Ejo #58 – In Search Of The Perfect Margarita

Hello, my name is Chryss, and I enjoy drinking alcohol. In fact, I really, really enjoy drinking alcohol. And I think that’s OK. I’m not ashamed. I won’t go so far as to claim (as a fabulous friend of mine once did) that “I just don’t trust people who don’t drink”. But c’mon, they’re certainly not as much fun! There is something to be said for the shared experience of enjoying a well-made tipple – whether it be a fine glass of wine, a nicely balanced cocktail or an ice-cold beer on a warm summer’s day.

It’s funny how certain drinks go in and out of style. Chardonnay spent many years in the wilderness, before making a fashionable comeback. Gin too is enjoying a very popular resurrection, while the Cosmopolitan is now considered a little bit daggy and retro (albeit still a classic).

In the spirit world, tequila has drawn what I think is an unfairly short straw. I guess the reason is that so many of us chalked up at least one bad tequila experience during our misspent youths. Usually it involved the kind of tequila that comes with a little red hat on the bottle. Ugh!!! I remember quite well the epic evening that caused me to exile tequila for two long (tumbleweed-strewn) decades. Actually, I don’t remember the evening at all – but I do clearly remember the aftermath. There was pain, there was vomit, there was shame. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. You’ve been there.

Shudder

Shudder

But tequila is not just a drink young people employ to get drunk. Just like the more respected beverages of whiskey and wine, tequila has a spectrum of quality that ranges from paintstripper to fine libations ripe for enjoyment and appreciation. And just like those other forms of alcohol, fine tequila takes on flavours and nuances from its terroir and from the aging process. For instance, Extra Añejo is aged for a minimum of 36 months in oak barrels, and this process tends to mellow it, making it an enjoyable drink to sip. Don’t you even think about lick-sip-sucking Extra Añejo. In fact, don’t “slam” tequila at all. Ever. OK? Show some respect, please.

Dangerous

Dangerous

Now, just because I have come to appreciate tequila for the fine liquor it is, doesn’t make me a tequila snob. Not in the least. Actually, some tequila snobs might look down their noses at me because my favourite way to drink it is mixed in a margarita. It was this humble (though much-abused) cocktail that lured me back to tequila, after so many years apart. And I admit that when I first started drinking margaritas, my long-held disdain for tequila led me to drink some pretty, pretty bad versions. Margaritas sweetened with sugar syrup. Margaritas made with pre-made sour mix. Flavoured margaritas. Even writing these words makes me gag. Blech! I might not be a tequila snob, but I sure as hell am a margarita snob. And I have Las Vegas to thank for that.

David and I first went to Vegas in 2007. We were young and naïve, so we did the silly tourist thing of walking around with giant yard glasses of unnaturally bright green, slushy “margaritas”. The memory makes me cringe. Thank god then, that the next time we went to Las Vegas, in 2011, we met George, the bartender at Mesa, a restaurant in Caesar’s Palace. George’s margaritas were an epiphany, and drinking them opened up the world of tequila in a whole new way to me. He used Partida, a quality silver tequila (this, youngest style of tequila, is also the crispest and cleanest which makes it ideal for mixing in cocktails). He squeezed fresh limes to order. He added a “secret” ingredient* to the shaker before agitating it. He served the drink in a chilled martini glass. Without ice. In short, George blew my fucking mind. What was this drink? It was like nothing I’d ever had before. And just like that, George turned me into a margarita snob. As a memento, he also gave me the silver emblem that wraps with a piece of leather around the neck of the bottle; aka the Partida Spirit Bird. I still have it.

The Partida Spirit Bird emblem.  I proudly wear this as a necklace.

The Partida Spirit Bird emblem. I proudly wear this as a necklace.

Wearing my Partida Spirit Bird.

Wearing my Partida Spirit Bird.

The lure of a quality margarita is so great, that when we went back to Vegas this year, we headed straight to Mesa looking for George. As luck would have it, he’d gone back behind the bar just a few days earlier, after spending the preceding three years working the floor of the restaurant. Perhaps there is a god. He made them for us and they were as good as we remember. The best margaritas. Ever.

