about bliss

Saturday, May 02, 2009

daily bliss: derby day

You know how some girls are horse girls? Girls like my friend S, who rode all throughout her youth. Like my Aunt B, who always wanted horses as a little girl, and who now has them as an older girl with little horsie girls of her own. And my cousins S and S, who compete in Riding events and for the school Equestrian team.

I was sort of a horsie girl. I had several stuffed horses (one of which I named after my mom. Sorry, mom), and a small collection of Breyer horses. One of my favorite childhood Christmas memories is the stable that my Dad built me, that was set up in front of the Christmas tree, and filled with the aforementioned Breyer horses.

I was much more of a book girl than anything else.

But, there's something charming about celebrating Derby Day. Back in 2003, Derby Day was also my good friends' wedding day. They held a noontime picnic at the University Arboretum, and then we all went home to refresh, and redress for the evening ceremony. My friends S and K came over to my house after the picnic, and I actually watched the Derby for the first time, since S is the same S from paragraph one, and has a deep love for the day. We donned hats and cheered as the horses made their quick lap around the track. Then we helped one another prepare for the event.

I wore a dress I still own, and still adore, the dress I also wore to my Ph.D. graduation later that summer...

And so, today, I watched the derby whilst wearing my grad school sweatshirt over a more informal cotton day dress, a floppy hat on my head, and a hand-crafted julep in my hand. I cheered for all of the horses, and all of the jockeys, and loved the fact that Mine the Bird, an underestimated cheap horse, won.

Mint Julep
prepare the simple syrup:
rub 1/2 cup natural cane sugar and a handful of fresh mint leaves together with your fingers to release the essential oils and perfume the sugar.

then, mix the sugar and mint together with 1/2 cup filtered water in a small saucepan. cook over medium high heat until all of the sugar is dissolved. remove from heat and let sit.

prepare the drink:
wrap glass with a handkerchief, then fill glass with ice (shaved if you have it). add a glug of the strained mint syrup, and a shot of Kentucky Bourbon whiskey. I like Maker's Mark. Stir gently. Top with a mint sprig, and sip away. Adjust the syrup and bourbon amounts to suit your taste.

refrigerate the remaining mint syrup and use in juleps, iced tea, or mojitos.


  1. Such sweet memories of friends and horses.

    I attended the Univ of Virginia, and enjoyed many a mint julep. Had to be Virginia Gentleman bourbon, of course. Your recipe sounds great - i may have to make some up; have plenty of julep cups and Jefferson cups.

  2. I think I heard that an official mint julep is made with Early Times, but don't quote me on that. And whether it's official or not doesn't change the fact that I have a hard time sipping one of those, even on Derby Day. Can't bring myself to enjoy them...but I do appreciate the tradition.

    I was fortunate enough to attend the Derby in 2004, the year Smarty Jones won it. He was my horse for several races leading up to the Derby, and we were lucky to have seats just a few yards past the finish line. It was...tremendous.

    This year I watched it in Green Bay, in a smoke-filled bingo hall. Hmm...somehow not quite the same electricity and excitement.

    I'd tell you here at the end of this comment that Mine That Bird was my pick, and that I turned a tiny little wager into 50 times as much...

    ...but I'd be lying.

    What a race! :O)

  3. nancy, i was going to buy woodford, but it was a little too $$ for how infrequently i drink it. i do, however, need a nice, authentic cup for next year.

    gregg, you were there in 2004! wow! i marvel at the layers of tradition: the hats, the horses, the southern hospitality...

    now, the smoke filled bingo hall, that sounds all kinds of wisconsin tradition:)