Maggy is not usually a difficult person to buy presents for—this is the girl who used to send Mom, Dad, and me a link to the exact item she wanted for Christmas. It was the right size, right color, right brand…all we had to do is click “add to cart” and punch in our credit card info. (She wasn’t opposed to surprises; she just wanted to ensure we got what she really wanted first!)
I love this about Maggy. When I buy people gifts I want to get exactly what they want. And I’m not a huge fan of trying to “surprise” people with gifts that are “so them.” Whatever I think they’d really like is usually something I really like, and the results on the receiving end are mixed.
If I’m honest, I hate that moment when a gift is unwrapped and you can tell its recipient is laying it on thick precisely because she knows it’s going to sit in her closet for the next eight years. I guess I just hate knowing I wasted money on something that is never going to get used.
This year for her birthday, Maggy didn’t have a list of things she wanted. She just wanted us to come to her apartment in the city and spend time with her. (Though I appreciate her maturity, I was seriously hoping for that not-so-subtle email in my inbox.) And since that apartment of hers doesn’t have a whole lot of room for unwanted gifts, Tony and I agreed to go empty-handed.
The birthday girl told us she really wanted to serve up a cool cocktail at her birthday dinner, so Tony and I volunteered to test drive some new drink recipes and develop just thing for her special day. Seemed an easy-enough endeavor, but little did we know what this would entail.
It took us three solid nights of drink testing to get it right. Now, let me just say that we’re pretty good at making cocktails and we’re pretty good at tasting them, too. But we just couldn’t seem to make anything good! The first night we tried an updated Old Fashioned, a total fail. Then we tried a few Campari cocktails, all bitter and flat. The next night we decided to add a little sparkle. We bought a bottle of Cava and tried a handful of drinks featuring bubbles. All too sweet, imbalanced, or just plain blah. By night two, we were getting nervous.
You might think that “drink testing” wasn’t so bad. But we were stuck with all these bad cocktails we didn’t want to drink but couldn’t bear to throw away. (One sat on our windowsill as a monument to our failed attempts for three days before I finally poured it down the drain.) After day two we regrouped, identified what we were looking for, stopped following recipes, and just went with it. We wanted a light, springy drink that had some subtle complexity of flavor. We wanted a strong but refreshing cocktail. We decided to go with gin, since it’s Maggy’s favorite spirit, and we resolved to build on gin’s herbaceous notes and add some citrus for contrast.
The next day we made a batch of mint-infused simple syrup, bought a sack of limes and tried again. Finally…success!! The result was a drink we described as a happy polygamy of a Gin and Tonic, a Mint Julep, and a Mojito. It goes like this: fresh mint muddled with mint-infused simple syrup shaken over ice with good gin and some lime juice and served on the rocks with a sprig of fresh mint. Delicious!
We shook up a bunch of these at Maggy’s dinner and she loved them…everyone did! And in helping cook her birthday dinner, I found out what Maggy really needs (or at least what I think she needs). So, she’s getting a “surprise” present after all.