10,000 Miles: The Finale

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I’m the type of person who is highly averse to changing his mind once he’s made a plan. And on Sunday I made the plan to ride my 10,000th mile yesterday. I realized that by the end of Sunday, having accumulated 125 miles in December’s first 7 days (not bad!), I would be only 65 miles away from 10,000. Sixty-five is more miles than I like to ride in winter, when the the cold makes the experience less pleasant, the exercise harder, and the scenery kind of bleak. But I liked the idea of one last extra-effort putting me through to 10,000, and the weather report looked favorable, calling for temperatures in the mid-30s, which is still winter but not bitter.

It was even colder out of town, where I spent most of my ride, never making it over 20.

It was even colder out of town, where I spent most of my ride, never making it over 20.

When I recognized that it was ten degrees colder than predicted, and saw that–despite the unambiguous cloud icon in the photo above–it was snowing, I almost turned around. But the snow was a wispy, dry one that didn’t look like it would make riding dangerous. And if I didn’t hit 10,000 yesterday the odds were it would be on some random 2-mile commute sometime in the next week, which seemed anticlimactic. And I’m resistant to changing plans anyway; so I kept pedaling.

Acton Center, approximately the mid-point of my ride. I've passed through here many times in my 10,000 miles.

Acton Center, approximately the mid-point of my ride. I’ve passed through here many times in my 10,000 miles; West Acton, where I was headed, is one of my favorite destinations.

For the most part, it felt like an enjoyable ride. I had put on all of my warmest clothes–2 layers of fleece leggings, wool jersey, winter coat, balaclava, snowboarding socks, lobster gloves, my last two hand warmers–and that kept me feeling relatively comfortable. I decided to ride all 65 miles non-stop, because going back out into the cold after getting warmed up is a terrible, terrible feeling, not worth the little bit of rest and a cup of coffee.

There were signs that it was pretty cold. It’s always difficult to drink enough on a winter ride, because you don’t feel as thirsty as in the summer and because you’re loath to pull down the face mask to take a drink. At one point, as I was passing through a corner of Stow, I forced myself to expose my face and take a drink; but a thin layer of ice had formed on the outside of the bottle, and it slipped right out of my hands. Not wanting that to happen again, I decided I’d wait until I was stopped at a red light to take my next drink: easier to hold the bottle, and easier on the face. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen until Lexington, 20 miles away; and by that time the water in my bottles had completely frozen. So, it was a thirsty ride.

But I made it home, and with one extra victory lap around my block, I passed 10,000 for the year!

Forgive the blurriness. By this time, I was shivering and couldn't hold the camera still.

Forgive the blurriness. By this time, I was shivering and couldn’t hold the camera still.

 

Here are the facts and figures for my 10,000 miles:

  • As you can see, I rode 491 times, and spent 646 hours on the bike. That’s about 8% of my time;
  • I climbed 169,340 ft. I also descended 169,340 ft., but somehow it didn’t feel that even;
  • My average speed over all rides was 15.5 mph;
  • And I allegedly burned 592,555 calories. That seems like an overestimation to me. But I did, in fact, lose 15 lbs and go down two pants sizes.

People have been asking me what next year’s goal will be. I don’t know yet; I’ve earned myself 23 days to think about that. All I know so far is that I hope to continue to fit into my new pants, and that my goal won’t be 11,000 miles.

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10,000 Miles: November Report

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Well, that’s better.

I had the month in November I was expecting in October. It took a few rides in chilly rain, but I also got in one ride in shorts; so, all in all the weather evened out. And it leaves me in great shape going into December:

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I can definitively tell you that winter arrived on November 13. On the 11th, the temperature was over 60 degrees on my morning ride, and it looked like this:

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Actual Photo from Nov. 11 Ride

On my morning ride just two days later, the temperature was in the 30s; and it looked like this:

Not Actual Photo From Nov. 13 Ride

Not Actual Photo From Nov. 13 Ride, but it felt like this.

