Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How to Make the Perfect Mojito

An important aspect of the Mojito Literary Society is—of course—the mojito. The derivation of the name is unclear; it could refer to mojo, a lime-flavored seasoning mixture popular in Cuban cuisine, or to the word mojadito, Spanish for "a little wet." A favorite drink of Ernest Hemingway (whose graffiti praising the drink can still be seen on the walls of his favorite Cuban bar), the mojito is a deceptively simple mixture of five basic ingredients: rum, lime juice, cane sugar, club soda, and fresh mint leaves (traditionally yerba buena in Cuba, but most commonly spearmint or peppermint in the US).

I've had many mojitos. Some have been exquisite; others have been as limp and tasteless as salad in a glass. I make my own at home regularly, and they are quite tasty if I do say so myself (and I do). Still, when it comes to mixology, there's no greater authority than my friend Chris Milligan. He writes the blog The Sante Fe Barman and is, IMHO, a genius with all things spirited. When I asked him to explain how to make a perfect mojito, he graciously obliged.

So here it is, folks, straight from someone who knows.

The Perfect Mojito

In a 12 oz glass, muddle ten or twelve Mint leaves with 3/4 oz simple syrup and 1/2 oz fresh lime juice. Add ice, 2 oz white rum, and fill with club soda. Using a long handled spoon, pull the mint from the bottom of the glass to combine. You are also mixing in the lime and simple syrup. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Important Mixology Skills and Information!

Muddling—the idea in this drink is to extract the oils from the mint without tearing the leaves, so be gentle. Robert Hess does a great demo on muddling (find that here on Small Screen Network.)

Measure, Measure, Measure. Get a small OXO measuring cup or jigger. This is KEY.

That brings us back to the glassware. If your glasses are bigger than 12 oz, you will need to adjust.

A lime wheel is a lime cut in a circle from pole to pole.

Simple syrup—1 lb. BY WEIGHT of sugar and 8 oz of water (filtered) by volume. Place in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. This keeps for 3-5 days or add a shot of vodka to keep for 3 weeks.

In a 12 oz glass, muddle ten or twelve Mint leaves with 3/4 oz simple syrup and 1/2 oz fresh lime juice. Add ice, 2 oz white rum, and fill with club soda. Using a long handled spoon, pull the mint from the bottom of the glass to combine. You are also mixing in the lime and simple syrup. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Important Mixology Skills and Information!

Muddling—the idea in this drink is to extract the oils from the mint without tearing the leaves, so be gentle. Robert Hess does a great demo on muddling (find that here on Small Screen Network.)

Measure, Measure, Measure. Get a small OXO measuring cup or jigger. This is KEY.

That brings us back to the glassware. If your glasses are bigger than 12 oz, you will need to adjust.

A lime wheel is a lime cut in a circle from pole to pole.

Simple syrup—1 lb. BY WEIGHT of sugar and 8 oz of water (filtered) by volume. Place in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. This keeps for 3-5 days or add a shot of vodka to keep for 3 weeks.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Laura's author signing with Prosecco and organic Italian gelato

Do you love Italian gelato? Sparkling Prosecco? Books and fine literature? 

Oh, do I have the event for you!

Prosecco-gold-arrangement-1Laura and Joel (Caplan, owner of Cafe' Gelatohhh and Italian ice cream chef extraordinaire) will be giving an informal meet and greet with sparkling Prosecco and delicious house-made organic gelato from Savannah's own Cafe' Gelatohhhh at Hattie's  Bookstore in Brunswick, GA 

Friday, February the 7th  from 5-7pm

Laura Valeri, born in Piombino, Italy, will sign copies of her latest book, Safe in Your Head, published by Stephen F. Austin University Press. Safe in Your Head, a finalist in the 2011 SFA Press Prize for Fiction tells the epic story of "three women who struggle to embrace their future as they are haunted by the ghost of the past." The stories include tales of war, love, cooking and magic.
yummy gelato (Italian ice cream)
yummy gelato (Italian ice cream)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mojito Sister Loose on the Writing Community

Amelia Island Book Festival
Join writer Laura Valeri at the Amelia Island Book Festival and Workshop this February 21 (Author Workshop) and February 22 (Book Festival Signing).