The ultimate margarita.  Time and time again.  This one celebrated a poker tournament win.

The ultimate margarita. Time and time again. This one celebrated a poker tournament win.

At the beginning of this year’s USA holiday, David and I decided that we’d make it a Margarita Tour of California/Nevada. We enjoyed margaritas on 24 days of our 25 day holiday. And that ain’t bad (the one, dreadful, day we didn’t indulge was the result of the Curious Case Of The Misplaced Tequila Bottle while camping in the Nevada desert). During our holiday, we had some great margaritas, we had some average margaritas and we had some interesting margaritas. Margaritas, margaritas, margaritas!!!!

Mystery Haight Street Bar - This is what a margarita SHOULDN'T look like.  I mean, a mason jar???  Really????  The taste disappointed too.  We stuck to Mexican joints from then on.  Lesson learned.

Mystery Haight Street Bar – This is what a margarita SHOULDN’T look like. I mean, a mason jar??? Really???? The taste disappointed too. We stuck to Mexican joints from then on. Lesson learned.

Tommy's Mexican - we waited six years for this pitcher of Partida margarita.  And it was gooooooooood.

Tommy’s Mexican – we waited six years for this pitcher of Partida margarita. And it was gooooooooood.

Tacolicious - The bar, Mosto, was closed but the restaurant still served margaritas (thank god, right!!?).

Tacolicious – The bar, Mosto, was closed but the restaurant still served margaritas (thank god, right!!?).

Mosto - We went back the next day when the bar was open and had some margaritas.

Mosto – We went back the next day when the bar was open and had some margaritas.

Mosto - You can't make a margarita without fresh lime.  Not in my book anyway.

Mosto – You can’t make a margarita without fresh lime. Not in my book anyway.

Mosto - We also had some mezcal.  Very popular right now.  It was nice, but it wasn't a margarita.

Mosto – We also had some mezcal. Very popular right now. It was nice, but it wasn’t a margarita.

Lóló - quirky restaurant with quirky (but really good) margaritas.  Loved the chilli salt rim.

Lóló – quirky restaurant with quirky (but really good) margaritas. Loved the chilli salt rim.

La Rondalla - This was a recommendation from a friend.  They made the margaritas fresh (on request) and they made them good.

La Rondalla – This was a recommendation from a friend. They made the margaritas fresh (on request) and they made them good.

As a happy ending to this story, David and I actually bought some (rather elusive) Partida tequila whilst out one day in San Francisco (the fact that we lugged the five bottles, four strenuous miles home, up the vertical streets of San Francisco, just makes them even more special). Ever since learning from George how to make the perfect margarita three and a half years ago, we have enjoyed magnificent margaritas at home, usually made with Patrón or Don Julio (both very good tequilas). But now, people, NOW, we’ll be making them with Partida!!!! In any case, we will always have a toast to George!

 

 

* It’s a dash of water. Yup, a simple dash of water makes a world of difference to the final product. Try it sometime.

Ejo # 57 – To Be (A Mother); Or Not To Be

They told me I’d change my mind about never marrying when I met the right guy. And they were right. But they should have just taken the win and stopped there. Because even though I married an amazing, kind, loving guy (and even after nearly eight years of marriage) I’m still 100% sure that I’ve made the right decision not to have children.

For some reason though, people still ask if we’re going to procreate. I’ve taken to telling strangers who mention it that my uterus is barren and that we just can’t have kids. This tends to shut them up for a bit while I enjoy watching them wriggle in discomfort (because, really, how rude – though that’s a whole other ejo right there).

There was only ever one time I seriously contemplated motherhood and it was right before I shipped off to the USA at the ripe old age of 26 to spend 12 months as an au pair. Yep, that year of looking after someone else’s kids beat the desire to be a parent right out of me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the kids and still do. As though they were my own. But I was disavowed of the notion that I could give of myself so completely and selflessly to little people for the rest of my life.

