I want to be clear here: I'm judging you, just a little, but I know you can do better. And I've spent years judging myself, so now we're even. (Besides, I gave up on myself a long time ago, but I still believe in you.) So we're going to talk about responsible drinking on vacation. I swear it's more fun than the alternative.
I enjoy the living daylights out of a cocktail at the beach. I also enjoy safety, my health and—though I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit I care (but y'all, seriously, we all care, even the men)—I value being able to fit into my clothes after vacation. Some of it's vanity, but y'all know I'm cheap (thrifty, whatever) and I don't want to have to buy new clothes just because I had one too many whatevers on vacation. I also don't want to miss a minute of my downtime because I have to go to bed early. Of course, there's always The Caftan Solution™. But I digress.
One hundred years ago, before my parents died, before I knew the constant terror and longing of having teenagers and no one to tell you how to bring them up, and when I still thought I knew what it meant to be sad, I had the chance to interview Patricia Pastides, first lady of the University of South Carolina, public health scholar, and extraordinarily gracious host. She had just published her first cookbook and invited me for a gorgeous lunch, where she taught me how to drink responsibly. That wasn't exactly the point of our lunch, but it was a big takeaway.
I have no idea why I was allowed to meet her, much less bring a photographer and interview her, but no one really had blogs in South Carolina back then, so there you go. If you ever have the pleasure of meeting her, she'll always remember you and you'll pretty much want to be her. She seems to have it all figured out and I want to go there. It was easy for me to be happy back then, but not so much since. Patricia's one of those people who looks for the practical, easy solution, and I definitely try to channel some of that these days, and I think about our lovely lunch more often than I should admit. Then I wonder what happened to my life. Am I being depressing? Well.
Someone asked me recently how I do everything I do. She's a smart, accomplished woman, a powerful advocate for other women in our community, the kind of woman we need desperately, and the mother of young children. I feel really bad because I was honest.
"I don't do any of it very well and I'm really unhappy."
I mean, it just came out, and I made it worse by elaborating. But I can't be the only one that feels that way. And stop with the the "just let it go" suggestions. This ain't "Frozen" and I'm no Idina Menzel. (And I bet she doesn't do it all either, she's just way more talented than the rest of us so it looks better.) Anyhow, sorry. I'm trying.
I spent a week at Edisto recently, which always does something for my mood. And I had work to do and two ten-year-olds to watch, so it wasn't a wild and crazy party week but I was able to spend it without ever putting on pants (one of the best things about Edisto, in my opinion) and I did manage to make my way through a whole book and do a fair amount of internet shopping, which means this week has been like Christmas, with a new gift arriving every day. More like Hanukkah, I guess. These sandals seemed like a good idea after a cocktail and as it happens, they're even more awesome in person. But I digress, again.
This is how to party like an adult, and enjoy your cocktails safely without risk of embarrassment. (Unless you embarrass yourself sober, which I do. So.)
Responsible Watermelon Spritzer
◔ Serves one. Or more, if you multiply and everyone brings their own tumbler.
⧖ Preparation, 10 minutes. Consumption, 10 hours.
Day Drinking for Adults Step 1: Prep Work
Day drinking starts in the morning, long before the Tervis tumbler* touches your lips. At the beach—or anywhere else you like—cut a fresh watermelon into cubes as soon as you get out of bed. Drop a few cubes into your favorite Tervis and pour a healthy slug of vodka over the fruit. (I like Tito's, but I've recently switched to Luksusowa, a Polish potato vodka, because it's a little more...lush. Or some other word.) Now put the whole thing in the freezer and forget about it. Let the kids and whoever else eat the remaining watermelon all day.
As a parent, you know damn well your day is going better if you do something for everyone else first, dammit, like cutting into a fresh watermelon from King's Market and making it easy for them to eat all day. The only place you get to take care of yourself first is on a crashing airplane, and does it matter at that point? I hope you already made boiled peanuts and let them soak all night, because when you're finished cutting the fruit, you can drain the peanuts and put them in a zippered bag for later. (As an aside, my Aunt Kathy taught me that secret. The boiled peanuts are so much better if you turn off the heat and let them soak overnight. That's how you get the little juicy ones that you can eat shell and all. Not that you want all of them to be like that, but just a few.)
Worst case scenario: No one eats anything all day but peanuts, watermelon, potato chips, and whatever they can forage.
That's pretty good. Throw in some carrot and celery sticks and you're a damn personal nutritionist to the stars.
