It was a little over a month ago, now, that I visited my daughter in Saratoga Springs, New York. For a fabulous week, we cavorted about town, we traipsed through the Adirondacks, and, generally, caused a ruckus wherever we went.
I’d been to Saratoga Springs before, around Christmas time, last year. I enjoyed visiting in the winter, but probably more because my kids were both there and not because the weather was pleasant. It was a little cold, and I was told it was pretty mild. My son in law says there are four seasons in upstate New York; cold, really cold, still cold, and road construction.
We tore up the town a bit during my visit last winter. On one of our nights out, we visited several bars in the quaint downtown area. My favorite bar, by far, was One Caroline, situated, not coincidentally, on the legendary Caroline Street. One Caroline is a classy place with dark wood and subtle lighting and, often, live music. There is dining, of course, but, it is the bar I am most smitten with.
On my first visit to Saratoga Springs, to Caroline Street, and to One Caroline, after studying the craft cocktail menu, perusing the wine offering and the local (to New York and to me, NorCal) craft brew on tap, I decided to have a gin based cocktail called the “Beetnik”; house made beet juice, a little simple syrup, and gin. It was so delish! I chatted with the bar manager about beer, about wine, about a port offering he had displayed on the shelf from a winery a dear friend works for. A winery in the Sierra Foothills, in Amador, that has a “villa” that I’ve actually had a girls’ weekend at. I felt I’d established rapport with the bar manager through conversation, but, perhaps I was just emboldened by the Beetnik. Anyhow, I made such a big deal about how so very yummy the cocktail was that he wrote the recipe down on the back of a business card. This has become one of my most treasured items, and, in fact, is one of the things I’d be more likely to grab in the event of a house fire and a requisite escape.
Upon my return to Saratoga Springs this summer, during “track season”, when the horses are racing at the Saratoga Race Track, there were several mandatory activities on my list; seeing the horses race, climbing Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in New York State, and going back to One Caroline for a Beetnik.
We did, in fact, make it to the race track and saw the horses race. We brought a bottle of wine with us to the track, which is perfectly cool, and intended to share it there. Sadly, we forgot a wine bottle opener and glasses, so we improvised, bought splits of sparkling wine, mixed it with limoncello, and called our concoction “limomosas”. We took the bottle of white wine back to the house and replaced it in the fridge to re-chill.
Our return to One Caroline followed an evening my daughter and I shared at a polo match. We dressed up for the polo match, unnecessarily, but opted for the inexpensive lawn seating. We decided to bring a picnic with us, rather than buy the catered fare available at the field, and we included in our picnic bag the bottle of wine, a corkscrew, and glasses. Upon our arrival at the field, though, we noticed signs saying “No outside food or beverage”. We stuffed blankets and jackets into our Lilly Pulitzer tote bag, disguising our contraband and blending in with the Lilly Pulitzer crowd, simultaneously.
We selected a spot on the lawn, a bit removed from the clubhouse, and, hopefully, also, the wait staff. We spread out our blanket and went about crowd watching. We saw several people at the nearby, and free, picnic tables, ordering fare from the wait staff. We also observed a family with two young girls take a spot on a blanket on the lawn near us. They brought their own food, but instructed the little girls to “not let anyone see” them eat their wrapped sandwiches. A few minutes later, a man rolled behind us, and the family with the two little girls, with a full on, very obvious, and flamboyantly, “Wal Mart blue” (a possible Crayola color) ice chest. We decided to proceed with caution. I grabbed the bottle of wine, which my daughter received from her wine-of-the-month club. I love the names and labels applied to wines and beers. I think when I grow up I’d like that job; to think up witty names for alcoholic beverages. Like “limomosas”. The name adorning this bottle of Chardonnay was “Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy”. Cute, right? I popped the cork and decanted the wine surreptitiously into our Lilly Pulitzer (and Pink) tumblers. We divided up our high-end market food aisle feast and sipped our wine. No one bothered us, no one busted us, no one even noticed us enjoying our clandestine feast and our boozy beverage. We decided sneaking food and wine into a polo match was, well, easy peasy.
After polo, our picnic, and our Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy, we headed for One Caroline. Actually, I think we made a stop or two before One Caroline, I don’t clearly recollect without scrolling through the photos chronologically. At any rate, we did end up there. To my thrill and delight, the bar manager was working. He, of course, didn’t recognize me. I had no expectation; Saratoga Springs is a tourist town and I know thousands upon thousands of faces filter through all of the local bars, taverns, and restaurants every track season. When he asked what I’d like, in my usual, straight forward, ask and you shall receive manner, I said, “I traveled all the way from Northern California for a Beetnik!” His face fell, “I don’t have that on the menu anymore.” My face fell. He ran to the kitchen to see if there might be some beets he could quickly prepare in an effort to fulfill my heart’s desire. There were not. He promised that if I returned the next night, he would have some house made beet juice ready and would grant my wish. Problem solved, for tomorrow night. Problem for tonight, what to have?