With just 200 miles to go, and the weather turned colder, I’m officially exiting rain or shine mode, after spending only a month there. I do, however, expect that I will have wet feet for pretty much every one of those remaining 200 miles. It’s now that time of year when, no matter what, Lexington, Bedford, and Concord manage to be covered with a picturesque, thin blanket of snow; apparently they pay extra for the premium quaint New England winter weather package. I must admit that it’s very pretty, even while also insuring that the roads are just wet enough to splash my feet.

Photo by John Phelan, by way of Wikimedia Commons

Photo by John Phelan, by way of Wikimedia Commons

What Would Roosevelt Do?

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As I mentioned in my last post, I spent a good part of October fighting off an illness. Being home sick was ruinous for my riding goals and overall something of a bummer. The one bright spot to my days of being couch-bound was the fact that Ken Burns happened to be introducing a new documentary: The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, which tells the stories of Teddy, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt. The Roosevelts were a subject I didn’t start out with much interest in, but Burns did a great job of convincing me that I should. What a family!

The Roosevelts were a well-to-do, long-established, upperclass New York family–perhaps they still are. Teddy and Franklin were fifth cousins. Eleanor was Teddy’s niece and Franklin’s wife. Teddy was the 26th President of the United States (from 1901-1909), and Franklin was the 32nd President (from 1933-1945).

Teddy was a Republican, and Franklin was a Democrat; but they had far more in common than they had differences. They lived during a time when holding political office was considered beneath the dignity of people of their class, but they each felt such a strong sense of responsibility to contribute to the common good that it drove them into political careers. They first fought against machine politics, they system by which each of the political parties mainly served to meet the selfish interests of the party members rather than the citizenry as a whole. Then, they went about seeing what good government could accomplish, and they were able to make it accomplish an astounding amount:

  • Have you ever vacationed in a National Park? You largely have Teddy to thank for that.
  • Believe that kids shouldn’t be factory workers? Both of them played a part in that.
  • How do you feel about the weekend and the 8-hour work day? Teddy got those ideas started.
  • Food labels, and meat inspection, and Social Security were all championed by one or the other or both of the Roosevelts.
  • Then, of course, there’s the fact that Franklin got the country through the Depression and World War II.

I could go on.

And then there’s Eleanor. When her husband Franklin began his political career, Eleanor didn’t even have the right to vote. But during his presidency, she was the first First Lady to be actively involved in politics and government. This was partially because Franklin, being wheelchair-bound, depended on her to be his legs, traveling where he couldn’t. Mostly, though, it was because she really cared. After Franklin’s death, Eleanor was appointed as one of the U.S.’s first representatives to the U.N. She chaired the committee that drafted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Eleanor, Franklin, and Teddy were rich, powerful, influential, and phenomenally talented people. To an amazing degree, they brought all of those resources to bear for the good of people who didn’t have the same advantages. And as a threesome, they championed the idea that our nation can be more like a family, where we all look out for one another.

Knowing that people like these three led our country 100 years ago makes me ask the question, why not again?

10,000 miles: October Report

Talk about a come-down.

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To my surprise and disturbance, my miles fell off a cliff this month. I went into the month expecting it to be a lot like September and its 700 miles. There was some beautiful fall weather this month, but it seemed like every time the weather was good I was sick, or traveling, or busy at work. And whenever I was available for riding, it rained.

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If I had indeed put in 700 miles in October, I would be up to 9500 miles now, with a very attainable 500 miles to go in two months. Instead, I have 900 miles to go still (956.48, to be exact). That’s still definitely do-able, but with the weather getting colder and the days getting shorter it’s by no means automatic. I guess things will stay interesting all the way to the end. I think I’m going to have to do something I was hoping to avoid: go into rain or shine mode. I think I can still afford to stay off the roads in whatever snow or single-digit temperature we might get; but otherwise on ride days I have to ride.