Day Drinking for Adults Step 2: Mixing Your Drink
Is it after 2 p.m.? Have you eaten breakfast and lunch? Did you get all of your work done? Have you sunscreened yourself and anyone else you were responsible for? Are you ready to head out to the beach for an afternoon of reading, people watching, and sitting? Hooray! Go get your Tervis out of the freezer. Your watermelon should be sufficiently soaked in vodka. Add some more fruit, whatever you have. Blackberries, blueberries, pineapple, oranges, whatever. This fruit is your snack for later.
Note: 2 p.m. works for me, because I go to bed around midnight. You should pick a time about 10 hours before you usually brush your teeth and call it a night.
Pour a splash of prosecco (or avinyó or rosé or cava or chardonnay) over your boozy watermelon and top with seltzer water, flavored or not, your choice. Take a big gulp, enough to make room for two big ice cubes, then add the ice cubes.
You're almost there.
Step 3: Pack Your Bag
Get at least two books, because you don't know how long you'll be out there and you may want to give one to a friend so they don't interrupt your reading. Pack two kinds of spray sunscreen, one that smells good and one that works on wet or dry skin. (Thank you, Neutrogena.) The spray is only for touch-ups; you need to start with a base of cream, because it works better. Just ask your dermatologist.
Our place is on the beach, but I pack a bag anyway because I shouldn't have to get up just to get a hat, or a new book, or some lip balm. I have a small cotton bag that folds up really small to take wherever I'm headed, because sometimes you need a bag that isn't a purse to carry stuff around. I'm a pro at sitting on the beach or by the pool and doing nothing, but it takes a little planning.
Now haul out your chair, your bag, and your drink. Get situated.
Step 4: Drink. Read. Repeat.
You made it. You're on the beach. Open your book, dig your toes in the sand, and work on your tan. I hear you: Tanning isn't safe! Which is why I mix sunless tanner with the SPF 80 Million+ that I apply head-to-toe before I even get dressed.
You may find the first one (book and drink) goes down pretty easily, and you want more. Have all the book you want, but go easy on the drinks. This is not a contest, because you're an adult, and adults get to have fun the whole day, not just the part before they fall asleep after having too much to drink. Your goal is to stay up and fall asleep watching Law and Order reruns like a normal person. So, chill and read. Speaking of books, I finished one of mine at Edisto last week and I highly recommend it. Just before I left, Barbara Lynch was on NPR talking about Out of Line, so I took it with me and wasn't disappointed. What are you reading? I have a week on Isle of Palms coming up and my stack may not be enough to sustain me.
Are you ready for another drink now? Okay, but follow the rules.
Step 5: Assess and Go Light
Carry your Tervis back into the house, because you probably need to go to the bathroom by now anyway. Add some more ice, maybe some more fruit. Do you feel tipsy? Even a little? Then just add seltzer. If you feel sufficiently hydrated and would like a little more wine, pour a splash in with your seltzer. Always at least a little seltzer.
A small note: Watermelon is a mild diuretic (that means it makes you pee, which is why you don't give it to young bed-wetters before bed). That's a good thing here, because all those boiled peanuts—and pimiento cheese and potato chips—make you swell up like a little sausage. If you want more of a diuretic effect, add a splash of unsweetened cranberry juice. Isn't it nice when things that taste good are good for you? So nice!
Whatever you do, DO NOT ADD MORE VODKA. One slug of vodka a day is enough. Trust me.
Let's say you never do add more wine. That's great! The wine really isn't necessary, though I totally get it if you want to be a little festive, and a nice dry white does improve the taste of this fruity concoction if you aren't a fan of sweets, which I'm not. And if you're vacationing with friends, and you aren't in charge of anyone, go ahead and add a splash of wine to every refill. Do you! But responsibly! Know your limit, k? You'll feel better in the morning and you may even make it through two Law and Orders before bed.
Are you wondering about the fruit at the bottom of your cup? You may think the vodka is all gone, that it blended into the rest of your drink, replaced by wine, seltzer, or water from the ice. Au contraire. This vodka-infused watermelon is your last cocktail of the day, the one you have on the porch, in the dark so as not to disturb nesting loggerheads, while you listen to the waves, watch for deer in the dunes, and talk softly with your friends. You may be pleasantly surprised by how much booze is still in that watermelon.
So, the moral of this story is, drink responsibly, and your last drink will be as much fun as your first. There are probably some other morals in there somewhere, but that's all I've got today.
* Yes, it has to be Tervis. My mother, who was not prone to spending money when it wasn't absolutely necessary, warned me about knock-offs and she was right. Suck it up. Get Tervis. Besides, they have a crazy awesome guarantee and they really will send you another one if your gets broken. My Edisto Tervis is a little shady because it has all kinds of sunscreen and oil on it, but you know what? If that mattered to me? They'd send me another one. But I think it adds character. If you make this "recipe" in anything other than Tervis, don't come crying to me.