I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me when I say I don’t want children and interpret that as meaning that I don’t love kids. I actually really do (and would LOVE to be an Aunt – no pressure Mari and Pieta!!). I find children fun, and funny (hilarious, in fact) and truly fascinating and I enjoy spending time with them and being around them – it’s a bit of a novelty for me I guess. So, on the one hand that old cliché of enjoying kids but more enjoying being able to hand them back is quite true for me. On the other hand, I also sometimes find that when a small child I love wants me to hold their hand or give me a hug and a kiss it stirs a deep, almost painful, longing in a place somewhere behind my solar plexus. An ancient desire or need or instinct to be able to experience that connection on a more intense and personal level. But I have had enough experiences with children to know that this feeling of potential regret, while strong, is not as strong as the fear I have of potentially ever regretting having them.

I am currently on a trip with David to the USA and not only have I managed to catch up with both the kids I used to look after way back in the day (shout out to all-grown-up Holly and Daniel – I love you guys), but I am currently staying with one of my most beloved friends, a girl I met right after my year as a nanny and whom I’ve been friends with ever since. And, guess what, she has two little boys aged four and six. Spending time with them has been awesome, especially since the last time we saw them was over three years ago and their little personalities have developed so much since then. But I admire the hell out of their Mum/Mom for having the patience of a saint. They’re pretty damn well-behaved kids but there have been a couple of occasions where I’ve wanted to just run away to my room, leaving the madness behind. My friend doesn’t have that luxury. She has to deal with the demands, the needs and, of course, the occasional tanty. And she does it with such grace and aplomb that all I can do is just sit back and tip my hat to her.

And that’s kind of what scares me a little about parenthood. Let me tell you how my kids would be raised. Pretty well from birth they would wake up when it suited me, go to bed at their scheduled bed time, brush their own teeth, clean up after themselves and respect my personal space. My children (should they be so lucky to be born to me) would be ready on time for school (after making their own lunches), never be sick and they’d stick close to me when we went out in public. They would do well at school, make friends easily and be super-polite to everyone they met. They’d be quiet, calm, obedient, little robots that would clean the house while I was at work and make me a stiff drink when I got home. Now ask me again when I’m going to have kids.

Most of my closest female friends are mothers these days. And they are all truly incredible at doing one of the most difficult, time-consuming, personality-crushing, technically proficient, love-sucking jobs in the world and still being funny, interesting and bloody fabulous human beings.

Better them than me.

Ejo #56 – Extraordinary People I Know: Jack O’Loughlin

What is it that makes a person extraordinary? Sometimes it is their extraordinary actions – climbing Mount Everest, feeding starving children in Africa or walking a tightrope strung between two buildings. Sometimes though, what makes someone extraordinary is as simple as their sparkling humanity, their ability to connect. It doesn’t sound like much. But when you meet that special person you realise what an incredible gift they have. And how rare it is.

I vividly remember the day I met Jack O’Loughlin, for it was the day of my father’s funeral. He came along with his girlfriend Dee, both of whom were friends of my sisters. There are two things I remember the most about them being there. First, how nice it was that they had come – during a period of great darkness, it seemed like a very supportive and loving thing to do. The second thing I remember is that afterwards, we laughed. I mean we laughed until we cried. Hysterical guffaws, side-splitting chortles, belly-laughs galore. And who knows, this may have seemed inappropriate to the people around us, but after ten months of depression and anxiety and sad thoughts, after days of grieving, and after almost a year without any joy it was truly cathartic to just laugh. It was a release from the pain and the grief. And it was a hell of an introduction to the life force that was Jack.

And what a life force it was. I’ve never known anyone who was so goddamn alive. So full of vitality, so present in the moment, so full of fucking beans! People search their whole lives for meaning, wondering what their purpose is. Jack knew his purpose. He was here to live. And those of us who knew him, hey, we got taken along for the ride. And it was exhilarating. I only ever spent a handful of occasions in his company, but he left a permanent mark on my spirit. He was not perfect and he sure as hell wasn’t a saint. He was brash, and crude and, sometimes, he could even be a little bit intimidating.