Most Interesting Ride of the Month: 50 Miles in New York City

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Here’s what we learned on our long urban trek:

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  1. The bike path along the Hudson, from high up on the Upper West Side in Riverside Park all the way down Hudson River Park to Battery Park, is really fantastic. It’s well-paved, well-marked, with great views of the River, the city, and even a little nature;
  2. Get off the bike path just before Battery Park. In Battery Park and beyond, the path is broken up by construction and overrun by tourists;
  3. If you’re crossing the East River, take the Williamsburg Bridge. It has a great, wide bike path, with many thousands fewer tourists than the Brooklyn Bridge. We went out on the Brooklyn Bridge, which would have been amazing and surreal if the swarms of pedestrians spilling over onto the bike path didn’t make it the most terrifying stretch of riding we’ve ever had. We took the Williamsburg bridge back to Manhattan. It was far better, despite the teenagers who did a bike drag race from the top of the bridge down to Manhattan;
  4. Manhattan pedestrians take the description ‘entitlement’ to a whole new level;
  5. You stop at a lot of traffic lights when you ride 20 miles in Brooklyn;
  6. There’s a really cool new bike shop in the neighborhood, if you’re neighborhood is SoHo. Tokyo Bikes has beautiful commuter bikes, and the coolest gadgets and accessories we’ve ever seen. We’d definitely think you should drop in next time your’e in SoHo, at least after they re-open for the season in March.

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Why can’t I stop snacking?

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Have you heard of the Marshmallow Test? A marshmallow is put in front of a young child. The child is told that they can get the single marshmallow if they want to, but if they wait they will be given two marshmallows instead. Walter Mischel, the scientist who designed the test, discovered that successfully waiting instead of breaking down and eating the one marshmallow was correlated to such things as SAT scores and BMI and a bunch of other things later on in life. Waiting for that second marshmallow is a skill transferable to a lot we care about.

What I care about isn’t getting two marshmallows instead of one. Rather, what I’m trying to do is stop eating marshmallows altogether. Like Mischel, I don’t much care for the things. But unlike him in the Colbert interview, I find myself eating them all the same. If I pass by a bowl of candy, whether I’m hungry or not, whether I like the candy or not, the odds are I will eat one. And around this time of year, that’s not a hypothetical. For the next few days, there will be bowls of candy everywhere.

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And once the Halloween candy is gone, there will be pumpkin pie left over from Thanksgiving. And then this happens:

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All told, that’s two months of constant opportunity to snack. Inconveniently, it happens at about the same time as my cycling, my main calorie-burning activity, starts to taper off for the winter. Not a good combination.

The question I ask myself frequently, while taking a bite of that Milky Way bar that I’m not really enjoying that much anyway, is, ‘Why can’t I just say no?’ Daniel Goleman, in his book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence gives an interesting possible answer; it’s multi-tasking.

I’m a sucker for multi-tasking. Give me a chance to take care of many things at the same time, and I’ll take it. It makes me feel so efficient, and so productive. Goleman points out just one little problem with multi-tasking: technically speaking, it doesn’t exist, or at least not the way we think it does.

Goleman tells us that our mind is actually broken up into two parts. First,there’s the back of the mind, which is in fact unconsciously attending to many different things all at once. It’s keeping us breathing, and making sure we don’t miss that hidden step, and considering how we feel about that strange interaction with a friend, and putting together a rough draft of a blog post, and a thousand other things, all at the same time. It’s kind of like we have a bunch of little minds, all busy on their own projects all of the time. That’s all going on at the back of the mind.

The front of the mind decides what of all of those busy little back of the mind projects we’re going to give our focused attention at any given time. The back of the mind is like a classroom of students, and the front of the mind is the teacher, deciding which student to call on. And the key is that the front of the mind can only call on only one thing at a time.

When we try to get the front of our mind to multi-task, it fakes it, by switching really quickly from one back of the mind thought to another without time, consideration or thought. That quick switching is really unsatisfying, and really tiring. It takes a lot of effort to take the focus off one thing and on to another. And our mind is making all of that effort for nothing, because no idea really gets its due. Imagine that the teacher in the classroom has only one microphone, and runs from student to student, hurdling over desks and skipping down aisles, take the mic away from one student mid-sentence to dash across the classroom to another, only to do it yet again. That’s what we’re asking our mind to do when we try to multi-task.

