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Posts Tagged ‘vodka’

Coming up for air after baking eight pies (sold seven, ate one) last week for Thanksgiving. Coming up for air, that is, just in time for Christmas baking, which is like going to a water park on Tuesday and on Wednesday thinking it might be fun to swim the English Channel. For some reason I’m not wired up to hit the bakery for holidays. I have in my collection recipes that wait politely all year for their moment in the (waning) December sun, and I can’t say no — sleep and sanity be damned.

This month I’m making profiteroles for a going-away party, gingerbread reindeer for gifts, and chocolate-Grand Marnier cake for New Year’s Eve orders. For me, I’m making Irish fruitcake, my former neighbor’s cinnamon chocolate-chip coffee cake, and my mom’s sour-cream coffee cake for Christmas morning.

But today I opened up the month with the stollen below: a very tender, not-too-sweet German bread made with toasted almonds, chopped orange peel, lemon zest, and raisins I soaked for an hour in my honeysuckle vodka. It’s supposed to evoke the swaddling clothes wrapped around the Baby Jesus, but I never get it right. It always looks rumpled, like he was caught off-guard and jumped out of the manger to validate the Wise Men’s parking. I ate warm wedges of it for breakfast, and luckily the flavor never fails.

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Stollen

Short and sweet tonight, quite like the little number above. I love making stollen this time of year, and had some fun with the recipe, from The Joy of Cooking.

-Doubled the amount of raisins (I like a lotta fruit) and used orange rind instead of candied orange. Soaked them both in my homemade apple vodka to fatten them up.

-Decreased the amount of sugar to just two tablespoons and you couldn’t even tell. Although, now that I think about it, the apple vodka probably had a pretty solid hand in that.

-Used just shy of a stick of butter instead of the 1.75 sticks they called for. The dough was slippery as a politician in November even so. Wacky.

-I used half all-purpose flour plus half whole-wheat pastry flour in the dough. Again, couldn’t tell. I can’t imagine it would do much to counteract seven tablespoons of butter, but Lord knows I’m enjoying the pretense.

Took it out of the oven, ran an errand, got back a couple of hours later, and ate two slices just barely warm for lunch. It was tender and full of fruit, and had a crackly crust. On a chilly day—heck, on any day—it was profoundly soothing.

But I told my Facebook friends the hard truth.

Pros to living solo: having an entire stollen to yourself.
Cons to living solo: having an entire stollen to yourself.

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A few nights ago I made an apple cake with buttermilk and a good hit of my homemade apple vodka. I would have done it anyway; I love cake…it’s Fall…I love cake (this bears repeating).

But I wanted to try making a recipe with even less sugar than I normally use. In the past 10 or so years, I’ve been typically cutting back the sugar in recipes by half or more because sometimes I’ll have the cake for breakfast. Too much sugar in the morning grosses me out, and moreover sends me into a stupor. But my doctor told me I should be moderating my sugar even more, so I added just two heaping tablespoons of organic sugar to the batter along with something like a half cup of apple vodka, which contains sugar. So the cake is somewhat bland—I might have gone overboard—but I’ve been dressing it up with a blop of plain yogurt. The sour tang is surprising against the gentle sweetness and tender texture. So I’m proud that I made it work and that it works beautifully. Every day I’m looking forward to a piece of my apple cake.

*

Tonight I worked at a soup kitchen a few blocks away. It was a Thanksgiving feast for the needy in the community, a couple of days early. When I arrived I saw a young lady wearing a cocktail dress, with her hair in an upsweep, crouching and peering into a rolling cart of canned soft drinks. She asked if there were any iced teas that weren’t diet. (Can’t blame her.) We scanned the cart and said we were sorry, but didn’t see any.

The young lady sighed and frowned, thanked us, and turned to go. Then suddenly the event organizer said, ‘Wait!’ She reached into the back and pulled out some regular iced teas that had been hidden. I started laughing as the young lady started loading them under one arm, and she turned to me with a big grin and a question in her eyes.

‘It’s just—really wanting something, and then getting it,’ I said. She laughed with me and said, ‘Yeah.’

The world is a spinning top—it always has been, if we’re going to be honest. There will always be things we want and don’t get, and we need the strength and tenacity to keep moving forward when that happens.

But I’m not going to sit here and say it doesn’t get tiring when, over and over, we don’t get what we want, or have it and lose it. And this year has been a doozy. I’m wishing you your regular iced tea, at the very least one, whatever that is to you…more even, as many as you can carry.

