The Bookworm: Here's to your health – Good drinks, friends and conversation

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“The Drunken Botanist”

By Amy Stewart

c. 2013, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

$19.95/$23.95 Canada

400 pages

Your doctor tells you that you need more vegetables in your diet. Pay attention to the food groups, she said, and she gave you a chart. Four servings of this, two servings of that, green things and yellow things all over your plate, and you feel like an herbivore.

But if grapes are fruit and fruits are on the diet does that include wine? Can the Four Basic Food Groups come in a glass? In “The Drunken Botanist” by Amy Stewart, you’ll learn the interesting answer.

It was hot the day you spent working in the garden, and something icy-cold and wet sounded awfully good. So you went inside, scooped some ice and poured yourself an Adult Beverage. But what you might not realize is that the thing you were drinking might have come from the kind of plants you were cultivating; in fact, liquor stores are filled with bottles to which botanical genus and species can be assigned.

Potatoes, of course, can be a main ingredient in vodka, and corn is found in whiskey, bourbon, beer, and moonshine. Garden herbs are found in rum, vermouth, and amaretto. You can have a nice flute of grapes or strawberries (fermented, of course), or perhaps something made with berries you’ve picked, or fruit from your backyard trees.

Speaking of trees, they also contribute to a bit of imbibing: bananas and birch make beer, junipers make gin, from pine comes wine, and don’t forget that you need oak for aging, and cork for well, for corking.

If your garden grows with silver bells and cockle shells, you won’t find those in a bottle, but you might find jasmine, violets, and roses in liqueurs. You can find bugs in booze, tobacco (sans nicotine) in certain liqueurs, cactus in some vodkas, even thistle can be found in vermouths and tonics.

With this book, you’ll learn which plant turns up in more alcoholic drinks around the world. You’ll see how a “virtually unknown” liquid became a must-have in every liquor cabinet. You’ll get recipes, including one for the “perfect pastis.” And you’ll learn what you should never, ever use to make your own home brew.

At the end of a long week, you may think there’s nothing better than a cold one to start the weekend. But that was before “The Drunken Botanist.”

With a gardener’s wisdom and the ability to find humor in the human quest for palatable fermented beverages, author Amy Stewart pours on the information in this bubbly book. This is a sober subject; Stewart uses real botanical names and includes plenty of science, but her research is also fun: grab a page and start with your favorite refreshment. That leads to another drink and another and before long, you’ll be absolutely intoxicated with the idea of other plants, different recipes, more cool tidbits.

If you’re a plant-lover, cocktail connoisseur, and if you’ve ever wondered what the heck you’re really drinking, give this book a shot. For sure, “The Drunken Botanist” is good for what ales you.

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“How We Love Now: Women Talk About Intimacy after 50”

By Suzanne Braun Levine

c. 2011, 2013, Plume

$16/$17 Canada

260 pages

The conversation is lively whenever old friends get together.

Topic Number One: whatever’s going on in your lives, followed by family, work, and travel. You swap feedback, share advice, gossip with impunity, sympathize, and roundly agree that you can’t live without one another. You plan your next event.

But there’s one subject that never seems to surface, one thing you’re not ready to discuss and obviously, neither is anyone else. Read the book “How We Love Now: Women Talk About Intimacy after 50” by Suzanne Braun Levine, though, and you may all change your minds.

When it comes to sex, what is “normal?”

In her research for this and other books, Suzanne Braun Levine discovered that many women past menopause were asking the same question, but with relative anonymity. They were curious, but abashedly “tongue-tied.”

As she dug a little deeper, Levine happily discovered that “women were having great, uninhibited, inventive sex.” The problem is, “we can’t seem to leave the good girl / bad girl baggage at the door” so we’re not discussing our sensuality. If we were, we’d see that we’re “lusting and loving as [we] age” and are “enjoying it more than ever.”

From roughly age fifty to age seventy-five, women experience a period of self-discovery and renewal that Levine calls Second Adulthood. We’re less frantic about mating, not worried about pregnancy, and more willing to accept love from a totally unpredictable direction. Our expectations are more realistic and though we want a relationship, obsessed neediness “no longer applies.”

Once we’ve found a partner (and the search is often a lesson in adapting), we still encounter real, authentic bumps though, in our Second Adulthood, we’re able to acknowledge that the “living, breathing body” we have “is better than the alternative.” We might hate our wrinkles, but we’re comfortable enough to ask a partner or lover for something different than what’s “not working.”

But passion in Second Adulthood is not just relegated to the bedroom.

After age fifty, women often say they have more love for their jobs or volunteer work. We love our friends deeper and with more appreciation. We find it easier to untangle family ties. We cherish all second chances and “the opportunity to fulfill them.”

I spent an awful lot of time shrugging as I was reading “How We Love Now.”

That’s not to say that this is a bad book. Author Suzanne Braun Levine’s research seems to literally have gone where no man has gone before and that’s good, but I just couldn’t help but feel like I’ve heard it already. There’s lots of tasteful information here with little-to-no profanity, but that doesn’t erase the fact that this is an updated version of an older book on a topic that’s been covered elsewhere quite a bit lately.

I think that if this subject is a revelation to you, then by all means grab this book because it’s an eye-opener. If it seems to be old news, though, then “How We Love Now” is probably something you can live without.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

© 2013 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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