This effort makes us tired, and irritable, and stupider than we would normally be. We make bad decisions, like unthinkingly grabbing yet another Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

The key to getting out of this mess is not to try to shout down all of the voices. The scolding voice telling everyone to quiet down is just one more member of an already overcrowded, noisy classroom. It only adds to the cacophony. Instead, we have to slow things down.

What we need when our mind is overstimulated and overtired is something engaging enough to capture the attention of the front of our mind, and soothing enough to help it quiet down. Nature, including our own bodies, is full of such things: the sound and feel of our own breathing or our footfalls, the light falling on the leaves of a tree, the breeze moving the grass, a flame, waves. There’s a reason why we like candles, and campfires, and sitting by the ocean. These are natural antidotes to the stress that comes from the attempt to multi-task.

So, if you find yourself eating one too many slices of pumpkin bread, take a bike ride, or a jog, or even just a 10-minute walk around the block. Watch the wind blow the fallen leaves, or take a glance at a slow-moving cloud. Ask yourself at the end of the walk how you feel; your answer will probably be kind of nice, calm, a little more yourself. And, the next time you pass the snack table, you’ll find yourself able to resist.

There Are Two Kinds of Partiers in the World

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There are people who don’t like parties. They’re lovely people, but I’m afraid this blog post won’t have much to say about them. Instead, it’s about the oft-missed and crucial fact that there are two separate but equally important groups of partiers: the party throwers and the partygoers.

Too often, these groups get conflated. It’s assumed that if you like parties, you like parties–as simple as that. That’s a rookie mistake. Of course, both the partygoers and the party throwers love parties. They enjoy them enough that a partygoer might, in a moment of desperation, throw one, just to make sure it happens; and a party thrower might go to someone else’s on occasion, because it turns out most people insist on throwing their own birthday parties even when you offer to do it for them. But going to a party and throwing a party, when you think about it, actually take much, much different skills. And parties really hum when the two groups find one another and each play their proper role.

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Steph and I are party throwers, and pretty much our favorite people in the world are partygoers. As people who likes to host parties, there’s nothing quite so enjoyable, reassuring, and affirming as knowing there’s a group of people we can depend on to show up and have a good time at whatever party we throw. If we’re talking about the barebone basics of a good party, really all you need is a party thrower and two or three partygoers. But it seldom stops there. If you’ve got a strong team of party throwers and partygoers, they have a way of making sure the room is full and the party is hopping.

Party Throwers

A sure sign of a party thrower--standing at the stove. By the way, you'll notice I'm wearing shorts at our fall party. Nothing guarantees an unseasonably warm weekend like Steph deciding to throw a fall-themed party

A sure sign of a party thrower–standing at the stove. By the way, you’ll notice I’m wearing shorts at our fall party. Nothing guarantees an unseasonably warm weekend like Steph deciding to throw a fall-themed party.

Party throwers create the atmosphere. They plan the menu. They do the shopping and the cooking. They tend to make way too much food. They make sure the platters are well-stocked and the drinks are filled. They’re most comfortable behind the bar. If you have way more glasses than your own use can explain, you’re probably a party thrower.

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Partygoers

The early arrivals. It's probable there's a partygoer or two here.

The early arrivals. It’s probable there’s a partygoer or two here.

The partygoers show up, and they usually stay awhile. They often get the party started, and they usually make it last. They try everything, and tell everyone how good it is. They have a full glass. They jump into the theme of the party with both feet. They have a way of keeping the conversation going, of drawing other people in, and of somehow emanating the feeling, ‘Isn’t this a great time?’ Are your weekends usually booked? You’re probably a partygoer. If you find yourself stacking up more than one party per night, it’s a sure thing.

Want a great party?

Really all it takes is figuring out whether you’re a partygoer or a party thrower. Don’t feel guilty if honestly, deep down you like your parties better than other people’s, or alternatively if you are always over at your friend’s house and never inviting them to yours. Embrace your role–revel in it, even–and find a partner or two of the other variety. Set a date. Invite a few other people over. And, there you go, a good time will be had all. It’s practically guaranteed.

