Dranks! – Italian Sparkler

The other day I had a yearning for a cocktail that was a little bit fruity, crisp, and refreshing, but not overly sweet. I’m not really a sweet-drinks person to start with (give me wine that’s dusty dry, please) so I try and find things that have balance. A little sweet if fine, sure, but I also like a little bitter, maybe a touch herbal, with some fizzies thrown in for fun. Plus it’s summer, so something that can go over ice makes it extra-nice. And so, behold! The Italian Sparkler, so named because all the liquors are Italian (serendipitously selected rather than intentionally) and my friend Gigi called it an exquisite Italian drink. Thanks, Gigi!

Here’s what you need:

  • 3-4 blueberries (depending on size; 3 if they’re big fat juicy ones, 4 or even 5 if they’re smaller and seem less productive), plus another few for garnish
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme (2 if they’re kind of full-looking with lots of leaves, 3 if they’re more spindly) plus another pretty sprig for garnish
  • 1/2 oz. simple syrup*
  • 1 oz. Limoncello
  • 1 oz. Aperol
  • Prosecco to fill glasses
  • 2 or 3 dashes of orange bitters
  • Rocks glass

Note: This recipe is for one but it can easily be doubled if you’re mixing one for your husband as well so you can both enjoy this drink during your Saturday night cocktail hour. Make them at the same time; put it all in one shaker. Also, if you’re making this for one and thinking, would I really want to open a bottle of Prosecco for this? All I can say is…buy a split pack. I get two cocktails out of one split, and keep the rest in the pantry for future use. Easy-peasy.

Take your three or four blueberries and two thyme sprigs and muddle them in a shaker with the simple syrup. Add ice to the shaker, and then the Limoncello and Aperol. Shake vigorously until the cold creeps up the shaker, 10 seconds or so.

Fill a rocks glass with ice, pausing about half-way through to toss a few more blueberries into the ice for garnish. Strain the shaker into your rocks glass, and fill to the top with Prosecco. Top with bitters. Give the drink a gentle stir (otherwise Prosecco will float on the top) and add the final thyme sprig for a garnish.

Et voilà! Which I know is French but I don’t know how to say the same thing in Italian. This is super-refreshing, citrusy, NOT sweet, sparkly with Prosecco, with notes of thyme and fresh berries. And check out the colors! It’s perfect for 4th of July weekend. I would argue that it’s best enjoyed on the back porch with a gentle breeze ruffling your hair, but that’s me. You do you.

Fun fact:  A friend asked me if I had a lipstick that matched the drink. I do! Which is kind of a moot point when we’re all wearing masks but SOME DAY, you’ll all see…

I hope you enjoy the cocktail (responsibly)! Thanks for dropping by.

*simple syrup = equal parts sugar and water, heated in a pan just until the sugar melts. Set aside to cool. Will last in the fridge for about a month

Boxty at The Pancake Project

“Boxty in the griddle, boxty in the pan, if you can’t make boxty, you’ll never get your man”.

This underscores the love my Emerald Isle kin feel for the mighty potato bread, boxty. I’m kind of surprised my Irish grandmother didn’t impart this bit of wisdom on me herself, though I am sure if she lived to see me to marrying age, she would have.

Ahhh, boxty. Yummm, boxty! And, for those of us without Irish relatives to sing us jingles reminding us about the precipitous nature of our own marriageability, just what in the heck is boxty, anyway?

A celebration of the humble potato and a product that is greater than the sum of its parts, boxty is a combination of both mashed and grated tater, combined into one glorious foodstuff. And by stuff, I mean stuff-it-in-yo-mouth. It can be savory, it can be sweet, it can be boiled like a dumpling, baked like a loaf or, most popularly, pan- or griddle-fried, like a pancake. Today, we’ll be frying the boxty in a pan. Boxty’s name is derived either from the Gaelic “arán bocht tí”, poor house bread, or “bácús”, bake house. I lean toward the former etymology, since this is clearly peasant food. While making my boxty for this blog, I thought, what if I were a housewife in pre-famine Ireland, reliant on potatoes, with a husband who ate, so say historians, up to 6kg (or, 13 pounds, for those not on the metric system) of potatoes a day? How do you look at a pile of leftovers, think about hungry mouths, and stretch the taters to tomorrow and not let precious food go to waste? By grating the fresh potatoes into the mashed, they become not only something different, but they also become portable. It’s significantly less trouble to wrap pancakes in wax paper and slip them in a lunch pail than it is a pile of mash. Boxty, from the perspective of frugality and ease, is a win/win. And it’s delicious. Win/win/win.

