Some words have no translation. It’s easy enough to approximate the meaning but the emotion is lost. That’s how I feel about the word tormenta. It means nothing more than a storm, but tormenta is just a better word for it. It even sounds like the crack of lightning. Tormentas slice through canvases by El Greco to threaten saints and martyrs, storms menace weekend sailors and their dockside girlfriends in yacht rock classics. Storm clouds can be chased away, tormentas have to be waited out. I miss the rains I grew up with in Miami where the weather can go from a bright, blue sky day to an end-of-days downpour (or aguaceros) in a heartbeat.
That kind of drama rarely happens in New York where you can hear the rain without really feeling it. All storm, no tormenta. I was grateful for this a couple of weeks ago when I was hosting a cookout for my sister’s birthday. It was threatening to come down the entire day, and I wished more than believed it would hold until we’d finished. That morning, I optimistically bought ingredients for an ambitious list of recipes. When it became clear we had to stay ahead of the rain, I had to make some choices. The chimichurri got made but the ramps were forgotten. There were black & white cupcakes but the flan never happened.
I had freshly squeezed key lime juice and an armful of yerba buena (spearmint) but no light rum to make mojitos. I texted my friend Luis for a cocktail recipe he makes with dark rum, lime, and agave. I didn’t have agave but used the lemon verbena syrup I’d made earlier. The result was somewhere between a mojito and a dark & stormy but better than anything I had planned. The rain came as soon we finished grilling so we ended up crowded in the kitchen, standing around the counter, and eating off the enormous platters we’d brought in from outside. After all the running around, I loved that there was nothing else to do but wait it out.
2 to 3 spearmint springs, leaves and stems
1 ounce lemon verbena syrup or simple syrup
1 ounce freshly squeezed key lime juice (see note)
2½ ounces dark spiced rum
Combine the spearmint, syrup, and key lime juice in a tall glass. Muddle to lightly crush the leaves. Pour in the rum. Fill the glass with crushed ice and top off with club soda. Stir and serve.
Note: Too tiny for regular juicers and citrus presses, juicing key limes is possibly the most hateful – yet necessary – kitchen task. Coming from Florida, buying pre-bottled key lime juice isn’t an option. The best online solution I found called for using a garlic press instead. It worked really well and saved me a lot of frustration.