Recipe of the Party–Pumpkin Lasagna

  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 1/2 lb fresh mushrooms
  • 1 small onion (chopped)
  • 1 15 oz can pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 9 lasagna noodles
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup mozzarella
  • 1 cup Parmesan
  • salt
  • pepper

Cook the noodles. Meanwhile, sauté the bacon, onion, and mushrooms until the vegetables are tender. Combine the pumpkin, cream, and sage. Add salt and pepper to taste. Layer noodles, pumpkin sauce, mushroom mixture, and cheese until you run out of space or ingredients.

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.

This Just In: I’m not as vain as I thought

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I shave my legs.

I think people have gotten used to it, but I used to get a lot of questions about why in the world I’d do such a thing. The answer is quite simply, ‘Because I’m a cyclist.’ At a certain level of experience and seriousness, it’s expected of a male cyclist that they’ll shave their legs. So I do.

Shaving my legs is something of a signal of where I fit in the cycling pecking order. Other cyclists who don’t know me will take a quick look at my legs to get an initial read on how steady I’ll be in a pace line, how fast I might be able to go, how much I know what I’m talking about. Of course, I then need to back that up with how I ride. But shaving gives me a leg up, if you will.

I can tell you by experience, as few can, that the Venus is by far the best razor for the legs and the worst for the face.

I can tell you by experience, as few can, that the Venus is by far the best razor for the legs and the worst for the face.

That’s all fine and good, but it only provokes the further question: why, of all things, would cyclists choose leg shaving as their badge of commitment?

The old chestnut is that it makes you more aerodynamic. There’s just one problem with that explanation: no proof. The one study ever done on the aerodynamic effects of leg shaving showed an advantage so miniscule that it was irrelevant over the course of a standard bike race. By the time I started shaving my legs, nobody even tried to give the aerodynamics reason anymore.

The popular replacement for the aerodynamics explanation was that it makes treating road rash after a crash easier and less painful. I think this one is just another shaky explanation. First of all, people get road rash on their arms too, but no one shaves them. And secondly, crashes just don’t happen enough to make it worth it. In the many hundreds of rides I’ve taken since I started shaving my legs, I’ve crashed only a handful of times, and gotten road rash just once; but I shave several times a week. How does that make sense?

Here’s where I eventually landed. Male cyclists shave their legs for roughly the same reason women do, and for pretty much the same reason women wear heels too, for that matter: to show off our legs to their best effect. We work hard on our legs. Why hide them behind a bunch of hair? I didn’t  know who that first bold male cyclist was who shaved his legs; but regardless of whatever excuses he spouted about aerodynamics and road rash, I was pretty sure it was a guy who was especially proud of his calves.

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But wait! This fall some evidence came out that shaving your legs does, in fact, have a significant aerodynamic effect. A triathlete named Jesse Thomas showed up for a wind tunnel test having neglected to shave his legs. More as a joke than anything else, they decided to run their own little comparison. Both the rider and the people running the test were stunned; it was so incredible that they tried it out on several more cyclists. The results were similar each time. Shaved legs made the riders about 7 percent more efficient. It had a far bigger effect than the special riding position Thomas was trying out, a new and improved helmet, or the skin suits everyone has been raging about this year (You can read the whole article in the September 7th Globe and Mail).

So, there you have it. It turns out I’ve been shaving my legs for performance reasons all along.

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10000 Miles: September Report

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I’m starting to see signs that my 10000 miles are coming to a close. The leaves–a little early, it feels to me–are starting to change. They’re the most beautiful delivery mechanism I can imagine of the sad news that summer is over. I’ve had to break out the cool weather gear, starting out a few rides with fingered gloves, arm warmers, and leg warmers. Thankfully, it’s still warm enough that I’ve had to shed a layer or two by the end of the ride.

Leg and arm warmers: warm enough to keep off the chill, easy enough to take off mid-ride, and small enough to fit in a pocket.

Leg and arm warmers: warm enough to keep off the chill, easy enough to take off mid-ride, and small enough to fit in a pocket.

