One of the hardest life-lessons I’ve ever had to learn was this: Don’t go away on vacation for two weeks, in the middle of July, without emptying your refrigerator first.
I learned this lesson the hard way five years ago, the summer after I graduated from college.
Once final exams were over, and graduation ceremonies were attended, and parties were partied, and tears were shed, I packed up a backpack, locked my front door, and headed home to Boston to relax for two weeks before my first, real-life, grown-up job started. I had been complaining to my landlord for months that the magnetic strip on my refrigerator door was starting to give way, causing the door to creak open whenever it felt like it, but he never seemed to believe me enough to come and look at it. I tried jury-rigging the door shut with bungee-cords and duct tape but still it resisted, determined to swing open, wild and free. Somehow this didn’t dawn on my twenty-two-year-old brain before I decided to leave it behind for two weeks, full of condiments, a package of deli turkey, a few odd fruits and vegetables and the last of a carton of milk.
When I walked in the front door of my building two weeks later I immediately smelled something… wrong. The building was full of elderly people and my brain immediately darted to the darkest imaginable place. I crept up the stairs, nauseous, thinking of my across-the-hall neighbor—an older woman named Morgan who was always bringing me soggy, raisin-studded quickbreads too early in the morning, or bejeweled, mothy hand-me-down sweaters too late at night. I was about to knock on her door when I realized, in complete horror, that the smell was coming from MY apartment–my tidy, empty little square of an apartment!
I opened my front door to see the refrigerator hanging open like the cruelest cavern of a grin, the bulb long since burnt out. There was a thick sludge of every imaginable color and scent spread thickly across the floor.
Something I never knew until that day, was how particularly and strangely awful a dead appliance smells. Full of food or not, a dead refrigerator has a sharp, almost forlorn smell–like hot ammonia and static electricity.
I spent the rest of the night on the ground, crying and scrubbing and crying some more, my hands and knees shaking from the endless layers of smell and the shock of it all. By 2 AM my fingers and eyes were bleach-burnt and angry red and I crawled into bed to sleep for four hours.
Looking back, I think it was probably some last-ditch effort from the gods warning me not to go to that new, grown-up job the next day—that job, that boss whom the mere thought of still makes dread rise in my throat like bile….
Why am I telling you all of this? So that you’ll clean your dang fridges out before you go away this summer! For the love of God, empty them out.
Ever since that incident I am insane about making sure my refrigerator is as empty as possible before I leave for more than a day. The day before I left for my trip to Oregon I opened my fridge to see what needed to be used up or thrown out before I left. The only two perishables left were a beautiful, bright little orange and a gallon of milk. Sitting there next to each other in the otherwise empty fridge, they already looked like a minimalist cover of A Clockwork Orange, and the wheels in my head started turning.
I know what you’re thinking—-milk in the middle of summer? Not refreshing.
Wrong! You’re wrong.
Cam, from Minetta Tavern (who you might remember from the Great Gatsby post) tweaked a classic milk punch recipe, using orange and orange blossom water not only for the obvious Clockwork Orange reference, but also to lighten the drink up for hotter weather. Ice is used in the shaker and the glass to keep things nice and cool, and powdered white sugar is swapped with its molasses-y dark brown cousin for a more mellow sweetness. We briefly toyed with the idea of using absinth for its hallucinogenic properties, but I just couldn’t get behind the idea of mixing anise flavor with milk. Instead, we used a super-strong (114.3 proof) bourbon from Kentucky called Noah’s Mill to make sure that the drink packs a punch and gets “lights bursting all over your mozg.” For those of you who can’t tolerate dairy, I tested the recipe with coconut milk (“SO Delicious” brand) and it was insanely good.
Makes 1 6 oz cocktail
• Orange Blossom Water
• ¼ oz good vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
• 3 oz whole milk
• 1 ¼ oz good bourbon
• Orange peel
Drop a tiny droplet of orange blossom water into a cocktail shaker—just enough to rinse the bottom of the shaker (if you don’t have or can’t find orange blossom water you can take another tiny peel of orange and muddle it with the brown sugar and vanilla in the bottom of the cocktail shaker before adding the rest of your ingredients). Add vanilla, brown sugar, milk and bourbon, fill with ice and shake vigorously (so vigorously!) for about a minute—you want a nice froth to form on top. Strain your mixture through the cocktail shaker into an 8 oz glass of ice. Cut a nice thick hunk of peel off your orange and give it a squeeze over the milk punch before dropping it in for garnish. Top with freshly grated nutmeg and enjoy.