On Friday, Laura will be giving a workshop on images in fiction, particularly to:
  • find inspiration
  • focus your ideas
  • immerse into character
  • explore a historical period
  • create great story openings
  • complete story endings
  • more…
There will be lots to do, and if you join the Workshop, there will be a lunch with David Baldacci.
Hope to see you in beautiful Amelia Island!
(And check out my book if you haven’t yet!)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Happy Diwali

Tonight, my Mojito brothers and sisters, it's time to clean up the house and light a candle to welcome Diwali, the festival of lights.

Diwali is a Hindu festival that marks the end of the harvest season.  In India, the celebration is a way of giving thanks for the abundance of the current harvest and for welcoming a prosperous harvest in the next year.

Traditionally, Diwali is associated with goddess Lakshmi, the first of the gods to emerge from the "churning milk" of the cosmic ocean.  She is also the goddess who triumphed in battle over the demons of darkness.  So, Mojito sisters, this is a good night to meditate on the aspect of the feminine that is represented in Lakshmi, a major ass-kicking goddess who is said to be the power of material creation, the shakti that corresponds to Vishnu/creation.

Lakshmi is associated with abundance, inner wisdom, wealth, prosperity, fertility, luck, beauty and love.  She is the feminine counterpart of the lord of creation, and it is said that in every incarnation of Vishnu (as in Krishna and Rama, etc.) so does Lakshmi, his consort also incarnate (as Rada, Sita, etc.) because the two cannot be apart.

More importantly, the festival celebrates the triumph of light over darkness.  So as to be sure that I am not making any faux pas, I am quoting here straight from Wikipedia:

While Diwali is popularly known as the "festival of lights", the most significant spiritual meaning behind it is "the awareness of the inner light". Central to Hindu philosophy (primarily the YogaVedanta, and Samkhya schools of Hindu philosophy) is the belief that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman

The celebration of Diwali as the "victory of good over evil", refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance, the ignorance that masks one's true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings ananda (joy or peace). Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Diwali is the celebration of this Inner Light.

While the story behind Diwali and the manner of celebration varies from region to region (festive fireworks, worship, lights, sharing of sweets), the essence is the same – to rejoice in the Inner Light (Atman) or the underlying Reality of all things (Brahman).

Although I am not Hindu in either religion or race, I am nonetheless fascinated by Lakshmi and Diwali, and every year, if I remember, I light candles and clean my house, for it is said that Lakshmi never enters a house that's dirty.

By this small and simple ritual I welcome the light of reason and the light of peace into my home and heart, that I may wake from ignorance and be embraced with the abundance of wisdom and of inner peace with is the birthright of every human being.

And if you want to make an extra umph on Lakshmi, her mantra is Om Sri Maha Lakshmiyai Namah.

Happy Diwali.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

MLS True Ghost Stories: Remembering The Dead on All Hallows Eve

I was going to tell you all about the time when my family was sitting at the kitchen table at lunchtime, and we heard someone fall down the staircase, hit the wall, and land in the vestibule right by the front door.  We searched the house inside and out, didn't find a person nor a tree limb nor anything else that could have made the whole house shake as it did.  But that's all the story there's to tell and though it was frightening to me at the time, in retrospect, it's just another spook story.

Instead I have been compelled to tell you about a different kind of ghost story.  It's about the ghosts that lurk quietly, not to scare us, but, perhaps to watch us and help us not to get into any more trouble than we already get into all by our lonesomes.

For instance, when in the late 90's my sister called me from Italy to tell me that my grandmother had passed away, I already knew.  That night I had been sleeping soundly, when something in my dream shifted abruptly.  I felt my grandmother entering my dream with such vividness that the emotion I felt in seeing her sucked me awake. I asked my sister what time my grandmother had passed away, but even before she confirmed my suspicions, I already knew.