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Above is a little maple cream tart I made—just flour, butter, eggs, cream, and pure maple syrup. Give me, any day, a tart that calls for five pronounceable ingredients that can fit in my little hippie purse versus a list full of multi-syllabic words containing the letter z.

Authenticity is a very deliberate running theme in my life. People, conversations, theatre props, ingredients, what have you. I like things whittled down to simple and straightforward, for the most part. No fussy or strange stuff added. (Although sometimes I eat peanut M&Ms. But I think if you’re going to fall off the wagon with something, that’s a worthy selection.)

I’m happier doing a lot of tasks by hand, too. My kitchen is overwhelmingly ungadgeted. Never owned a microwave. I make my own vanilla extract of plain vodka and split vanilla beans. Schnapps I make of crab apples I pick down by the lake every October, steeped in sugar and vodka. Herbs are dried and stored in little recycled glass jars. I bake bread and coffee cakes and make puddings for my breakfast. I keep a Hefty bag full of bread crumbs in my freezer, full of all of the middles of rolls that I scoop out. Foraging—now that’s something I’ve talked about quite a lot, too. In a couple of weeks I’ll be picking the first of the season’s dandelion greens, loving it to my very core, and taking fewer trips to Foodtown.

Out of the kitchen, I make laundry detergent with washing powder, Borax, and Ivory soap that I grate with a cheese grater into a big Pyrex bowl and mix with a spoon. I cut up clean old t-shirts and socks that can’t be darned anymore, and use them as rags instead of buying sponges and paper towels. (In other news, I darn socks.) When my shower curtains wear out, I wash them and use them as tarps. Lord knows they’re waterproof. And the purse I mention above is made of patched-together, raw recycled silk in dozens of colors. When it gets a tear, I mend it with any color thread I like and it doesn’t show. I bought the purse for $32 from a little company that started out selling t-shirts out of a van at Grateful Dead concerts.

Why would anyone who calls herself sane live like this? Well…it’s not because I’m some Luddite (note the subtle use of WordPress), and it’s not to make some sort of glib retro statement. I do it because I need to, because the more I strip away the redundancies and the cocktail-party, small-talk pretensions of the world, the saner I feel.

I’ve always been wired up this way, having grown up in a climate that felt largely put on, one that obliged me to smile for the camera whether or not it felt honest. It got old, as well it should. And it made me dislike—distrust is a better word—pretension of any kind. Because baby, if you scratch away at that shell, you usually find cracks.

I’d like to keep the instances of cracks to a minimum now.

My life when alone, I am convinced, is best spent living in the above manner. My life spent with others is best spent with happy people—ones who are as relaxed around me as I am around them, talking from the heart, feeling with passion, laughing like heathens, and putting away a few of those maple tarts. My life gets to be my authentic invention, made by my own hands. I won’t settle for less.

 

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Sometime last April my friend Casey and I went to a shiny new hotspot in Red Bank. I wanted to look around and get a quote for a short article.

We ended up staying for two hours, mainly because we came on a Sunday night. (On Friday and Saturday nights they’re six patrons deep and belly up.) But since it was a slower night, the three young and immensely friendly bartenders had the luxury of chatting us all up. And the chattiest, Brent, had a command and passion for mixed drinks that was just shy of bewildering. He told me he loves new ingredients, I told him I forage from spring to fall, and promised him some honeysuckle syrup to try once it was in season. He was super stoked. Tonight I brought some by.

Walked up to the bar and the guy at my left asked if what I was carrying was the honeysuckle syrup. My heart plunked into my stomach. Apparently Brent had told the whole bar I was coming. I had just the little 2-cup Gladware of it, and he hadn’t even tasted it yet to be sure if he wanted to serve it. ‘We’ve been waiting for it,’ the guy grinned.

I worried in vain; Brent called the syrup awesome. And in the hour I was there he mixed it up five different ways, all off the cuff, just a splash in each. One invention had egg whites frothed on top; another had intensely fresh mint from his yard. The one he made me (above) featured the syrup with vodka, ginger, hibiscus, freshly squeezed lemon and grapefruit juices, and St.- Germain.

The nuttiest thing goes on at that bar on Sunday nights: everyone becomes old chums in about 37 seconds. The guy at my left, grateful to me for his imminent custom honeysuckle invention, offered me one of his fried goat cheese-raspberry puffs before I’d even flagged down Brent. Which was good of him, considering that drink was fantastic but went down like gunpowder. And I enjoyed a lively kibbutz with the couple at my right and gave them sips of my drink for a solid hour before I even learned their names (Tania and Daniel, hello again; and you have smashing taste in drinks as well as in local restaurants).

