I Love Jan Buhrman Part II: A Christmas Story

Her lessons are more than about cooking; they’re about life, family, and connections.


As a naval architect and marine engineer, my father traveled all over the globe, returning home with stories about the wonderful and sometimes unusual meals he’d enjoyed. My mother, the good wife, would duplicate them, with his guidance, and we’d enjoy the meals and the stories. Most of all, we’d enjoy having my dad home.

One of my favorite recipes is the Ramos Gin Fizz, which they always had on Christmas Day. As an adult I incorporated them into my family’s Christmas tradition too, followed by a nap, of course. My memory is that the recipe came from a restaurant at the San Francisco airport, but I haven’t been able to authenticate that. I will say that for all the tall tales my dad told, after he was gone, we discovered that they were all true. That’s as authenticated as I can get.

My family now has a nondrinking member, so for 37 years I have not had a Ramos Gin Fizz on Christmas Day, or any other day for that matter. But food, and drink, bring back strong family memories, and I decided some time ago that this year is it. I’m having a Ramos Gin Fizz on Christmas Day.

Enter Jan Buhrman. Jan is the most forgiving chef I’ve ever had the privilege to study under.  Spoiler alert: I proofread for Jan and this newspaper.

A great example of Jan’s forgiveness is a recipe for pancakes that calls for buttermilk. But if you don’t have buttermilk, use half-and-half, and if you don’t have that, use milk, and if you don’t have milk, use yogurt, and if you don’t have any of those, use water. You will have pancakes!

So on Christmas Day I realized, to my chagrin, that I didn’t have enough half-and-half. I put most of it into my sister’s overnight French toast. And one of us doesn’t want gin, and in spite of full kitchen searches, we couldn’t find the orange flower water which I was positive I’d found at Cronig’s and purchased. As of this writing, four days after Christmas, I have found the orange flower water on the refrigerator door.

So I punted. I used what little half-and-half I had, and topped it off with whole milk. I skipped the gin and orange flower water, and went for it. It was like having my family back with me. It was an emotional hug that meant so very much to me.

I am a lawyer, and I believe in the rule of law. I follow recipes to the letter. That is, before I met Jan Buhrman. Thank you, Jan Buhrman, for reconnecting me with my family. Your lessons are more than about cooking; they’re about life, family, and connections; connections we made in the kitchen, at the table, as a family.

Ramos Gin Fizz
Serves 4.

In a blender:

1 can frozen lemonade
1 can gin (use the empty lemonade can)
1 can half-and-half (ditto)
1 egg white
3 ice cubes
3-4 drops orange flower water