"It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end." (Ernest Hemingway) In less than two weeks I am running a 10 mile race. A 'race' distance I had not run in almost fifteen years. After both a much too long hiatus from running (14 years to be exact) and then a year ago this month having a stress fracture in my right leg (with an recovery period that seemed endless), I thought my longest running distances would never be more than 6 miles, 6.2 to be exact. But a combination of factors, including the support and encouragement of my running group friends, caused my running goals to shift. In the past month I have run the distance of 10 miles twice, again returning to the world of double digit runs. The first 10 miler felt like a struggle which had me questioning how realistic my revised running goals actually were. However, the second 10 mile run not only gave me some of the confidence I so desperately needed, but it provided me with the reassurance I could do 'whatever it was I made up my mind to do'. Like some other runners, running for me is as much of a 'head game' as it is a test of physical strength and endurance. On that first 10 mile attempt, I told my small group to go ahead without me at the four and a half mile mark as I wasn't exactly certain my 'head' was in a good place. So much to the worry of some, I went rogue. Meaning I didn't stay on the course we were all supposed to follow. This was less about being fiercely independent (which I can be at times), but more about trying to (re)gain some mental focus (more on my pace and breathing, less on how much further ahead or faster my running partners were). With the support of my running group coach, I went rogue again for the second ten miler. In taking the self-imposed competitiveness with others out of the picture, I actually ran stronger and faster (well faster is a relative term). As much as I have loved and benefitted from the camaraderie of running with a group, when I am pushing myself further than I had gone before or think I am even capable, some time running alone seems to help me keep my 'head in the game'. Who knows what my performance will be on the day of this upcoming 10 mile race as many factors (weather being the biggest) will affect it. However, I have decided I have only one simple goal for this race: to finish feeling happy. Because the return to running was in part to re-experience the joy running had brought to my life. Although I will be downright euphoric if chocolate milk is available on the other side of the finish line. A more potent celebratory drink will have to wait until later in the day.
Not listed in any order of preference, some of my favorite 'alcoholic' beverages are martinis, margaritas, and mojitos. I apparently have an affinity for cocktails beginning with the letter "M" (with the exception of manhattans, intentionally excluded from this list for reasons having nothing to do with their taste but rather a still unforgotten serious state of inebriation decades ago). Fortunately one of Cuba's oldest cocktails was created and exported long before the political wall went up between the US and Cuba. However, it was Ernest Hemingway who was responsible for popularizing the mojito. Made with only a handful of ingredients, has become a signature staple cocktail in both Latin and American cuisine. Lime, mint, sugar, rum (preferably a clear, white and/or silver rum), and ice combine to create a cocktail where its' sweetness is complimented by refreshing citrus and mint. Not a fan of the mojito? Well maybe it's because the ones you had were made by bartenders pretending to be mixologists, who unbeknownst to you, substituted splenda for sugar or the Italian liqueur BrancaMenta for the mint or even over muddled it. All because it wasn't one of their most favorite drinks to make. In other words, please give making your own 'fresh' mojito a try before writing it off.
Like most libations there are a multitude of variations all claiming to be the 'one', the 'best', the most 'authentic'. After looking at dozens and dozens of mojito recipes, there seemed to be most consensus on the use of a clear/white/silver rum; the use of fresh mint leaves; and, the use of freshly squeezed lime juice. When it came to whether to use sugar or a simple syrup made with sugar, there seemed to be less agreement. Just the thought of the mere possibility of a grainy mojito had me jumping on the simple syrup bandwagon. The highly carbonated 'waters' used in the mojito ranged from mineral water, to sparkling water, to seltzer water, to club soda. Club soda seemed to the hands down favorite. I used Schweppes, although someone did a carbonated water and cocktail test and identified "Q" club soda as the 'best' albeit rather on the relatively pricey side, as far as club soda prices go. So until I someday find and splurge on a bottle of "Q" club soda, I am sticking with Schweppes.
Last, but not least, was the process of making the mojito, of which there seems to be two camps, Shaken and Muddled. Not surprisingly each camp claims their version doesn't over mint the taste of the mojito. This version goes with the sexier, gently muddled approach.
If you were looking for reasons to plant highly invasive mint in your garden, put mojitos on the top of this list. Depending on the day of the week, the availability of the fresh mint found in grocery stores can be sometimes slim to none or even worse, has an appearance you wouldn't even want to mask in a pesto. One should be able to make mojitos on a whim or whenever you have a taste for them! So on your next trip to the farmer's market, garden center, or roadside herb stand and pick up a few mint plants. In a relatively short period of time, you will never need to deny yourself or your friends a mojito on a moments notice again. If you love a great mojito, you won't care too much about your mint's invasive tendencies. Especially after you have had one or two of them.
An ounce of simple syrup (recipe below) and 6-8 fresh mint leaves are gently muddled together. Muddling too hard will "break the little capillaries in the mint leaf and release bitter chlorophyll, essentially ruining your drink". So find another way to take out any of your aggressions and never ever over muddle your mint. Although I am certain there are some aggressive muddlers out there who would disagree. (If your mint leaves are on the large size, use 6. If they are small to medium or a combination of S/M/L, use 8. Once you taste it, you can make your personal preference adjustments.)
After adding a generous handful of ice cubes (crushed ice is optional), pour in two ounces of white rum. Next comes two ounces of club soda, followed by one ounce of freshly squeezed lime juice. After a gentle stir to combine, top with a sprig of fresh mint and wedge/slice of lime. Then sit back and enjoy the spell this refreshing cocktail will have on you.
I know, this sounds like a cocktail made with a lot of precision. Maybe it is. But precision, as in many things, is one of the factors determining whether something is either good or great. And this Mint Mojito is great, really great. How great? Well so great that even those of you on the 'take it or leave it' mojito fence might be tempted to start singing the refreshing Mint Mojitos praises, especially on a hot summer day.
Mint Mojitos (inspired by multiple sources)
1 ounce simple syrup
2 ounces white rum
2 ounces club soda (recommend Schweppes)
1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
6-8 mint leaves
Fresh lime wedge/slice for garnishing
Spring of mint for garnishing
Ice cubes or crushed ice
Note: To make simple syrup, bring one cup of water and one cup of granulated sugar to a boil over medium-high heat. The mixture should look clear with no trace of sugar granules. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Store reserved simple syrup in the refrigerator in a covered jar.
1. Put 6-8 mint leaves in a glass. Add simple syrup and lightly muddle.
2. Add ice, white rum, and club soda.
3. Top with lime juice. Stir gently.
4. Finish with a fresh sprig of mint and lime wedge/slice.
5. Serve immediately and enjoy.