I think this is what European pubs must be like. You have guys behind the bar who know what’s what, love what’s what, and love talking about it. I’m not much of a drinker*, but I am a nerd; and let me tell you: their passion gets all over you.

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So far this season we’re at two spanking new honeysuckle recipes and counting. Feeling groovy.

*Writing while still somewhat buzzed after one drink, lightweight that I am. Let me know if this reads like a diary entry from a Delta Gamma pledge, will you?

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Homemade turkey Sloppy Joe on cheddar-scallion biscuit. I need my strength to sweep the snow off my car.

I don’t get people who hate winter. We’re talking about a three-month, no-apology excuse to burrow under your faux fur throw from Target, fall asleep, then wake up and make luscious food.

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Crab apple liqueur (sugar, apples, and vodka). I need my strength to…uh…pull off my snow boots.

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Steeped, ready, gazing out over the wilds of suburban New Jersey, and plotting its first offensive.

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A pound cake I made the other night. While it was still hot from the oven I docked the top and poured lots of the extra honeysuckle syrup I made last June over it. Sumptuous.

When you want to work up extra stamina for lazing around and feeding, I recommend exploring a landscape. It will be different—more stark, more bare-bones—than at any other time of year.

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Huber Woods, Navesink, NJ. Sycamore and shadows, east pasture.

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Trees and fence, Navesink.

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West pasture, Navesink.

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Ancient felled sycamore and sky, Navesink.

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I came across several old, tiny wooden buildings in the woods. They were labeled 1930, 1931, etc. I wondered if old years are left in the woods of Navesink, to enter just by opening their doors, like the wardrobe into Narnia. What if they are?

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1931, with reflections of the trees and sky—and ripped curtains.

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Our lake finally froze over. Hockey blades, waiting for their owners to come off the ice. Grownup owners, no less. I love this town.

 

 

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The groovy thing about honeysuckle is you smell it before you see it. The other groovy thing is the stuff you can make with it.

By last fall I missed my chance on the making stuff part, and mourned about it here. This year, I’ve been picking flowers like a nice little Victorian who’d hit the Coca-Cola just a smidge too hard*, and making simple syrup infused with them. The flowers, not the Victorian and Coke.

Growing up we used to love to pull the stamens very gently through the flowers and drink up the drop of nectar that emerged. This past weekend’s syrup project was an elaborate version of this.

Step 1: Find honeysuckle, which, being invasive, is everywhere in the suburbs in June. I went for ones that weren’t on people’s property because it would likely have come into contact with pesticides. That and the homeowners might have taken issue with me swiping their flowers and all. Choose flowers that aren’t wilted, and get a mix of yellow and orange. The former’s flavor is lighter; the latter’s is deeper.**

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Step 2: Take them home and rinse them gently. (Inherently sticky plus dusty is an undesirable combination.) In a small, heavy saucepan whisk together 2 cups filtered water and 1 cup granulated sugar. Bring that to a boil. Then take it off the heat and immerse your flowers into it.

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Step 3: Wait nicely until it comes to room temperature, then strain out the flowers through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Pour into an airtight container. Taste, and promptly swoon. (I wrote to my friends on Facebook: ‘If Hawaii were a liquid, it would taste like this.’)

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Step 4: Offer some to your favorite local bakery, whose pastry chef loves to work with infusions, then get mightily stoked when he uses it in whipped cream to top a lavender panna cotta.

Step 5: Muse on how to use it in mixed drinks, and call upon the prodigious powers of your brother-in-law, who knows from these things.

Step 6: Put a pint Tupperware container of the syrup into your bag and take it with you to your family’s party, where you meet up with your brother-in-law and try it with bourbon, lemon, and rum. Get opinions, and determine it’s pretty good in all cases.

Step 7: Ask your sister-in-law how she’d want it served, and taste her one part vodka to one part syrup over ice. Go a little delirious, because it’s that good. THAT good, which means a lot considering you’re really not much of a drinker, and become relieved that you’ve supplemented all of this experimenting with a wrap and a half of breaded chicken and romaine from Surf Taco.

Step 8: Your sister-in-law will name this last drink ‘The Vacation.’ You will deem it a most worthy name.

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*You know its history, right? http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/cocaine.asp

**I remember noticing a difference between the two flowers even as a kid. Funny the stuff we notice.

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Bittersweet and snow.