The wine list was still tempting, the beer offering nearly irresistible, but I’d come for a cocktail. I scanned the list, and while several sounded good, none really piqued my interest. My daughter was having the same experience. While we tried to decide, the bar manager fed us his house made maraschino cherries; dark and rich in color and rapturous in flavor! And I’m really not a fan of maraschino cherries. This man has a gift. I told my daughter I was going to ask him to create a custom cocktail for me, I was going to tell him a few attributes I’d like in my cocktail, and let him just create. A man who crafts house made beet juice and maraschino cherries surely would enjoy the opportunity to craft a cocktail. I do this with sushi chefs, too, and have never been disappointed. I said, “I’d love something spicy and not too sweet”. Then I added, as an afterthought, “Jalapenos would be lovely!”
While he pulled ingredients from above and under the bar, fetched items from here and from there, we shared our story of the polo match and of how easy peasy it was to sneak in our picnic and our bottle of “Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy” wine. Moments later, two beautiful cocktails appeared before us, frosty and almost ethereal in appearance, a ghostly white from coconut water, and floating in the foggy midst, a couple of fresh jalapeno slices. Next to the Beetnik, this concoction was the best cocktail I’d ever had pass my lips. He just whipped it up, effortlessly created it from, beyond mixology, but from a passion and an innate knowledge of flavors and colors, like cocktail art, easy peasy.
The next day, after my daughter got off work at the brewery (link), we headed out to Saratoga Lake where we rented a couple of stand up paddle boards. I’d purchased some cheese, some charcuterie, and selected a bottle of wine from her wine-of-the-month cellar (okay, it’s actually all on the kitchen counter). We stuffed our stuff into our day packs, secretly, lashed them to the boards, and paddled our way across the lake and well out of view. Another cockamamie plan carried out; wine and cheese and charcuterie on stand up paddle boards, mid-lake. It was awesome!
Even after the wine, we managed not to fall in to the lake. I did, however, have a really hard time keeping up with my daughter on the paddle back to the rental dock. She was just skimming effortlessly through the water, and my stand up paddle board was weaving back and forth, it kept pulling wildly in one direction, then the other. I don’t know if it’s possible to be arrested for drunk stand up paddle boarding, or not. I wasn’t drunk, maybe just feeling a little warm between my ears, but I was sure challenged in steering the damn board! As I reached the sandy beach by the rental shack, the skegs of my board scraped against the sand. Funny, weren’t those supposed to be at the back of the board? Yes, in fact, they were; I’d just paddled the board all the way back across the lake, backwards. Not so easy peasy!
We quickly changed our clothes from bikinis and shorts to dresses, and headed downtown. We made a few stops, again, with our ultimate destination to be One Caroline for a Beetnik. We walked in, gregarious from our mid-lake picnic and our two previous stops. The bar was completely full, so we took a seat at a high top across from the bar. The bar manager was terribly busy, but, apparently, noticed our arrival, as just a few moments later, before anyone could even take our order, two Beetniks appeared before us! Surprise and delight! And just as scrumptious as I remembered. We sucked them down much faster than we should have and, somehow, thought another beverage was in order. We scanned the cocktail specials on the chalkboard and there, at the top of the list, the “EZ-PZ”, a blend of gin and coconut water with jalapenos. We felt like such trend setters, a cocktail named after us, after a story shared with the best bar manager in the northern hemisphere, if not the world. So, that’s what it was to be, an EZ-PZ.
Then a beer.
Then, we somehow, made it home.
Then, we didn’t get up at the outrageously early hour we’d planned for. Well, to be honest, my daughter did, but she was so quiet, I assumed, from my guest accommodations downstairs, she hadn’t, so I set my alarm for later and gratefully fell back to sleep.
As a result, we were very tardy, and very hungover, on the day, the last day of my visit, and the only day left for summiting Mt. Marcy.
The drive was longer than anticipated, the weather was threatening and being a California hiker, I had, though it was on my packing list, forgotten my rain gear. The hike was long, and strenuous. My daughter had done it before. We drove, and as we drove, we planned. I figured I’d just buy a rain poncho at the store on site. We arrived several hours later than we’d originally planned, and, the store was sold out of rain ponchos. We decided to go for it, to go as far as we could. We set a reasonable turnaround time and made a very gallant effort to summit. It only rained a little bit, but as late afternoon approached, we had no clear idea how many more miles we had to summit. The trail signs in this area state the miles “as the crow flies”, not actual trail miles. You can hike all day and only cover two crow miles, though you know you’ve done five or six trail miles. Shortly before our turnaround time, with thunder booming in the distance, we took a break for a snack. I was beat. The trail was far more rugged and challenging than I’d imagined. I’ve never not summited a mountain I’ve attempted. But this was not so EZ-PZ. We decided to call it, to turn around, and to take a short detour on the way down to Indian Falls. There, we enjoyed the beer we’d each carried in our daypacks. Survival provisions. We ate some pistachios, enjoyed sitting on the granite slabs atop the falls, and gazed at Mt. Marcy far across the canyon. We could’ve made it, I’m sure, had we continued, but it was slippery and wet on our ascent. Had we continued, we’d have been descending after dark. We had headlamps, but, still, the weather was unpredictable, it was late, we were tired and hungover. We enjoyed our rest, called our revised plan a great success, and headed back to the car and on towards home, stopping for a great meal, and a beer, in a small town on our way.
So, much like one, excellent, bar manager, short the ingredients for a coveted cocktail, my daughter and I took what we had available, and made a wonderful and memorable substitute. Instead of the summit, the falls. EZ-PZ!