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Dranks! – Rosewater Old Fashioned

There’s a bit of a mystique to the Old Fashioned. It’s kind of an old man’s drink, and in my mind’s eye the person at the bar asking for an Old Fashioned is a bit greyed, tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows, maybe with a flat, newsboy cap on his head. And he takes it to the small table by the window and sips it while reading the Daily Racing Form. As for you, bartender…you must use a sugar cube. You may only add three drops–THREE DROPS, I SAY!!!–of bitters to the sugar cube, and not a single droplet more. Though you might also use simple syrup. Muddle fruit in a shaker and shake with whiskey, then pour into the glass. Or don’t dare use a shaker. Or don’t use fruit except as a garnish. Or… Or… Or…

The thing is, we all just want a drink that tastes good, right? And like every recipe in the world, even the classic Old Fashioned can be updated. Room can be made at the table, next to the man in the newsy cap, for an Old Fashioned that’s a little less surrounded by myth and a little more playful, one that’s great for sipping on the back porch on a gorgeous summer night.

Hence, the Rosewater Old Fashioned. For this drink, use a whiskey that you don’t mind mixing things with (save the fancy reserves for sipping neat); I used a decent blended whiskey with a nice, sweet top note and a mellow flavor. Here’s what you need:

  • 2 orange slices and 2 maraschino cherries, divided
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup (recipe at the end)
  • 1/8 teaspoon rose water
  • 3 oz whiskey
  • 3 drops Angostura bitters (or more, according to taste)
  • Rocks glass

Take one orange slice and one maraschino cherry and muddle them into the bottom of your rocks glass. Fill the rocks glass with ice.

Put simple syrup and rosewater in a shaker filled with ice. Add whiskey, and shake. Pour the drink into your rocks glass. Top with Angostura bitters. Add the remaining orange slice and cherry as garnishes. Give a stir, and enjoy.

A word about rosewater: GO EASY. A little goes a long way. I originally mixed this drink with, no lie, just three drops of it, and feel free to start there and see how your palate reacts. Add more if you want, but since we don’t normally embrace floral flavors in the US it could be a whole new taste sensation for some of us. I didn’t feel that the rosewater came through with such a small amount so I upped it just a tiny bit. And BA-BAM! It was suddenly complex and lovely. The rosewater picked up the fruit flavors and carried them along beautifully. The whiskey had enough muscle to not get overwhelmed by the rose, while the syrup brought out its warm sweetness. And every so often I got a little zing from the bitters. It was a lovely, sippable companion to my evening bird-watching on the back porch, and a great way to start off the evening.

As for simple syrup, it’s really very simple. It is a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water. 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water. 1/2 to 1/2. Seriously, that is all. Heat the syrup long enough for the sugar to melt into it, but just until it melts. It doesn’t have to boil, and you’re not trying to make any sort of caramel. Remove from heat, let it cool, and pour it into a container you can keep in the fridge. I have mine in a squirt bottle. It should last about a month. And what’s the benefit of using simple syrup vs. a sugar cube, you may ask? Or just sugar?

It’s all in the easy mixing, friends. And that’s what I’m ending this on today. Mix easy, have fun, try new things, and enjoy.

Corn Tortillas at The Pancake Project

Hey erryboddy! It’s TACO TUESDAY and that means we survived another Monday. It’s true; even during shutdown, when one day melds into another, I still don’t like Mondays. Thus, watching the back end of Monday toddle off into the sunset means we celebrate! With the noble taco and by default, the corn tortilla.

What is this delicious wrapper, this pliable disc of corny goodness that delivers tacoliciousness unto my plate? The tortilla, which literally means “little cake”, is an ancient food. Excavations have found that corn tortillas were already being made at least as far back as 3000 BCE, and may have been eaten thousands of years earlier. Once agriculture developed and the first villages formed, it didn’t take humans long to start working on corn tortillas and, by extension, tacos.