This time of year we’re saddled with a lot of cold, at least in New Jersey. And by February we’re hurling colorful expletives at the clouds, the snow, the evil godawful groundhog, the weather channel right down to the mail clerk, and Lowe’s for being out of ice scrapers during the first week of February.*

But the dauntless Pollyanna in me is here this week** to grin a freckled, wide-eyed, mildly irritating ‘Bash on, regardless,’ and caption us through her winter so far. Make with the packed pbj and let’s warm up.

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I shot the ingredients of the Limoncello I concocted for my Christmas presents. Neat how I got the lemon peel to curl just so, isn’t it? It only took seven tries!

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Done deal. Full of lemon peel that’s been steeped in sugar and a bunch of vodka. Served icy cold.

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My friend Doug made this awesome awesome shrimp stew that we ate over polenta.

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This chicken pot pie got me through theatre tech week, when I drove an hour door to door and braved Route 287 twice every day for a week. Once I got stuck behind a lady doing 40mph in a 65 zone. /Segue/ Mmm. Chicken pot pie with little tiny pearl onions. Mmmmmm.

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Champagne flutes in our show. Really convincing plastic, which is good, because they played in a 65-seat house. Filled nightly with chilled ‘Champagne’ (sparkling white grape juice) served out of an ice bucket.

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This is kheer, a lovely Indian dessert. It’s served chilled and tastes a lot like rice pudding, but it’s not as thick.

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Deep-dish brown sugar pumpkin pie made with a layer of fruit jam at the base.

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Hello world.
Two Mile Creek Specialty Foods and Johnnie Walker are the benefactors of that jam. Thanks for the 2 berry cherry!

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Cornbread with oodles of butter.

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Icy drop on a wild rose branch.

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The Champagne bottle I painted for the show. The script calls for Perrier Jouet, and in 1969, the year in which the scene takes place, the company put out a beautiful, iconic floral label. Painting on glass is a trick. You end up feeling like you’re hydroplaning.

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The author, with Devil Dog cupcakes (devil’s food cake topped with meringue) that I made for the cast party last night, plus my trusty weapon of destruction. Pollyanna needed to blow off a lil steam. And the meringue toasted up nicely 🙂

*Really, Lowe’s? Really?

**She was off on a choir retreat or something last week. Either way, she was very not here.

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Autumn’s the time when the earth shoots and sprouts a bit less and instead does a great deal of dropping, shaking off, and scattering. The fun lies in catching the good stuff before the housekeeping winds of Winter blow it all away.

My usual friendly cautionary note about picking wild edibles goes like this:

1) Be sure that what you’re about to pick and eat is what you think it is. Please don’t wing it. Shoot for old age.

2) Don’t pick anything off your neighbor’s lawn unless a) she owes you one b) she owes you several c) you know she doesn’t use pesticides d) it’s under cover of darkness e) in which case leave my name out of it.

3) Don’t pick anything close to roadsides where they likely have been urologically christened by every domestic pet within five miles, most notably the Alsatian across the street that routinely drinks out of the potholes in the Quik Chek lot.

From left to right:

Crabapples (Malus) I wrote about this little treasure a while back. Wild crabapples are a little grainier in texture than their voluptuous full-sized apple cousins, and for my taste, they need a bit of sugar to be palatable. Making jam from crabapples is a special fall thing for me, even though making it is a bear because they’re so small and their seeds are the size of sesame seeds. Having good music in the background goes a long way. I add a hefty dose of New Jersey honey to the pot, making it 100% local. You can also make crabapple liqueur if you steep them in vodka with granulated sugar.

Rose Hips (Rosa) Another jammy choice, and a vintage one. Folks during World War II ate a lot of rose hip jam because it was full of Vitamin C, which was tough to access then. They’re tart, a little bit astringent like their cousins above (so they need sugar, too) and wildly healthy, full not only of Vitamin C but of antioxidants and lycopene.

Beech Nuts and Leaves (Fagus) As a Laura Ingalls Wilder diehard all my life, I knew beech nuts were edible. She wrote about her husband as a boy, gathering and eating them in upstate New York, describing the spiny little husks and the three-cornered nuts they contained, and saying they were ‘solidly full of nut.’ But the leaves being edible as well? News to me, but cool news. Freshly picked, they can be eaten in salads or even steeped in gin.

Acorns (Quercus) When I took Anthropology in college I learned that American Indians ate acorns. Making them edible takes some doing, and they knew what they were doing; they must be smashed and rinsed with a lot of water to release toxins. I’d love to try them. Has anyone ever prepared acorns for food or eaten them?