This is a beautiful time of year to ride. The crisp weather feels refreshing after the hot summer, and the landscape is different–and for now in quite a picturesque way–every day. I hope the fact that it’s started a little early means I get more of it.

My numbers aren’t quite as good as last month. A bit of bad health and a busy schedule kept me off the bike several days when I would normally ride. Nonetheless, I was over 700 miles, which was my goal for the post-sabbatical, pre-winter months. So, I’ll take that as a success. Not every month can be a 900 mile month.

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For a grand total for the year, I’ve now ridden 8657 miles. That leaves me with only 1343 miles to go, or 448 per month; t’s looking more and more like I’m going to do this thing.

This was early in the month. You can just see the first tree or two to start changing colors.

This was early in the month. You can just see the first tree or two to start changing colors.

The Great Vermouth Taste-Off: Championships

Semi-Finals: The Reds

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Dolin v. Boissiere

The contest between Dolin, the best Top Shelf Red, and Boissiere, the best inexpensive Red, for championship of the Red conference was our tightest yet. We both changed our mind several times. They’re very similar in taste, perhaps the most similar overall, in a category that actually had a lot of interesting variety. Both of them are sweet but complex, good for sipping and for cocktails. Finally, gun to the head, we decided …

The Red championship goes to Dolin!

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It was a very close thing, though, and I still wonder which one will really end up in our bar. The $4 price difference between the two could go either way. I could imagine us saying, ‘Well, it’s only $4 more for our favorite,’ or, ‘Why would we spend $4 more for a vermouth we had such a hard time deciding was better?’

I think the overall lesson we learned through the Great Vermouth Taste-Off was in vermouth drinking to stick to the middle path. Consistently, the mid-priced brands of Boissiere, Dolin, and Noilly Prat rated highly with us. We didn’t find cheaper white ones even palatable, and while there were interesting reds all along the price continuum, the mid-priced ones were still our favorites. The more expensive brands generally didn’t offer extra value for the money, and often weren’t our favorites even in a price-blind comparison. There is, of course, one exception to the rule: our white winner, and finalist for overall champion, Cocchi Americano.

The Utterly Silly Championship: Cocchi v. Dolin

There is no sensible reason to have a White v. Red championship round. It’s not like anyone is ever going to choose between dry vermouth and sweet vermouth in their bar, or in their drink. Both of these bottles are going to stay on our shelves, regardless of who wins. But, I’m a completist. Vermouth must be drunk, and a winner must be declared. So, here goes.

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And the winner is Cocchi Americano!

We immensely enjoyed sipping both of these great drinks, but in the end we just couldn’t say no to the delightfully balanced flavor and palate of Cocchi Americano.

As a final toast to all the contestants, let’s have the two finalist work together in our recipe of the day:

Recipe of the Day: The Champions’ Half-Sinner Half-Saint

  • 1.5 oz Dolin Sweet Vermouth
  • 1.5 oz Cocchi Americano
  • 1 oz Pernod

Mix the Dolin and the Cocchi in an ice-filled old-fashioned glass, and then carefully pour the Pernod on top so that it floats at the top of the drink. Sip the drink through a straw, so that it gradually shifts from Vermouth-heavy to Pernod-heavy over the course of the drinking experience.

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How to Successfully Invite Too Many People Over

 

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Steph and I love to throw big parties. I don’t think I can clearly express to you just how true that is. Actually, maybe I can: we were at a wedding a couple of weeks ago, and Steph turned to me and said, ‘Remember how fun it was to plan our wedding. We should do that again,’ and instead of saying, ‘Are you crazy?’ I said, ‘I know, right? How do we manage that?’
I’m figuring that, seeing as we got married about a year and a half ago, it’s about 23.5 years before we can do something on the scale of a wedding. But we’re biding our time by finding whatever opportunities we can for smaller big parties.
For example, a few weeks ago we invited Steph’s classmates over for drinks–all 200 of them. A number of people asked us if we’re crazy, and they had a point. Our 950 sq. ft. apartment isn’t exactly ideal for 200-person parties. But we’ve done this a few times. We knew 200 people wouldn’t come. Considering the rainy weather, the distance from campus, and the lack of a nearby T stop, we figured we’d get something like 30. We underestimated. The Kennedy School MPA students are champion partiers; about 50 of them made it to a strange neighborhood on a rainy Wednesday.