Corn was central to the Mesoamerican experience. Modern corn is a descendant of the plant teosinte, which can still be found in Mexico. Human interaction changed the crops from a plant with broad leaves but narrow tassels, that look more like modern wheat, into the large-cob, large kernel plants we know and love. If all of this seems rushed, it’s because I’m trying to cram about 7,000 years of agricultural history into a few short paragraphs. I recommend The Story of Corn by Betty Fussell for an in-depth and fascinating look at one of history’s most important crops. […read more…]

The truth is, I always want tacos.

Dranks! – Gin & Bennet

For those of you who don’t know me, I am relentlessly, unapologetically, a Jane Austen fan. I’ve seen the movies, I’ve read the books, I have my running list of favorite actors for various roles (and it’s one of the few times I will stand behind Gwyneth Paltrow, even though I find her trying in pretty much every other aspect of life). I don’t dress up in Regency-era clothing for fancy teas, but that’s mainly because I am crap at sewing and any costume I would try to make would look like Jane Austen’s ghost arose from its grave to mug me. Besides, you can only embody so many affectations before you slip from weird-but-likes-stuff to borderline personality disorder, and my Francophilia takes up a lot of my time.

But I digress.

Thanks to my JA fangirldom, I had to…had to…buy a copy of the cocktail recipe book Gin Austen: 50 Cocktails to Celebrate the Novels of Jane Austen, by Colleen Mullaney.

I read recipe books like CFOs read sales metrics.

It’s a charming book. Nice thick pages, good cover design. Cocktails are generally elegant (no Sex on the Beach, here), are grouped by Austen novel, and that’s kind of fun in itself. Why, for example, is the Stubborn as a Mule dedicated to Marianne Dashwood? Call a few friends, mix up a cocktail, meet on Zoom and discuss! This isn’t only an avenue for fun debate, it’s got the potential to become a brand new drinking game with you and all your nerdy fangirl friends!

OK. It can become a drinking game for ME and all my nerdy… Moving on.

Tucked inside the chapter dedicated to Pride and Prejudice is this beautiful drink. The Gin & Bennet is mysteriously dedicated to Mrs. Bennet, who is kind of shrill. If I were writing a drink recipe for her it would likely involve tequila shots and fire, and I think the reason this cocktail is for Mrs. B— is because, despite all its frippery floweriness, it will MESS YOU UP.

Here’s what you do. This recipe is for one cocktail, and it’s easily doubled for two.

  • 1 1/2 oz. gin
  • 1/2 oz. creme de violette
  • 1/2 oz. lemon juice
  • sparkling wine
  • edible flowers for garnish (though a lemon twist will work nicely if you don’t have flowers handy)

Go out in your yard–as long as you’re not foraging off some crazy lawn chemical lawn–and harvest some violets. They are totally edible and a little peppery. Rinse them off, blot them with a towel and leave them on the towel to dry.

Get a champagne coupe. Fill the glass with ice and a little water to get it nice and chilled.

Put gin, creme de violette and lemon juice in a shaker with ice. Shake for twenty seconds or so, until the outside of the shaker is good and cold. Toss the ice and water out of the coupe and strain the cocktail into your glass. Top with sparkling wine; I used dry rosé because it’s dry and it’s pink and this is possibly the girliest drink in existence (that will mess you up). Float your flowers on top.

If possible, take your drinks out on the veranda, where you can enjoy the patter of a gentle rain as you sip. Brooding and/or pining optional, but encouraged.

Socca (Farinata) with Rosemary, Halloumi, and Fig Jam at The Pancake Project

Today’s world tour of flatbread takes us to…France! Or Italy. Or Turkey. Let’s just go cruise the Mediterranean, yes? And while we’re at it, let’s eat some chickpea flatbread.

Socca (pronounced SOCK-a, not SO-ka) is a wonderfully easy flatbread to make. You just mix it up and bake it, and for the most part…that’s it. It’s adaptable to a range of spices and additions (like sauteed onions? Toss ’em in!) and can serve as an appetizer or dinner. Adjust slice size accordingly.

So what is it? Socca, a French word, is also known as farinata in Italian. It’s a flatbread made entirely of chickpea flour, so it’s got a flavor unlike most of the other flatbreads we have known. It’s gluten-free (because chickpeas), so you celiac folks can dig it. Socca has literally been a food item for a millennia. Origin stories credit its development to Roman soldiers in Nice, France, circa the 1st century BCE. Or as the result of invasion by Turkish forces. Or that it was developed in Sardinia. And so on. Food travels along trade routes as well as the trade, so it’s difficult to determine who made socca first. We’re just glad someone did. Thanks, ancient smart foodie![read more…]

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Dranks: The Classic Gin & Tonic

Dranks dranks dranks!

