Hi, y’all! We made it to Cocktail Hour!
I hope you can join me today (2/25) at 4:30 p.m. EST for our weekly LIVE chat on Instagram.
This week I’m talking to my mom about her pandemic love story with my dad. Plus, boozy hot cocoa and the book Eden Mine, by S.M. Hulse.
Oh, and on Sunday (2/27) I'll be LIVE with Dr. Megan Kate Nelson to discuss the season finale of 1883. Join us at 7 p.m. EST!
Ok. Let’s get to it!
Last week, I wrote about the saga of trying to get you the perfect hot cocoa recipe. I wanted to give you my mother’s powdered hot chocolate recipe, the one she made me as a kid, and turn it into the most decadent boozy cocoa for us.
I thought those of us who live in the Great Snowy North might need some warm joy in a cup to get us through the final slog to spring.
But my plan failed.
I now have a Lodge dutch oven filled with mediocre powdered hot cocoa mix sitting on my kitchen counter. It turns out, I’m more of a cocktail trier than a cocktail inventor. It’s good to know your skills.
So instead, I dug up this guide to boozy hot chocolate from the Washington Post. The cocoa is rich and decadent – and you can give it whatever kick you like. Here’s the base recipe:
2 cups whole or reduced-fat milk (may substitute plant-based milk)
3 ounces dark chocolate or bittersweet chips or chopped dark chocolate (not baking chocolate unless you plan to add sugar!)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large pinch salt
Then you booze it up by adding 2 oz. spirit and 2 oz. liqueur – or some proportion to your taste. What’s great about this Washington Post guide is that it provides you with boozy combinations to try! Chocolate minty? Chocolate spicy? Chocolate orange-y? Take your pick.
And if you like yours creamier, consider swapping out some of the milk for heavy cream. Or a little simple syrup for extra sweetness, if you lean that way.
Personally, I like mine with 2 oz bourbon and 1 oz chile liquor, like Anejo Reyes, and a dash of orange bitters.
Here are two other options that looked interesting:
Get to experimenting!
Have you missed any of the past Cocktail Hour Lives? You can view the two most recent here:
Actually, I'm rereading it. I first read this book when it came out in 2020 and it has stuck with me.
The opening lines:
From there the novel, set in rural Montana, spins out as our protagonist, Jo, grapples with the brother who has loved and cared for her (no spoilers!) and the man he has become. He is angry. And as S.M. Hulse expands our frame, we learn why and are asked whether it matters.
Like Jo, we're asked to grapple with the people we love and the things that they do. How far will we go for family? How much responsibility do we bear? Like in real life, there are no easy answers. Right and wrong are much clearer when it's someone else's family you're judging.
In another writer's hands, Eden Mine might have been clumsy and cringe-y. After all, how do we focus the narrative on the bomber and his family? We've lived through this. We know better. But, Hulse walks this difficult line with assuredness by not telling the story of the terrorist. She's focusing on the relationship of those left behind who must literally and figuratively pick up the pieces.
The crux of the novel is the relationship between Jo and Asa Truth, the pastor.
Their search, together, for understanding and then solace creates fertile territory for Hulse to explore forgiveness and faith, redemption and justice. How do we build bridges? Where do we belong? What is home?
Hulse didn't write a polemic. She wrote the kind of story that crawls into your heart, like a fig wasp, and asks you to grapple with your own truths. The stories you tell yourself. The stories we tell ourselves.
The Bestie™ even agrees with my assessment, even though she and I rarely have the same taste in books. Here’s what she has to say:
I don’t know why, but I’m deeply fascinated by this packing technique that wraps T-shirt, socks and underwear into tight packages. Could I put a bra in there, too? Would this solve my what-to-wear dilemmas by, essentially, creating pre-rolled capsules? Do I now need to rethink my bug-out bag? So many questions.
This is not Big Bird. This is not a muppet. This is a Shoebill Stork. And it really exists in the world.
Thank you, Instagram.
Shoebill Storks average 5 feet tall with an 8 foot wingspan. They also only weigh about 12 pounds. (My cat, The Overlord, outweighs this bird!) They are found in central Africa, and are critically endangered.
