Alcohol: How I learned to love lemon, lime & bitters

Note: It has come to my attention that bitters is actually alcoholic. Reports vary on whether lemon, lime and bitters contains alcohol. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that it doesn’t, or that the amount is negligible.

It’s now August, which means Dry July is over. I’m pleased to report that I went the whole month without drinking. But I won’t be celebrating with alcohol – or really celebrating at all.

Because this was never about Dry July.

It’s personal.

My soul-searching session turned up booze as one of my triggers. I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with it. With three beers in me I can shoot the breeze – or rant like an angry grandpa – with the best of them. It’s an incredible feeling. But lately, the pendulum has swung from somewhere in the middle to plain old hate. (That’s totally how pendulums work, yep.)

It’s not the hangover that gets me. It’s how it affects my sleep. I’m a light sleeper at the best of times – an ongoing challenge I’ve struggled with for a long time. Add alcohol in the mix and I’m reduced to a few hours of low-quality kip. Being on medication as well just exacerbates the effect.

1 limit alcohol intake
I don’t like the drugs and the drugs don’t like me

I cut back severely after starting on meds, but continued with quiet drinks in the right social settings. Sadly, though, even this proved too much. So, one Friday night in the office with a half-finished beer in hand, I decided: “no more”. I put the beer down, packed my things, and snuck out through the stairwell.

This was on 15 June. I haven’t had a drop since.

Me and alcohol

It’s fair to say I don’t have a typical relationship with alcohol. I skipped the “drunken student” phase, and I barely touched booze before I moved to Wellington. After the move I developed a more “normal” pattern of drinking – Friday drinks at work, evening meetups, a beer or two with the football team, occasional quiet ones at home. And, yes, the occasional wild binge, one of which left me crouched in front of the loo at the George. (Not my proudest moment.)

There’s something else about my experience that’s not typical as far as I’m aware. I hate the taste of beer. And wine. And basically every alcoholic beverage but cider. There’s the odd lager or dessert wine that I find palatable, but I wouldn’t say I like them for their flavour. If I do go for a bitter beer, it’s usually late in the evening when my taste buds have checked out. But overall, my distaste for drinks puts a natural damper on my consumption.

I just don’t want to drink as much as my peers. Unfortunately, this can make socialising a little tricky. What to do?

Enter my new favourite beverage.

Lemon, lime & bitters (henceforth, LLB)

Like coffee, I didn’t like this when I first tried it at a young age. It’s in the name: “bitter” is your body trying to tell you that you’re consuming poison and you should stop. It really did taste bitter when I first tried it.

Fast-forward to last summer, when I tried one on a whim and loved it. I guess my tastes have matured – either that or my taste buds are shot. Whatever. It’s a sweet drink, most bars serve it, and – crucially – it’s a big step up, in terms of refinement, from the usual coke and lemonade. Just look how fancy these are:

2b beersies
Not beersies
2a not
Also not beersies

Some places make it with the kind of flair you’d usually associate with a full-on cocktail. One bartender even asked me if I wanted more bitters, which was awkward but sweet! This stuff is every bit as sophisticated as beer. I felt like a 10-year-old kid drinking coke at a social gathering. Not so with LLB. It fills my need perfectly!

Where do I stand on alcohol?

Let me make one thing clear: I’m not a teetotaller. I won’t judge your drinking habits unless they’re obviously out of hand. But I am avoiding boozy situations, like after-work drinks, more than I used to. Even if that means distancing myself from certain social circles. (Sorry not sorry!)

I’m so much better off without alcohol, and I’m really glad I made this change. I’ve reclaimed my Saturday mornings. I’ve kept my friends (mostly). And I’ve made social occasions sweeter, healthier, and less awkward. So while I said I’m not celebrating, I did mark the end of July with a variant on my new favourite treat:

3 product placement
[product placement]
Here’s to sobriety. Care to raise a glass of LLB with me?