She visited a couple of times since then, too.  I cannot mistake the smell of my dear grandmother, that mix between cigarette smoke and chef's soap.  When she's around, I say hello to her in my head.  I imagine she's always surprised that I know she's come.

I've also had some other lucky visitations. The most vivid of them was when I was 8 or 9 years old and I'd gotten lost on a mountaintop during a snow storm during ski camp.  The lifts had closed down but my brother and I had got stuck on the top of the mountain, and there was no way to get to safety but on skis. An instructor had tried to help us out, but my brother was so small that the wind kept sucking him up, so the instructor tucked him between his legs and propped him on top of his own skies.  That was enough of a balancing act that he didn't look back to see if I was following, and he didn't notice that, though I was bigger than my brother, the wind was slowing me down.  Pretty soon my brother and the man disappeared into the mist and snow, out of my sight, and shortly after that, their voices were too faint to hear. There was nothing but ravines around me and trees ahead of me. I didn't know the way.

I was talking to myself, saying something like, "God, I'm going to die," mewling and thinking of all the stuff I'd seen on the news of people getting lost on mountains and freezing to death, when I heard a calm, friendly voice behind me, a man who asked me if I needed help.  I was a little embarrassed to have been caught talking to myself and I barely nodded. He told me to take off my goggles and slipped them in the pocket of his ski jacket, but I never actually saw this man above the waist. I never looked up to see his face.  He led me down the mountain and shielded me from the strong gusts of wind, and when we got down to the shelter he helped me take off my skies, then asked me if I wanted some hot chocolate. Still without looking at him I nodded yes.  He led me inside the chateau and stepped into the crowd.

The moment he did, I heard my father's voice behind me: "Where have you been?"

I told my father everything.

"Where are your googles?" my father wanted to know.

I pointed to the crowd where I thought I might recognize the man who had gone to buy me a cup of hot chocolate, who still had my ski googles in his pocket, but I realized I didn't know him.  He could have been anyone. We waited and waited, but the man never came back.

Was he a ghost? A dream? An angel?

Does it matter?

One time as I was driving on a highway towards work, I got sandwiched between a slow truck before me and a car speeding fast into the highway from a ramp to my right. With no time to step on the breaks I had to cut off a woman in a corvette on my left lane.  I then slipped back into the right lane to give the corvette room to pass me, but the corvette had also slipped back to the right lane, and seeing me maneuver like that, the woman driving the corvette leaned heavily on the horn.  She passed me to my left, but not content, she slowed down so that we traveled at the same speed.  She leaned on the horn again, staring at me and cursing me out.  I flipped her the bird.  I saw her gape at me.  I saw the look that came over her face with her unsavory decision.  I saw her spin the steering wheel, her lips between her teeth, obviously intent on slamming her corvette into my station wagon.  I saw the hood of her car nearing towards mine.

This is the part I still don't understand.  Her car didn't hit me.  Her car swerved as if pushed away by an invisible forced and did a 360 on the highway. I barely swished by and saw the corvette spinning in the rearview. Luckily she did not crash, nor did anyone behind her on that busy highway.  Something similar happened a few years later when I was stopped at a light and an out-of-control car screeched and careered towards me only to swerve on a split second, again as if by pushed away by some invisible force.

And this ghost visitation seems to be a family matter. When my sister was a baby, my mother woke up from her crying. Slow to respond she was surprised that before she got to the baby's room, the baby had stopped crying already. She peeked softly into the baby's room, careful not to make noise. A woman in a WWII nursing uniform was bent over the cradle -- or so it seemed in the shadows. My mother asked, "Who is that?" but there was already only just darkness.   Another time, during a particularly trying night, my mother saw and heard her father call her name: he was dead then already twenty years.  He was an illusion of light, a whisper of the wind, but he had enough substance to say her name, to ask what is the matter, in a loving enough voice that my mother jolted out of her sadness and into wonderment.

Yesterday, I was working on an email in response to something my sister had sent me that had made me angry. Needless to say, what I was writing wasn't kind. When I hit the send button, however, my gmail said "There is a problem with the server. Please try again later."  The thought hit me that it might have been a sign not to engage in an argument with my sister, but I hit send again.  And again a few moments later.  Still, the email wouldn't go through.