But, if you can’t get to South Sudan or Uganda, where much of their habitat stretches through swampy areas, you can stare at a Shoebill Stork in just four places in the United States:
San Diego Zoo
The Houston Zoo
Dallas World Aquarium
When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine this week, I scoured the Internet for thoughtful — but accessible — explanations of what was happening. Ideally from people with first-hand knowledge or experience.
I knew the invasion was significant, but, honestly, I hadn't been paying enough attention and needed a primer. Here's what I found that was helpful to me. If you have good links, drop them in the comments!
Henrikas Bliudzius is the book buyer for the largest bookshop in Europe and was born in Lithuania to a half-Russian family. This is his list of book recommendations to get you current on the historic conflict in the region. It’s long, but so is history.
4. Bonus: Pictures from Kiev in a happier time. Fellow Bulletin writer Dina Litovsky was back home in Ukraine to document Last Bell ceremonies for National Geographic. She posts some of her photos and writes about the experience.
If you’ve been reading for a while, you know I love Yellowstone. It’s a trashy, glorious, often actually smart, look at the modern West and the issues roiling it. (And then it takes a right turn to the train station and, well…) Anyway. 1883 is the prequel to that story. It tells us how the Duttons got to Montana. It’s big budget and even bigger names: Faith Hill! Sam Elliot! Tim McGraw!
I’ve watched dutifully, and I like 1883. It has a few interesting characters – the narrator is a woman! How unique is that in Westerns?! – and I could watch the cinematography all day! Plus, Sam Elliot’s voice! But it’s no Yellowstone.
To me, 1883 is more of a period piece. And while I do love a period piece, this one feels a bit hollow. Like eating too much candy at Halloween. You’re full, and it was good going down, but you just feel blah.
For me, the goal of period pieces isn’t just to recreate the past. That’s just nostalgia. Instead, they offer the chance to reexamine what came before through the lens of new ideas and information. What does telling a story of the past, today, tell us about how we live now?
1883 is a fun ride. But it could be so much more fun and interesting!
It eschews more complex narratives for a world built on myths and tropes. For example, we know that James Dutton fought for the Confederacy; fought to maintain slavery. But they are on their way to Oregon, which was founded as a whites-only utopia that also prohibited slavery. And yet the Duttons and the wagon train are riding into Oregon Territory with a Black Pinkerton agent as one of their guides?
All the details are there! There is so much potential for narrative conflict and storytelling! The complexity of right and wrong and moral justice in the West? Like what the book Eden Mine does!
But instead, the script writers drive the wagon train right past opportunity station. They never address what they set up and lose out on telling a richer, more nuanced story.
I want a Western that grapples with both what it was really like for pioneers – like my family, who settled Colorado and Montana – and what we understand now about land theft and belonging and Manifest Destiny. And, consequently, how that shapes the modern West and its culture and identity.
The season finale drops on Paramount+ on Sunday (2/27) and I'm looking forward to seeing if some of this complexity comes out in the final moments.
Let's discuss it together!
Join me Sunday night (2/27), at 7 p.m. EST, for an Instagram LIVE discussion of the season with historian Dr. Megan Kate Nelson.
Like me, Dr. Nelson grew up in the West and she writes about Western history. Her book, The Three-Cornered War: The Union, The Confederacy and Native People’s Fight for the West” was a finalist last year for the Pulitzer Prize in history.
Bring your questions and cocktails; she’ll have answers and drink recommendations.
Hank is still with us, but struggling. For those of you who don't know, our dog Hank was diagnosed with cancer a few weeks ago. He's already elderly for an American Bulldog, so we've decided not to treat the tumor and instead let him live his best life while he's still able to.
Hank is less and less interested in food and can no longer go up and down the stairs. So Lovey drug a mattress into the livingroom, where he and Hank sleep, while I crash on the couch. The Overlord believes he finally has the cat bed he deserves. He would like it to stay in perpetuity.
Still, this is hard and we know we're going to have to say our goodbyes.
Ok, that's it for this week, friends. I'll be back in your inbox on Tuesday with my monthly list of most-anticipated books.
See you next Friday for Cocktail Hour.
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What is Bar\Heart? It is Amy Haimerl’s weekly newsletter about belonging in America and the places we call home. You can read more about it here. The midweek edition includes intimate conversations from the heart; the Friday Cocktail Hour is a round up drink suggestions, book recommendations and other detritus Amy picks up on the Internet and in life.