Monday, December 15, 2014

Guest Post: A Dry Rob Roy

This guest post is by my former co-blogger at Commonwealth and Commonwealth, Captain Colossal

My father’s mother died Thursday night. She was 97 years old, which I find easy to remember because she was born in 1917 and I was born in 1977. She died in her sleep after about two years of mostly waiting to die.

My father and his partner happened to be visiting me at the time. We decided to honor her memory by making dry Rob Roys and cooking beans and greens. The beans and greens were a more straightforward tribute than the Rob Roys. I lived with my grandmother for about three months after college. It was a time when I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself and I took over the cooking because my grandmother’s idea of dinner was a single hot dog on a little plate without a bun.
After the first night I cooked, she said, “Do you think you could make beans and greens?”

I had never heard of beans and greens. This was a number of years ago, so instead of going on the internet I went to the library and checked out the cookbook section. I found a recipe and made beans and greens. When I went to visit her this spring, she told her caretaker that she had taught me to cook, which is true, in a certain sense. My husband reminded me, when we were talking about the beans and greens, that beans and greens were the first thing I ever cooked for him. My grandmother loved being cooked for; she loved being taken care of.

My grandmother also enjoyed drinking. She was not, at least to my knowledge, a rowdy drinker -- she was a quiet drinker. She drank beer in summer, but in winter she said she needed something to warm her up. When I was a child she became very concerned about the American trade imbalance and so she switched from drinking Scotch to drinking rum.

The story with the dry Rob Roys is that there was a time when she was on a long-distance car trip with my father and his partner and they stopped for lunch at some kind of diner-type place. The three of them were on their way to an event and they were running late. They had hours of social engagement ahead of them. The teenage waiter came over to take their order, and my grandmother pursed her lips thoughtfully. I wasn’t there, you understand. This is an imaginative re-creation. “I’d like,” she said, “a dry Rob Roy.”

Do you even know what a Rob Roy is? The teenage waiter didn’t, in any case. In any case, it was a strange time to order a cocktail and a strange place to order a cocktail. Several years later I read a Lydia Davis story in which the narrator’s elderly father requests a Rob Roy under similarly inappropriate circumstances. It gave me a funny feeling about the world, a feeling that the world, rather than being a place of infinite possibility, is more of a Tetris-type situation, where certain pieces will always have to be combined with certain other pieces.

A dry Rob Roy is Scotch, dry vermouth, and Angostura bitters. At least, that’s what the internet and the Joy of Cooking tell me. It is one form of alcohol combined with two other forms of alcohol. I don’t usually drink cocktails, and so I was surprised that all three of the ingredients were alcoholic. The grocery store nearest my house sold all three forms of alcohol, which surprised and pleased me. I didn’t have a single cocktail shaker, although at one time I had two. I got rid of them because I never used them. When I do drink a mixed drink it usually means that I have added some significant quantity of non-alcoholic mixer to the alcohol in my glass. You don’t need a cocktail shaker for that.

We mixed the ingredients in a pint glass. We used crushed ice, which was a mistake, because it started melting almost immediately. When we poured out the dry Rob Roys my father’s partner used a coaster to keep the ice in the pint glass. The recipe said to use two dashes of vermouth and one dash of Angostura bitters per cocktail. I wasn’t sure what a dash multiplied by three looked like.

The dry Rob Roys were very pretty looking, all golden in the glass. We raised our glasses and took a sip. My father made a face. “It’s so sweet,” he said. I didn’t think it was sweet. It burned. My father drank about a third of his. My father’s partner drank hers. “It makes me feel weird,” she said. I drank mine very slowly. Because I drank it so slowly it got warm, which did not make it taste better. It made me feel drunk, not in a fun way, but in a way where the room seemed a little askew. I couldn’t get past the idea that the taste was made by combining different varieties of alcohol.

I could tell you endless stories about my grandmother -- how she kept her belongings beautifully clean and took care of them for decades, how she declined to get a new cat when her last cat died almost fifteen years ago because she thought the cat might outlive her, and that would be unfair to the cat, how she loved being kidded -- she loved it when I or my father, telling her goodbye, would tell her to behave, to stay out of trouble. “I try,” she would say, and she would shake her head a little bit with the difficulty of the task. There are a lot of things I know about her, a lot of things I could tell you, and even more that I couldn’t. I knew her better than I know most people and she remains mostly mysterious to me. The desire for a dry Rob Roy at midday in a roadside diner, with a long day ahead, is only one of those mysteries.

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