I’m just going to jump straight in with this. A few years ago, I would *never* have imagined wanting anything to do with a gin and tonic. My gin receptors only recently switched on in the last several years. If you ask me about the flavor profiles of various gins–what’s more herbal or earthy or evokes the bracing essence of Britain’s coastline or makes you feel like you’re ready to colonize India–I got nothin’. It’s gin. Some taste more appealing to me than others. Other kinds might taste more appealing to you. Try them.

And most tonics make me feel like I’m drinking the waste water runoff from a mercury factory. I’ve literally taken a napkin to my mouth and wiped it clean after having tonic.

So what gives with this cocktail? Weird, right?

Like I said, the gin receptors have switched on, and despite my stated dislike of tonic, I did find one brand of tonic that I truly like. I swear they are not paying me a dime for this, but Fever-Tree tonic has changed me. For the better, I think, since I was forced to challenge long-held assumptions and that’s never a bad thing. And, it allows me to enjoy a classic summer drink.

It was 9,000° yesterday (Fahrenheit, for the record; I mean, Celsius would just be ridiculous) and all I wanted was something crisp and cool and refreshing. Hence…my G&T.

Sebastian looks in wonder at the majesty that is the classic gin & tonic.

Here’s what you need:

2 oz. gin

4 oz. tonic (amounts adjusted as desired)

Lime wedges

Most recipes suggest using a highball glass but this rocks glass is my favorite, and it holds a lot of hooch.

Put ice in your glass. Pour in gin. Top with tonic. Add a lime wedge garnish. Done.

I do like a little additional lime so I squeezed an extra wedge into the glass but other than that, this is the drink. Simple, elegant, crisp, delicious. I get it if you’re not a gin fan, but you never know. Tastes change. I’m living proof.

Whatever you choose, enjoy it responsibly!

Nosh: Strawberries Mean Love Shortcake

Here we go, folks.

The weather is getting warmer and here we are, stuck in the endless cycle of staying home and…staying home…as we move deeper into our COVID spring. So what do we do with all this idle time on our hands?

It’s times like this that the term “comfort food” was invented. Because that’s what it is, right? Comfort food is soothing AF, gives you an inner hug, and then (if you’re like me) lingers on your hips for the rest of time to let you know it will always be there for you. And it changes with the season, right? Winter comfort food is mashed potatoes, or mac & cheese. But in the summer, it’s things like corn on the cob slathered in butter. Or, strawberry shortcake.

I remember the first time my mother put a strawberry shortcake in front of me. I was probably eight or so, and suddenly there was this huge frothy mound of berries and cake and whipped cream…what could possibly ever be wrong?

Nothing, friends. The answer is nothing. But then I grew up.

When we buy the ticket to the nostalgia bus we silently acknowledge that childhood loves will fade into sepia-toned memories, and that nothing can stand up to the memory of things past. Ahhh, how winsome and precious, and to think, we’ll never have these things again…

Only, wrong! Not only can you continue to have strawberry shortcake, but you’re an adult now. You can make it even better, and just in time for Memorial Day weekend!

This recipe is super-simple. It’s so simple I won’t even write out an actual “here, print this” recipe, because I’m trusting that you can read a few lines of copy and remember them. What you need is:

1 quart strawberries

2 Tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup vanilla vodka/peach schnapps/Grand Marnier/fruity booze of your choice OR, if you’re not a drinker, balsamic vinegar