To appease my guilt, I began to edit the email down. For every paragraph that I edited or cut, I hit send, and still the same error message came back. I checked my internet connection. It was working. I checked FB. It was working.  I tried to send my message again and still the same server error popped up.  This went on for a while. I went on FB and asked if anyone else was having problems with gmail. Nobody else seemed to be having problems.

Finally, my better wisdom prevailed and I deleted the email to my sister.  Within a few seconds, I was able to send and receive email again.

Was it a ghost or an angel or just coincidence?

I don't know, but I did remembered then that Halloween is, after all, not just about ghosts and monsters. It's also about remembering those who passed away, and about honoring the "hallowed" saints who look over us from that world beyond.

So it occurs to me that the dead want to be remembered, not just as spooks and apparitions, but also for their best hopes for us.

It reminds me of one of my favorite poems by Susan Mitchell, The Dead, from which I will quote only a few lines out of respect for copyright:

Some dead find their way to our houses.
They go up to the attics.
They read the letters they sent us, insatiable
for signs of their love.

So on this All Hallows' Eve I'd like to express my gratitude for those who watch over us, and also offer a little prayer for our ancestors:  that they may thrive in peace, love and joy, wherever they may be.

Laura Valeri is the author of Safe in Your Head, which has ghost stories in it, and the author of The Kind of Things Saints Do.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Day 1: Don't Worry, Honey, It's Just The Paranormal Messin' Around by Leah Rhyne

Jon Bon Jovi Comin' for YOU!
A long time ago, in a state far, far away, I was just a little girl growing up in the medium-sized borough of Sayreville, New Jersey. The most notable thing by far about our town was that it is (as the signs say) the boyhood home of Jon Bon Jovi. No lie. But that’s not exactly scary.
I mean, there were always rumors that in a far corner a neighborhood known as Tangletown sat the original home of Bloody Mary, but I think most old towns think they can boast the original home of Bloody Mary. So also not exactly scary.
But, you know, it’s New Jersey, and sometimes that’s scary enough. We are the home of the Jersey Devil after all. Ever heard of him? He’s this little fiendish creature, born of witches or voodoo or something equally devilish, who lives deep in the forests of the Pine Barrens and feeds on the souls of innocent children. Or something. It was enough to give me nightmares as a little one, though it’s certainly not enough to scare me now.
But (and this is a big but): I do believe in ghosts. Wholeheartedly. And I do believe someone ghostly loves to mess with my husband and me whenever we watch scary movies.
Here’s my story.
Have you ever seen The Ring? You know, that ridiculously terrifying movie about a little girl who comes out of the television to kill people after they’ve watched this atrocious avant garde slasher flick? Yeah, that one. The first time I saw it was in a movie theater with an old friend, and it scared the pants off me. I screamed. I hid my face. I wanted to run away.
When my husband and I first lived together, I used to talk about this movie as one of my favorite scary films. My husband had never seen it, though, so one night we rented it (this was back before NetFlix, if you can believe that) and settled in to watch it.
We had the lights out. We had the windows closed. We had popcorn. In short, we were ready for a good time. And the movie was just as scary as I remembered it. There was Naomi Watts, looking all gorgeous and terrified. There was the girl with the long stringy hair. There she was, about to come out of the TV in one of the most climactic scenes in horror movie history.
And suddenly…our lights surged! Our TV blazed! Everything turned on in our living room, and then everything turned off! I screamed. I also fell off the couch. My husband leaped to his feet, his eyes searching around the room. We looked outside, but no one on our street seemed to be experiencing electrical difficulties.
It was just us. But no biggie, right? Just a random power surge? Well, then. Explain this one. It was a year or so later. We’d rented 1408, the John Cusack flick based on the Stephen King short story of the same name. This movie is all about ghosts in a haunted old hotel. All the scary stuff starts happening after a single piece of electronic equipment – a clock radio, I believe – turns on in the middle of the night, all on its own.
Well, we watched the entire movie and had a good time with it. It was just creepy enough that even though the end was lame, I went to bed with the heebie-jeebies.
A couple hours later, we were both sound asleep in our bedroom. In our bathroom sat, silent, an electric razor that made an extremely loud whirring sound whenever someone turned on the cleaning cycle.
Well, something (someone??) pressed that button while we were both sound asleep. Something turned that razor on. The whirring sound jerked us both awake. We both jumped up. I leaped from the bed, terrified. My husband unplugged the razor and it quieted back down, but it took us forever to get back to sleep.
I’ll be honest. We don’t watch many scary movies around here anymore. You could blame it on the fact that we have a kid now, and she doesn’t like to listen to scary things while she’s trying to go to sleep. Or you could blame it on the fact that something (someone?) probably still likes to mess with us whenever we’re silly enough to mess with ourselves, and frankly, I don’t want him to.