The classic Jack and Dee "stinkeye"  If you didn't know him, or if you met him in a dark alley, you might be scared.  That is, until he gave you a great, big, warm bear hug.

The classic Jack and Dee “stinkeye” If you didn’t know him, or if you met him in a dark alley, you might be scared. That is, until he gave you a great, big, warm bear hug.

But Jack’s gift was that he was able to connect with people from all walks of life, melting down barriers and walls with the ease of a superhero. He was fun to be around because he created adventure in everything. Life was a gift and he was a kid under the Christmas tree. And more than anything else Jack was uncommonly kind and loving. He loved and was loved abundantly, but there was only one person who held a special place in his heart. Just one person that fit him perfectly. Jack proposed to Dee every single year for seven years until she finally said yes and married him on 18th April 2009*. They honeymooned in South America, gallivanting as newlyweds do, savouring their newly forged marital status.

Always up for a laugh.  Perhaps some pre-wedding jitters, too!

Always up for a laugh. Perhaps some pre-wedding jitters, too!

The newlyweds. What a beautiful couple.

The newlyweds. What a beautiful couple.

The look of love.

The look of love.

Just two months after their wedding, whilst walking to work early one morning, Jack was struck and killed by a speeding car. Just like that, he was gone. Words are rendered ineffective and useless when trying to describe this great loss. It was, and still is, an overwhelming devastation. It was hard to make sense of it then. It has remained, frankly, impossible to make sense of it now.

It was Jack’s birthday two days ago and David and I had a toast in his honour. He is still very much alive in so many people’s hearts, including ours. He burns as bright as ever, and his life force endures even though he is no longer around. I became quite emotional that night and, when I went to bed, I’m not ashamed to say that I had a good cry. I was sad for him, for Dee, and for me. I was sad for everyone who’s lost him. But at the same time, as I was weeping, I felt strangely comforted. It was almost as though he was there, in the dark, sitting on the edge of the bed, soothing me. Consoling me. Now, isn’t that extraordinary?

* * *

Some words from Jack’s mates:

He was the water that filled the cracks in the dream I didn’t know I wanted. Dee.

Jack (Johno) was (and still is) an extremely unique guy, a true loving soul. Someone who would always be there for you even before you hinted. Someone who always had my back. Completely selfless (except the times I’d make him take my help). He had this presence that you’d feel as soon as you were in the same room (and yes I still feel him now). Mal.

He was inclusive, protective, loyal, enthusiastic, and generous. He would talk to anyone and everyone regardless of their status, race, religion, etc. His unofficial philosophy of life was that he didn’t know if he liked or didn’t like something until he tried it. So he (quite literally) tried EVERYTHING! Apologies for the brevity of this message and lack of actual story content but I’m hungover to buggery and my brain is broken (I blame Jack, who would have made me go out today and do something active/fun/outrageous to distract me from the pain). Mish.

On first impression he might seem a little scary.  But when you look into his eyes you can see he's all heart. This photo is beautiful to me.

On first impression he might seem a little scary. But when you look into his eyes you can see he’s all heart. This photo is so beautiful to me.

Jack you always had time for me. Whether to laugh at me, or a kind word of advice, even if it was to say HTFU. Rob.

[After a phone prank, during which he pretended to be angry at me] I realised the effect he had on me, the level to which I held his esteem. I realised that besides my partner, and besides my best friend, this man Jack was the most solid male influence in my life after Dad died. I was crushed, thinking, even for those 10 minutes, that he didn’t love me anymore. I think we both realised how much we meant to each other. It was just a dumb incident but it ended up strengthening our relationship because it meant working at it. He was shocked at how a little of his aggression had affected me so greatly, I think he realised then how much he meant to me. Pieta.