 

Did you do Dry July? Have you tried cutting back on alcohol long-term? How did it go? Let me know!

The power of one (coffee a day)

Coffee interferes with your medication. You knew that, right?

– My flatmate

Well dang. That explains a lot.

1 good day
It’s a good day to have an “It’s a good day to have a good day” mug!

In the lead up to my mental health day, I thought the meds had stopped working. I felt like I did before I started on them – constant tension, fatigue, pounding heart. Oh, and difficulty getting to sleep.

I was having three cups of coffee a day. With a heaped teaspoon of powder in each – so effectively six “standard coffees” a day. (Side note: why is standard coffee not a thing?) And guess what? Caffeine basically does the opposite of what the meds are supposed to do.

2 powder
There’s power in the powder

I don’t know how this didn’t occur to me. Did the doctor not tell me this? Did I not find this in all the research I’ve done on anxiety? Did I know it but just forget?

I had a quick google and supposedly the two don’t “interact”. The drug info sheet doesn’t mention caffeine. But surely if it undoes the effect, it’s worth a mention? Whatever, I guess I don’t have to feel quite so bad about missing this.

Still, I was left with a couple of questions:

  1. How did I get here?

and

  1. How do I get away from here?

Time to search my overcaffeinated soul for some answers…

3 water in
Hot stuff
The coffee capital

When I moved to Wellington, aged 24, I’d never had coffee before. I couldn’t stand the smell when I was a kid. It didn’t occur to me that my tastes might have changed since then.

Enter my uncle. I crashed at his place while I looked for a flat, and being a long-time Wellingtonian he instinctively made me a cup of coffee – as he would for any guest, I guess. I drank it out of politeness, and something amazing happened – I didn’t hate it!

4 cool off
…too hot!

One thing you need to know about Wellington is there are cafés everywhere. Seriously. Our café density is off the charts. So of course we had a café in the building where I worked, and the team went there once a week. And so the habit was born. A habit which, as I alluded to above, eventually got out of hand.

That other hot beverage

I never got into tea either, much to the dismay of my English parents. I didn’t hate it either. It just seemed kinda meh.

I’ve had several work colleagues espouse the benefits of drinking tea instead. (You know it’s bad when people tell you to cut back!) Yes, there’s caffeine in tea too, but not as much. And, crucially, it still satisfies the craving for a hot drink. I’ve come to appreciate it, even if I don’t love it!

So here we have a viable alternative to coffee. But I wasn’t prepared to quit cold turkey, so I made a compromise: I’ll have one coffee a day, and I’ll make an event of it. Even if it’s just the instant powdered stuff I get free at work. Because it’s all tea from there on in. (I get that free at work too.)

It’s coffee time. This is all you’re gonna get today. Make the most of it.

5 cuppa
Whoa whoa… What if this is all the [coffee] you ever get?
How am I coping?

It’s been two months since I cut back and I feel so much better for it. The panicky heart-pounding sensation has faded, and I feel like I’m back in control, or at least a little more than I was. And I reckon I fall asleep quicker too. (Staying asleep is another matter, but this is a start!)

More importantly, I no longer find myself hanging out for the next coffee. It’s distracting to know that I’m due for another hit soon. I’ve been able to let go of this and concentrate on the task at hand instead. The tea breaks are worth looking forward to as well, of course, but they aren’t nearly as compelling.

Best of all, I still get to enjoy coffee every day – and because I have to make the most of it, I genuinely enjoy it. Even more than I used to enjoy three coffees!

6 empty
It’s over!

How many coffees do you drink a day? Have you tried cutting back? How did it work out? Let me know!

 

Make Yourself (some dinner)

Rev up those fryers, ‘cause I am sure hungry for one – Help! Help! My leg!

– Fred the fish, SpongeBob SquarePants

While you’re at it, rev up those vocal cords too. This is gonna get intense.

