Weep No More, My Lady

Shameless plug for my friend at Sniper Photography, Ryan Armbrust.

It is DERBY WEEK here in the 'ville and I could not be more thrilled!  Even though I have not done one single festive thing this year- yet, I am determined to make it a great Oaks and Derby Day.  Many folks don't get it about Derby.  I am sure much the way folks don't get it about Mardi Gras.  It's our festival, our carnival and it is STEEPED in tradition and the lovliest of thoroughbreds (I actually mean the horses here) and lots and lots of fabulous food and drink- and of course the HATS.  It is the time of year I am proudest of this city.  We get our dancing shoes on and throw one hell of a week long party.  Restaurants are booked solid, there isn't a hotel room to be had, live music and fair food at the Chow Wagon every night, traditional drinks and competitions for the best of the mixologists, a slew of celebrities in town for the festivities, and more galas and balls than you can shake a riding crop at.

Now I have never actually been to Derby or Oaks either one for multiple reasons.  The number one being the drunken crowds.  Also because it is not affordable for me to go to the track the way I want to go on those two days.  I love Churchill Downs any other time and will go eat, drink, and bet some $2 races all day long, but please don't ask me to pay $40 to park in someone's yard, walk a dozen blocks to stand all day and have my hat crushed and bourbon spilled on a $200 pair of pumps in line at the betting window by some Yankee that can't hold his liquor.  That is pretty close to a circle of hell for me.

The tradition in my family involves planting flowers on the Friday off ("They can't go in before Derby!  It'll be too cold!"), deciding what kind of magic in a bowl you are bringing to the gathering, and mixing bourbon slushes the night before.  Then on race day trying to find racing forms at several liquor stores (that are all sold out), heading to my momma's, cutting up racing forms to draw horses to bet all day long (which the 4 year old will inevitably win), bourbon slushes, too much amazing food, talking trash about every single local newscaster's hat, watching the drunken throngs in the infield on TV (simultaneously thanking God we are not there), crying while we stand and sing "My Old Kentucky Home" at race time and FINALLY watching the race with a rapt awe that is renewed every single time it happens.  I have seen every running of the Derby as far back as I can remember and every time I watch it I am captivated and stand screaming my fool head off all through the race.  Then we talk about how big the diamonds are in the ears of the owner's wife and what she is wearing and how cute their kids are as they head to the Winner's Circle and talk about how sweet and humble the jockeys are and "What a race!  Who would've thought he could come from behind/up that rail/make it by three whole lengths/from the outside (insert anything here)".  A great day will be had by all.  We will go home tired and exceedingly full for a day or so.

I know that Mint Juleps are the traditional Derby drink.  And I do like a good Mint Julep, but the bourbon slushes are AMAZING and go down entirely too easy and pack a punch.  The following recipes are a standard fare Mint Julep and the Bourbon Slush and came from the Kentucky Derby Museum Cookbook.

Mint Julep
by Jennifer Brian Cheek

1 ounce Mint Syrup
3 ounces Bourbon
Crushed Ice
Fresh Mint
Powdered Sugar for Dusting

Fill a Julep Cup with crushed ice.  Pour syrup and bourbon over ice and stir.  Gently bruise a sprig of mint and garnish.  Dust top of mint with a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

Mint Syrup
makes 2 cups

2 cups organic sugar
4 cups distilled water
2 handfuls fresh mint

Bring sugar and water to boil and stir until sugar dissolves completely.  Remove from heat.  Add fresh mint an cover pan.  Allow to steep for at least 2 hours or as long as overnight if you have the time.

Bourbon Slush

5 cups brewed tea
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
12 ounce can frozen orange juice, thawed
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups Bourbon 
5.5 cups water

Mix all ingredients except Sprite or Ginger Ale and freeze in a plastic container. Fill glass ½ way with ice. Scoop frozen slush into glass and top with Prosecco or sprite or ginger ale for a less boozy option. Garnish with oranges and cherries.  Make sure you can stand up before you go get another one.

I will leave you all with the lyrics to a song that holds dear and happy memories for me and will always remind me of my grandmother wiping her eyes and swaying as she sings the chorus full voice. 

My Old Kentucky Home
Words and Music by: Stephen C. Foster

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home
'Tis summer, the people are gay;
The corn top's ripe and the meadow's in the bloom,
While the birds make music all the day;
The young folks roll on the little cabin floor,
All merry, all happy, and bright,
By'n by hard times comes a-knocking at the door,
Then my old Kentucky home, good night!


Weep no more, my lady,
Oh weep no more today!
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home,
For the old Kentucky home far away.

Happy Derby, friends! I hope that your horse wins on Saturday!  GO BABY GO!!

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  1. I think you just described the tradition of every person who grew up in Kentuckiana. The number one question posed to me when people find out where I'm from is "What's the Derby like?" To which I respond, "I don't know, I've never been....locals don't go to the Derby....but we sure know how to throw one heck of a party" People down here just don't get it. I can still remember my uncle singing My Old Kentucky Home at the topof in the middle of my college dorm as we moved all my crap out after graduation. We paused the 2 minutes to watch the race and we were all yelling at the tv's in the dorm lounge. I worked for 2 summers as a Tour Guide at the Kentucky Derby Museum and it was the best. job. ever. There is just something special about the history and tradition of that racetrack and that race!