We met Dee and Jack in 2007 when we moved next door. Through our renovation, Jack provided a friendly smile, advice and laughter, popping his head over the fence at unexpected times and joining in whatever was going on. He made us feel very welcome in the West, sharing with us the things that made Footscray home to him. His energy and zest for life was infectious. We only knew him for a very short time but his impact on us was great and will never leave us. He smiled with his eyes. P.S. Matthew misses sharing the sneaky cigarettes with Jack in the backyard. Matthew & Naomi.

Jack came over to our house to fix the kitchen sink because the taps were leaking. He was nice, kind, funny and the most beautiful fella I ever met. And I mean this because that’s how he came across – as a nice hearted person. We had some good laughs during his visit. And to make him an even better person, he refused to take money from me, and said laughing, “Maybe you can pay me next time, but not now lady”. In my heart and mind Jack was the most beautiful person, and I say that for the person he was. When I heard he was gone, my heart sank and I cried for him, losing his life so soon and in that way. And I cried for Dee, losing her loving partner. As painful as it is, Jack deserves to be remembered on his birthday and every day forever, for who he was, a gentle giant. Maria.

He had your back – he wouldn’t leave you hanging. He would give you the shirt off his back. He’d make sure everyone else was OK before making sure he was OK. David.

I did not know Jack very long but he impacted my life in a positive way. He showed me how to party properly, how to listen. He was also the inspiration for my first tattoo. He was a very great person who was loved and respected by all. I think about him a lot but it doesn’t make me sad, it makes me feel proud that I knew him. He was a blessing to me. Nick.

Jack to me was more than just a friend. He was the closest thing I’ve ever had to a brother. He also treated me like I was his brother. He was always there to help me. He always cheered me up. He was the first person in my life to actually take the time to help me build my self-confidence and to help me discover who I am as a person. He made me realise that there are so many people in the world that need help and that you should help them whenever you can. He taught me how to be strong and to stand up for yourself and those around you without resorting to violence. He was my best mate, my brother, my protector and my guide. He will be a part of me for the rest of my life. I have his picture beside my bed. I literally speak to him every day when I wake up and every night before bed. And he is still the most important person in the world to me. I kind of base the way I live my life on the kind person that he was, who always looked out for everyone. Even complete strangers. Justin.

The thing that stood out about Jack was not only that he was next level, take it to the bridge, can’t-feel-my-face fun with a capital F, but that he was so, so very generous a human being. Jack (and Dee) were incredibly kind to my family when we lost my Dad. I’ll never forget that. First time I met Jack was at a party and things were getting too loud and overwhelming for me so I slinked off to get my head together and he sauntered on after me and hung out with me for a while. It sounds like nothing, but it was such a kind thing to do. Jack just made it his business to make sure I, a stranger to him, was okay. We were friends after that and that’s just the way it was because he was inclusive and open-hearted and welcoming. The man had the charisma of 10 people.

I think about that easy human connection he offered so seemingly effortlessly and I’m heartbroken that what remains is an indelible scar where a glorious life should have blossomed and thrived. But I’m really grateful too. I actually do feel lucky to have known Jack. All those times we spent laughing and partying and carrying on, loom large in my mind as a reminder of how well he lived his life. Of how being loving, good-natured and caring can affect so many people in such a good way. I’m so grateful because I understand how truly rare and beautiful Jack was. Mari.

* I’d just like to say here that no extraordinary person would choose to marry somebody that was ordinary. Dee, herself, is an amazing person. Never defined by Jack, but definitely complemented by him, I can’t begin to imagine the hole in her life, created by his absence. Dee and Jack got together on 25th December 2000. This was her Facebook status on Xmas Day last year: “This time 13 years ago I fell irrevocably in love with the master of my universe. What a wild ride & stunning revelation it was to find the perfect fit for me. I will miss you forever Jack/John/Johnno.

Live.  Life.  Right.  Now.

Live. Life. Right. Now.

At a football game in Rio de Janeiro, during their honeymoon.

At a football game in Rio de Janeiro, during their honeymoon.

What a guy.  A man about to be married.

What a guy. A man about to be married.