Welcome to the Sunshine Singalong Cookathon!*

(*working title)

Invite a friend, or maybe wait until you have the flat to yourself – I’m doing the latter…

Tonight’s soundtrack is the 1999 classic, Make Yourself by Incubus. Want to sing along? Hit play and turn up the volume!



Cue the music!
1 Isn't it strange
Isn’t it strange

It may look strange, but it works! I call this the poor man’s sound system. It amplifies the bass to give a deep, satisfying sound.

On the menu tonight: Chicken tikka masala. Get everything out now so you don’t forget anything later!

2 Isn't it weird that a privilege
Isn’t is weird that a privilege…
3 could feel like a chore
…could feel like a chore?

Grab a cup of frozen mixed veges and give them a quick blast in the microwave while you chop the onion and garlic. Chuck the mixed veg and onion in the pan with a little oil.

4 It seems as though I'm going nowhere
It seems as though I’m going nowhere really [flipping] fast
Garlic cooks quicker, so hold it back til the other veg is soft. About now you’ll need to put on the extractor fan – and turn up the music so you can still hear it! Now fill the saucepan two-thirds with cold water and put the heat on full.

6 Experience the warmth
Experience the warmth

Fry the veg til it’s done and turn the heat off. Dump one cup of rice into the saucepan, which should be warm by now. Important: Turn the heat down now or it’ll boil over during the next step! (True story.)

7 Just when you thought it was safe to think
Just when you thought it was safe to think

Time for chicken! Chopping this is probably the most time-consuming part of the process, and the most demanding in terms of food hygiene (wash your hands, folks!). Recipes will typically tell you to cook the meat first, or cook meat and veg separately, but I’m too lazy to wash up two chopping boards and two frying pans. So, veg out, chook in, heat on.

8 If I hadn't made me
If I hadn’t made me, I would’ve been made somehow

This stuff demands your full attention for the next little while, apart from a few quick stirs of the rice. Keep it moving – pink to the middle, brown to the outside. Let all that water (injected to bulk up the weight for sale) pour out and steam away.

9 Hold the wheel and drive
Hold the wheel and drive

When the chicken starts browning, dump everything in the pan. EVERYTHING. Including the sauce. (Drain the rice first.) While that simmers, now’s a good time to start washing up. But scrape the bottom once in a while to stop it burning!

10 Pardon me while I burst into flames
Pardon me while I burst into flames

When it’s no longer soup, it’s time to plate up. And we’re done, midway through the last song! Make Yourself (sans bonus tracks) clocks in at 48:12, so including clean-up we’re talking maybe 50 minutes total. Take a bow and chow down!

11 RESIST AND MULTIPLY
RESIST AND MULTIPLYYYYYY!
Bonus round: How many more meals will I get out of this?
12 That is your privilege
That is your privilege

One medium container and one small container means three more meals ready to go –not a bad haul!

And that’s how I cook.

This method works for a remarkably wide variety of recipes:

  • Meat: Chicken, steak, sausages, mince, or none at all (substitute pumpkins and/or kumara for substance)
  • Carbs: Rice, pasta, couscous, corn chips, wraps (skip the saucepan for the last two 😉)
  • Veg: Frozen mixed, kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, lentils
  • Sauces: Pasta sauce, Indian, Chinese, Mexican, soy/teriyaki
  • Optional extras: Cheese, sour cream, chilli sauce, mayonnaise/aioli
  • Music: Whatever you like to sing along to!

Some combinations obviously don’t work. Use common sense. Or go wild and experiment!

Ok, but… what?

You might have cringed while reading this. Sauce from a jar? Everything in one pan? What madness is this? Well here’s the thing: I’m not a chef. This is a pragmatic system, honed over years of flatting, and it works for me. It’s economical in money and time, it’s nutritious (I think!), and – crucially – it’s fun. So much so that I no longer dread cooking – I truly look forward to it!

What’s your go-to food-prep playlist? Got any cooking tips for me? Let me know!