I am nude before a floor-length mirror in a hotel somewhere on the eastern seaboard. Traced across my hips, the silver lines of stretch marks, the slow laxness of skin and breasts that comes as one gets older. My fingers trace not that, but three marks on my belly. Dark red, going through the remodeling stage of healing from a surgery this fall, they mark the places where they trimmed my tubes. I am smiling. I am free.
Cider apples in the US are mostly a collection lost species. Some of them are victims of the American period called Prohibition. Some of them were brought over in too few numbers from Europe and other, further-flung places. The real valuable ones taste awful without processing: strongly tannic, bitter as hell, only mildly sweet. Too much sugar and you get a hot, hot cider lacking in complexity due to a fast ferment. Too much tannin and you're drinking an acetic oak barrel.
Not enough hygiene, and you get what's called barnhouse - a feral, funky beast beloved by some and loathed by others.
Most apples are one note wonders - one, or two. Where most prized wines are single varietal grapes, often the best ciders are a mix of many different varietals, aged in steel, glass, or cement until the cidermaker thinks their drink is ready to go.
But, this has limits. Some bulk cidermakers simply dump in blends of unremarkable apples or dessert or eating apples and make up the rest via too much sweetener and extracts. Angry Orchard is a great example of this - mass-produced, overpriced pap that nevertheless maintains a strong market share not dissimilar to Boone's Farm.
When Roe v. Wade falls to the current Supreme Court regime, it takes me a couple of weeks to figure out what I'm going to do about it. But once I know, I know. I hear enough to assure me that a local hospital will do what I need to do, and the rest is hoop-jumping.
Experience bleeding almost to death has left me wary of doctors, especially reproductive doctors, but between the encouragement of a nurse friend and my own sureness of my path forwards, I know what I'll do, and I do it. I put in the call: I remind, gently, through the online portal. I attend a consultation, and then a pre-check. I have my nose swabbed and my time scheduled.
I sit for twelve hours in a hospital waiting room, stuck in surgical suite traffic behind more pressing concerns like car crashes and attempted homicide, until a sweet, empathetic midwife comes and talks to me about rescheduling. Finally, a month later, it's time.
Less than five minutes after the waiting room I take the elevator downstairs. In a curtained bed, I change into a flimsy, open-backed gown, and subject myself to the indignities of the IV, of scrubbing down with disinfectant, of discussing one last final consent before they wheel me off to oblivion in the surgical suite.
When I come to, I am flying higher than a kite, and the only thing that hurts is where the catheter was. "Worst date ever!" I crow, and laugh and laugh. When my friend comes to collect me, still struggling into my clothes, she thinks it's funny.
The recovery nurse does not.
There's a lot of cider out there. While Angry Orchard may be a fairly usual find in gas stations across America, most of the good cider, the stuff that's not overly sweetened, is made by smaller operations, or imported from Europe.
When looking for the good stuff, a decent rule of thumb is to look for things at the grocery store, or better yet, specialized bottle stores, that you haven't seen before. The process of finding new cider is a bit like finding new wine and wineries: figure out what's local, and then start looking in less local places.
In general, stay away from the fruit-flavored ciders until you've had at least one to two other ciders from the brand. Many of these will be gimmicky, or overly sweet. Moreover, a lot of fruit behaves a lot differently, or ferments differently, than apples. It's all sugar at the end of the day, but pineapple has weird compounds, pears are full of sorbitol (which makes many shit uncontrollably), and blackberries have a surprising amount of tannins that can overwhelm delicate apple flavors.
Look for local cider festivals or meetups: often this is a great way to get your hands on someone's homebrew. Small producers are going to be more interesting than large producers.
Look for ciders that talk about sourcing their apples, apple types, or other "make and model" type information. More technical details means the cider is generally better.
The bulk of the healing is complete after a period of two weeks, after which I return to lifting weights in a dilapidated garage outside of my rental home in North Portland. My sutures heal quickly, the glue crumbling off my belly and out of my belly button. The empathetic midwife leaps for the chance to see me for my follow-up and is lovely and sweet as she was before.
I find out later she's on the research side of the house and never sees patients.