Just a few grinds of black pepper, because I put black pepper on everything and think it brings out the floral qualities of the other ingredients

~~~AND~~~

2 Tablespoons rose petals

Yes, folks. Rose petals are totally edible, just find a reliable source (here, I recommend organic) and if you pick them yourself, make sure they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides. Which are not totally edible. Mix all of those ingredients together, and let the strawberries macerate for about an hour.

If you’re making your own whipped cream, then use a metal bowl to whip the cream in, and put that bowl in the fridge for at least a half an hour before you start the whip. The cold bowl will help the cream whip more easily; I’ve even seen folks refrigerate the beaters they’re going to whip the cream with. I’ve not gone that far but what the heck, it can’t hurt. You’ll need:

1 pint heavy whipping cream

2 Tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla (or to taste; I tend to OD on vanilla so I have to be careful)

Whip that vanilla until stiff peaks form. Use a mixer if you have one. You can whisk it by hand, too, if you need the workout, but it will take longer and your arm will hate you for it.

As for the cake part…do what you want. Make a vanilla sponge. Buy those pre-made angel food cups like my mom used to get. Make biscuits. You do you. Then put it all together.

Split your biscuit/cake/sponge.

Layer some strawberries on the bottom half of the cake, so the juices from the maceration soak into the cake.

Top with an enormous dollop of whipped cream. Enormous. Don’t apologize about how much whipped cream is on there. Just add more.

Put the top of the biscuit/sponge/cake on the enormous whipped cream pile.

Layer on some more strawberries, and then some more whipped cream.

Et voila!

This fun, boozy spring-to-summer treat is worth all 900,000 calories and will trounce all memories of childhood shortcakes. It’s grown up with the alcohol and a little bit more daring with the rose petals. If they freak you out too much, leave the petals out and if you’re really not feeling it you can leave out the alcohol or vinegar. Don’t skip macerating the strawberries in sugar, though, because that will pay off every time. Who says you can’t go home again? Not only can you go home, but you can make it better than you remember. Enjoy!

Also, bonus points if you get the album reference in the post’s title. Hippie.

Hoe Cakes at The Pancake Project

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Way back in the misty murkiness of time when the United States was still a young republic, a recipe emerged on the American food scene. Which is funny, because we don’t really think of post-Colonial America as something with a “food scene” but nevertheless, people had to eat. The recipe was, at its heart, a flat griddle cake made of ground corn, water or milk, and cooking fat. In the North, this recipe was called a Johnny cake (jonnycake, Shawnee cake, journey cake, any John’s no-cake, and I’m not making that up). Rhode Island has, to this day, made an institution of the Johnny cake, even seeing the particulars of the cake debated in local government.  Southerners called this recipe a hoe-cake, or an ash-cake, or (begrudgingly) a Johnny cake, and to this day they cling to the hoe-cake. Early cookbooks demonstrate that cooks tried to shove a crowbar between the recipes to differentiate them. For example, hoe-cakes were to be cooked on a griddle while Johnny cakes were cooked on a board; please refer to “I’m not making that up”, above. This helps to illustrate a few points[[…]]

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Superfrothy Whipped Creamy Yummy Coffee

A friend of mine posted this video on his Facebook feed and I watched it, mystified.

Good God, I thought, shielding the cats’ eyes and backing away from the computer monitor. Is that coffee with the consistency of peanut butter fudge? What sorcery is this?

One of the benefits of being on statewide lockdown thanks to the coronavirus is that time is now a flat disc. Nothing you “need” to do is relevant anymore, and you can try all the weirdo “fun for hermits” things that normally zip past you as you frantically scroll in search of five-minute lunches that you can cry into at your desk. And thus, why not, I thought. Why not try and replicate this freakishly thick coffee madness taunting me from Max’s Facebook feed?

It’s pretty simple to put together.

Et voila! This is it, people, until you decide how much milk you want to add at the finish.

Recipe:

2 Tablespoons instant coffee

2 Tablespoons sugar

2 Tablespoons water, and it helps if it’s warm enough to melt the sugar and coffee, though ultimately the friction heat from whipping *will* melt your ingredients. It will just take a little longer.

Put all three ingredients into a bowl and whip it. You can use a whisk, if you are dying for an arm workout. I recommend using a hand mixer, and whip it until it turns this surprising sort of harvest gold color. It will take a while, but bear with it, it’s ok. Just keep going until you see peaks when you take the blender out of this…elixir.

I made it and I’m still not convinced it doesn’t involve sorcery.

You can heat up some milk if you’d like–and the coffee isn’t really diluted, so you may end up using more milk than you would expect. Drop the coffee into the milk.

I swear. Coffee. Sugar. Water. Chemistry is fun!

Check the milk, add more if you want (I did). It ends up being like a delicious, thick, creamy coffee milkshake. The only thing left for you to do is enjoy.

Duuuuuuuude. No way! But, YES, WAY!

Of course, now I’m sugared and caffeined up, so I’m going to go paint the front of my house.

Stay safe, everyone, and remember: this is a tough time but if you can, give yourself a little self-care, do *something* productive every day, and be kind to your community. We all need each other. XO

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