Tag, Laura Valeri! You're it!
(This post first appeared on Little Miss Train Wreck, a blog of fashion, reviews and author interviews. Visit for more information. Photo Courtesy of Hyena Reality at Free Digital Photos.)
* * *
Leah Rhyne, author of the Undead America series, is a Jersey girl who's been in the South so long she's lost her accent...but never her attitude. After spending most of her childhood watching movies like Star Wars, Alien(s), and A Nightmare On Elm Street, and reading books like Stephen King's The Shining or It, Leah loves writing tales of horror and science-fiction. She lives with her husband, daughter, and a small menagerie of pets. In her barely-there spare time, she loves running.

Visit Leah at her website:

Zombie Days, Campfire Nights: Book One of the Undead America series --  Millions died when the zombie plague swept the country. For the survivors, the journey has just begun. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Day 2: Ghost in the Machine by Joel Caplan

The Ghost in the Machine

I shall preface this by saying that I am an honorary member of the Mojito Literary Society, being a man, and am only granted this privilege as I house and feed the other members, on occasion, and also do my best to get them drunk.  I have photos of multiple women writers, all writing, in my living room.  I could say that’s a Halloween horror story, but it isn’t:  I love and cherish these women and am honored to have them in my life.  So on to the story.

It isn’t a horror story.  It is a ghost story.  There is very little drama.  This is a small account of a very timid, but effectual ghost.  It is mostly silly, but definitely real.

I run a gelateria in the historic part of Savannah, Georgia.  The shop is in a four story building, which includes a basement.   My shop is on the first, ground level, floor.  What is interesting about this particular building is that the top floor of it was used as a slave auction house during the rain, and until recently, the trappings of the slave trade were still there (raised floor, hooks in the wall to attach shackles to, etc).  The outdoor slave sales happened about about a block away.  

Two blocks away from me is the First African Baptist Church, which was a major link in the Underground Railway, the delivery system that rescued slaves and propelled them north to a hopefully better life.  Visitors today can see the floorboards, with air holes, that hid the slaves sheltered underneath.  What is interesting here is that a school had been constructed for slave children, and that school was in the basement of the building where my gelateria is currently located.

To put it succinctly, my business is in a building that witnessed the sale of slaves and the education of escaped slave children.  All at the same time.  You may draw your own conclusions about how this energy may have affected my space.

Over the past ten years we have experienced multiple odd phenomena, all of them having to do with screws and bolts.  All manner of things come unscrewed, and the screws themselves disappear.  I have seen screws come out of place from mechanisms that do not experience vibration.  Screws come loose from internal mechanisms that cannot be accessed without significant dissection.  One evening a screw came loose from an ice cream cone holder, and the plate that the screw held in place, about 16 inches in diameter, flew across the store.  It did not hurt the employee that witnessed it, but she was surely spooked.

We have learned to live with and accept this ghost.  We have music in the store, and if we leave on jazz, all thru the night, the spirit seems to be content and leaves my machinery alone.

Tag, you're it, Leah.


Joel Caplan is the owner of Cafe' Gelatohhh in Savannah, GA and an honorary member of the Mojito Literary Society.