically, a hot commodity at the time: Only those with a certain amount of wealth had access to ice houses, much less the ability to crush the ice as fine as we know it today. By the time people began serving their juleps in silver cups, it was officially the drink of the elite.

So you see the julep is an old drink, and a simple one: just sugar, bourbon whiskey and mint (you can find Zelda’s tried and true recipe here, along with laments of New York juleps gone wrong). And while it may not have been born in the Bluegrass state, it did come into its own in Kentucky, as a way to imbibe in the local libation of choice: bourbon. Eventually it was introduced to our nation’s capital, legend has it, by Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, and once the politicians got a hold of it, we were off to the races. And though some may associate it with lazy Southern afternoons, sweating daintily on verandas, we Kentuckians know better.

The julep is a city drink, one that gained fame at the bars of the ritziest hotels in the South’s grandest cities, and as such, it is a drink of action. It’s the drink you hold aloft with one hand as your horse crosses the finish line to win your big bet of the day. It’s the drink you probably spill a little of in your haste to hold onto your hat as you run across a muddy infield. It’s the perfect drink for a hot and humid Saturday in May, whether you’re in the grandstand, the infield, or even on a roof somewhere in Brooklyn.

The julep helps us lean into the decadence, with our fancy cups and our perfect sprigs of mint garnish. It helps us embrace the depravity as we make some questionable decisions after our third, or fourth, or fifth julep of the evening (wait, what do you mean it’s only 4:30?). There will always be those who claim it’s too sweet, or that it tastes like medicine. There will be those who can only stomach it, begrudgingly, on Derby Day. But for Zelda & Scout, whether it’s the traditional Early Times or the updated Old Forester, on every day of the year, the mint julep tastes like home.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Making Matzah You Want to Eat

It’s that time of year again! My favorite Jewish holiday is upon us. Yes, Passover is here, and along with all my favorite things — gathering around the table with friends, drinking wine, and opening doors for invisible guests — it also means eight days without the comfort of leavened carbs. If you know me, you knows that this definitely qualifies as a hardship. Instead of the glorious wheat products that normally make up the bulk of my diet, we get eight days of the cardboard-adjacent cracker substance known as “matzah.” But all is not lost! Today, the first full day of Passover 2017, I have scoured the edges of the internet to bring you ten recipes that make matzah actually tasty. The Jews of the internet have taken to Pinterest and Tumblr and what-have-you to take matzah to a palatable, even delicious, level. Enjoy.

Matzah Brittle: This recipe is first on my list just because I firmly believe the best way to make anything taste better is to cover it in chocolate and caramel. There’s really nothing better. If you make this right you’ll want to eat it even when it’s not Passover. In fact it’s so addictive, in Zelda’s house it’s known as matzah crack.

Matzah Brei: Matzah Brei is probably the most traditional way we Ashkenazi Jews have to make the unleavened fare of our ancestors taste better. The concept is simple. Take some matzah, break it into pieces, soften with water or milk, add eggs, and fry. It’s like a Passover frittata, or Pesach french toast. Slather with syrup and you can almost dream it’s a waffle.

Matzah Granola: Snacking is the hardest part of staying #Kosher4Passover, so do yourself a favor and prepare a bunch of this munchy-worthy granola ahead of time. Then you can snack away to your heart’s content!

Matzah S’mores: S’mores are always amazing, and while the loss of the graham cracker shell does hurt the overall s’more taste, the flavor of the matzah is mostly hidden by all the good-good melty chocolate and marshmallow. For a cross-cultural Easter/Passover experience, use marshmallow peeps instead of regular marshmallows.  

Matzah Latkes: Why not combine these two bastions of Jewish food? Latkes aren’t just for Chanukah, people. We can savor the delight of the potato pancake all year round! Even if it’s more potato than pancake during Passover.

Matzah Lasagna: Anything you can do with noodles, you can do with matzah, or so this recipe posits. Having experimented thoroughly in my younger years, I believe it to be true. Your matzah lasagna is going to be slightly more crunchy than the traditional sort, but it will still be good.

Matzah Pizza: Teenage Scout’s favorite way to eat matzah, covered in cheese and marinara sauce. It’s just pizza! Really, really, really thin-crust pizza. There’s room for a lot of variety in toppings here, so you can really hide the taste of cardboard if you try hard enough.

Matzah Puppy Chow: For some Jews (cough-Zelda-cough), kitniyot are not off limits, so there’s really no need for this recipe as rice or corn Chex are #K4P. But alas for us Ashkenazi’s they are not…for some inexplicable reason. So we have resorted to re-creating a beloved recipe with Matzah to…mixed results. We’re sticking with the theme here: If you cover something in enough chocolate, it can never really be bad.

Matzah Cake: This is one for the more ambitious among you. It turns matzah into a dessert that almost looks restaurant-worthy. It does require two whole boxes of of the stuff though, so it’s mostly for the people who stocked up beforehand (not the Scout’s of the world, who will wander into the grocery the day before Passover and be relegated to making the last box of off-brand matzah on the shelf last the entire eight days of the holiday).