Missing from this list: Sassafras. Here I was all ready to dig up one of the 764 and counting plants that grow around my lake and steep the roots to make another American Indian specialty, a primitive form of root beer, when the heavy winds last week blew all of the telltale mitten-shaped leaves off. They’re all out there now, mittenless and mocking, but I’ll hit them up come spring. Stoked to write about it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_hip

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beech

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oak

http://www.wikihow.com/Forage-for-Food-in-the-Fall

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I’ve been fascinated by connection all my life. I love digging into the nature of relationships, whether they’re cultivated or if they’re something handed to us—just by virtue of being born on Planet Earth.

It may be that last part that explains my sort of odd obsession with picking fruit from one wild tree or another (or yet another), or from wild plants. It definitely explains why I wanted to undertake the foraging project I’m on now, and have lately been spending my days walking slowly along the streets of my community, back bent toward the ground, as if looking for a lost glove or perhaps my sanity among the newly sprouting vegetation.

This post represents the first look at the food that’s not hawked by the ad slickies at Madison Avenue but instead is quietly offered by the earth, all year, as the sun waxes and wanes. I’ll be continuing this ‘edible wild’ series from time to time during 2013 and hope you dig it.* Mostly I hope that you’ll get as excited as I am about wild food, that you’ll get jazzed to see what’s growing around you and want to learn about it. Besides the connection we have with our own selves—me to myself and you to yourself—I think the most essential connection on earth is the one we have with the earth; and it’s a connection that, to a great extent, has been broken. That can change.

About my choices above…

My home is the suburban NJ, USA shore, dotted with wide and narrow stretches of lake and consisting of sandy soil. The photo above represents a sampling of the edibles growing wild in my area,** although I’m sure there are many more.

Helpful note 1: Obviously don’t forage too close to roadsides, where dogs might have, ahem, frequented; and be wary of wild edibles growing too near residential properties, as they might have taken on pesticides used there.

Helpful note 2: I am no botanist or horticulturist (to which any of my bio teachers can attest). Among the above foods shown I’ve eaten wild garlic and dandelion only. To learn what else was edible, I sought out online sources for assistance. Above all, before eating it, be sure that what you think is a certain plant is in fact a certain plant.

Please chime in with your additions, clarifications—and recipes, if you’ve got ’em. And I’d love to hear what grows near you.

Clockwise from top:

Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia)

Enjoy blossoms raw in salads, cooked, dried or made into a syrup that can be used as a drink mixer.

ediblewildfood.com/blog/2012/04/pruning-forsythia-but-save-the-blossoms/

localkitchenblog.com/2010/04/13/forsythia-syrup/

Clover (Trifolium)

Kind of shadowed; sorry about that. Entirely edible, but seems to benefit from the addition of salt to ease digestion.

northernbushcraft.com/plants/clover/notes.htm

Snowdrop (Galanthus spp.)

Not so much a food as a tonic, purported to soothe stomach and joint pain as well as women’s reproductive problems.

gardenguides.com/92486-snowdrop-flowers.html

Wild Garlic (Allium vineale)

What we kids used to call ‘onion grass’ and pull up just to sniff its assertive fragrance—it should smell strongly of onions or garlic. Chop and enjoy raw or cooked. Eat it now, when it’s tender; once summer hits and it’s about to go to seed, the interior of these cylindrical sprouts becomes woody and dry.

ppws.vt.edu/scott/weed_id/allvi.htm

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)***

Roots, blossoms and young leaves edible; any longer than a finger’s length and the leaves become too bitter for me (but you might like them like that). This healthy plant can also be used as a tonic. And since Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine is one of my favorite books, one summer I was inspired to steep a bunch of flowers in vodka and a simple syrup, and made a lovely pale yellow liqueur.

umm.edu/altmed/articles/dandelion-000236.htm

Spring Crocus (Crocus Vernus)

Bulb, blossom and stigma all edible. I tried to dig up a bulb for the photo, but the ground was really resistant, and I didn’t want to damage the other flowers to get it.

arthurleej.com/p-o-m-Feb13.html

*Pun totally intentional. Shocker.

**I know plants from the ocean are missing from this picture. I really wanted to include some, but it’s been a cold month so far. Once it gets warmer I’ll see what I can find there.

***Why aren’t there any dandelion blossoms in this picture, Maris? Because I searched across three towns for some and then gave up and took the shot. Guess how many I saw the next few days? I’m not even kidding: It was as if they hid under the ground, giggling, then exploded like popcorn in a Jiffy Pop pan once I uploaded the picture. I even passed a whole lawn of them and considered coming back with my camera, but I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.

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