At the party's height, we had about 40 people crammed in our urban-apartment-sized living room.

At the party’s height, we had about 40 people crammed in our urban-apartment-sized living room.

No worries. Our motto is the more the merrier. We’ve done this a few times, and we’ve learned how to successfully host (perhaps overly) large numbers of people, and to have fun doing it. Our key is to keep it simple, but with touches of elegance. Here are a few of our tricks.

Pitchers

pitchers

Good cocktails are a non-negotiable element to any party we throw, but we learned early on that it just doesn’t work to mix cocktails individually. We ended up spending the entire party behind the bar, and still had people waiting far too long before a drink was in their hands. The solution: mix a few featured drinks ahead of time in pitchers. That’s, of course, what has made the margarita a tried-and-true party cocktail. But we found that we could stretch the boundaries of pitcher-ready cocktails a bit to give our guests something a little unexpected. That could be by putting a little twist on the typical pitcher drinks, like swapping out the standard margarita for a Watermelon Mint Margarita, our all-time most popular party cocktail.

Taking it a little further, we found we found that two small tweaks allowed us to serve pitchers of cocktails that you’d normally never find in a pitcher:

1. Ditch the Solo cups

We keep a rather large amount of actual glasses, but even our extra supplies aren’t enough when the parties get this big. We have to resort to plastic. But we found out right away that we couldn’t use the standard solo cups. People just aren’t used to the idea of full potency cocktails in pitchers, and had a tendency to over-pour; pitchers full of high-quality cocktails disappeared too quickly, and the quality of conversation went downhill a little too quickly too, if you know what I mean. So, we replaced the solo cups with pricier, but classier and more appropriately sized disposable cocktail cups.

2. Add soda water

Our tastes run in the direction of cocktails that are served straight up, but that just wasn’t practical in pitcher volumes. So, we gravitate for our parties toward cocktails that call for a soda float, like the Negroni or the Southside. For this party, we even mixed a variant of a cocktail that doesn’t usually call for a soda float: a Reverse Black Manhattan. It seemed to come off well. We mix the other elements of the cocktail ahead of time, chill for a while, and then add the soda as the guests start to arrive; it keeps the cocktails fresh and a little bubbly. The cocktails end up lighter than if we were mixing them individually, but still taste like a genuine cocktail with some interest to them and some thought behind them.

Popcorn

popcorn

We learned this trick from the amazing Manhattan speakeasy Raines Law Room. It’s basically a drinks-only establishment, but they know that even at a place that’s all about the cocktails their guests might need a little sustenance with their drinks; so they bring a bowl of Parmesan-Herb popcorn to the table. It’s perfect. Popcorn is quick and easy to make and to eat. And it’s shockingly easy to make popcorn interesting by adding some fun flavors. Cinnamon-Spice has proven to be an especially popular variant. Just toss the popcorn with salt, butter, cinnamon sugar, and a little bit of hot sauce, and you have the perfect salty, sweet, and starchy companion for your cocktails.

Labels

label

This is a little touch that makes a big difference. We make custom labels for our food and drink. We’ve used miniature chalkboards, gift tags, postcards, and more. For this party, Steph used her new Silhouette cutting machine (like a printer but it uses cutters instead of ink) to create a sort of stencil effect for the tags. It’s a small way to create a design theme for the party. It’s practical: people like to know what they’re eating and drinking. And it expresses planning and forethought: we knew enough ahead of time what we were going to serve to make custom labels for it.

 

And there you have it. When we put these few things together with an overly large invitation list of fun people, we end up with a great evening.

Watermelon Mint Margarita

The key to this recipe is the frozen watermelon. Using watermelon instead of ice makes for a remarkably flavorful frozen beverage.

  • 4 cups watermelon, frozen in one-inch chunks.
  • 1/2 cup tequila
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest
  • 2 teaspoons fresh mint

Simply blend it all in a blender and serve!