Matzoah Kugel: It’s fitting to end with this recipe. My children, what we’ve learned today is that the key to making matzah taste less like cardboard and more like actual food is drown it in as many other ingredients as possible. Hide it under apples and brown sugar and eggs and never look back.

Photos via: The kitchn, Love + Cupcakes, Martha Stewart Living, Ingredients Inc, Martha Stewart, DelishSkinny taste, What Jew Wanna eat, Living sweet moments, Epicurious

Things We Have in Common, Like Hating Duke

It’s that time of year again, when the entirety of my attention turns to college basketball and the never-actually-dormant UK fan in me comes bursting forth to the front and center of my life: March Madness. I love March Madness: it’s one of my absolute favorite times of the year. I love the ups and downs, the last second buzzer beaters, the Cinderella stories. I love watching my team defy or live up to the expectations (depending on where the expectations lie). I love brackets that get busted.  I love an underdog story. And I love it when Duke loses.

The second round of the NCAA Tournament wrapped up on Sunday night, and in the final game, Duke lost. This might not seem important to some of you, but if that’s the case, it’s likely you didn’t grow up in Kentucky or North Carolina (…or perhaps a select few other states, but those two are the big ones). Nothing brings people together like a common enemy.

Friend-of-the-blog Sarah is a UNC fan. She comes by it honestly, as she actually went to UNC Chapel Hill, whereas I was just born into my love of the UK Wildcats. Initially, I thought this might be a hindrance to our friendship but was willing to try to make it work. When you’re friends with a whole lotta nerds, you take sports fans where you can get ’em (though I maintain that being a sports fan is just being a nerd about sports). Then, when I was helping move her and also-friend-of-the-blog Jason into their last apartment, I stumbled upon this book:

With that, I knew our friendship was cemented. Now objectively, I know that hate on a real visceral level really isn’t okay. But I hate — like, really hate — Duke. Now I don’t know anyone who loves college basketball who feels ambivalent about the Blue Devils (and let’s be honest: very few of those feelings are of a positive nature). Maybe there are people out there who would disagree on that, but I don’t know them. And then there’s probably a portion of people reading this who have no idea what I’m talking about. Feel free to stop reading now, or continue in a sports-talk-induced haze, if you dare.

As a Kentucky fan, I can trace my hatred for Duke back to 1992 (okay, so, technically I don’t actually remember the East Regional Final of 1992, but I know that’s where my hatred of Duke started). It’s mostly Christian Laettner’s fault. He’s the one who scored a lucky, overtime, buzzer beater shot that dashed Kentucky’s chances at glory, in a year that was supposed to be our year. The UK team  that season was called the Unforgettables, known for the four Kentucky-native seniors who had been with the team through a two-year probation from the tournament, punishment for an old teammate’s mistakes. Those guys stuck it out, waited to get their shot at the title. And then at the last second, Laettner took it all away with a shot he shouldn’t even have been able to take (having committed a foul that should have had him ejected from the game earlier in the second half). That stupid last-ditch effort gets played over and over again every March, in every montage, on every channel. It even has its own Wikipedia page.

Now I’m not alone in my antipathy toward Laettner. He’s one of the most reviled players in college basketball history; ESPN even made a documentary about it. And he’s got company.  Duke’s an easy team to hate, the spoiled rich kids of college basketball, and every season there’s one who seems more annoying and entitled than the rest. When I was in high school it was JJ Redick. This year, it’s Grayson Allen.  Notice how Duke has its own category in this info-bracket from the now-defunct Grantland :

So this year, as I readied myself for another month of March Madness, I was sad to see that Duke was a likely favorite to win the whole tournament. They were ranked #2, and the East Region, historically the toughest quadrant of the bracket, was the weakest it had been in years. By all appearances, they had a pretty straight shot to the Final Four if they just kept being f***ing Duke. They wouldn’t even need to try that hard. I organized a bracket pool this year, so I took mine very seriously — weighing records and stats instead of just which teams I like, watching as many games as possible. I’m in it to win it. And so I reluctantly placed Duke in the Final Four, hoping I could get at least some money out of it in the end.

So imagine my (pleasant) surprise when the SEC’s own South Carolina, to whom I hadn’t given much credit, held on to oust the Blue Devils from the tournament this past Sunday night.  And my favorite part of Duke losing? The camaraderie between all the basketball fans on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, regardless of affiliation. I saw UNC and South Carolina fans celebrating side by side. I was reminded that this website exists. It was beautiful to see that no matter how much Louisville and UK fans fight about their respective teams, we can all agree that “Duke is unequivocally the worst” (direct quote from noted University of Louisville fan, Zelda). A Duke loss is a powerful thing. It can turn enemies into friends. It can unite the Carolinas.

 

So if by some act of the March Madness gods UNC and UK  play each other in the South Regional Final, no matter how uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing watching that game will be for Sarah and me, I love that we can at least find solace in the fact that Duke can’t win the 2017 NCAA Tournament. I guess what I’m saying is that in these trying times, when nothing else makes sense, we should focus on the things we have common, the things that bring us together — like hating Duke.