Toast Tuesday: Bluegrass and Booze

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A long weekend wrap-up in pictures.  There are both too many, and not enough, words to describe the amazing weekend we had at Bluegrass Underground.  Thank you to the awesome people that put on this show and make it all happen and to the incredible musicians who trek into a cave and share the experience of a lifetime.  Thank you PBS for giving us an amazing opportunity to see a tiny glimpse behind the curtain.

 

 

 

#protectpublicmedia. I ❤ PBS

What defines you?

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In college I studied English and art; the things that made me happy.  I am still the English and art major at heart.  It is still the written word that brings me joy.  The use of language to tell a story and transport you to another place.   A splash of color, a glistening dewdrop, or a majestic sunset bring me such happiness.  Seeing the pure pinkness of my cat’s nose while she naps in the sun and how water droplets bead on my dog’s coat when we walk in the rain.  These are a few of my favorite things.

I now sit at a desk all day pushing a pencil, really a mouse and a keyboard.  It drives some of my friends a little nuts that I don’t want to talk about work.  I have the luxury of being able to leave it at the office and that is where it stays.  It is not the thing in life that brings me joy, so why would I want to talk about it?  It certainly does not define me.

I want to be defined by the happiness and joy in my life,  the new knowledge I glean each day, and the smile I leave for someone else.  I love to learn now that I am learning on my terms.  School was never fun and that’s why I thought I wanted to be a teacher.  Today I teach what I want, the way I want.  I teach people tiny ways to be happy and how to spread joy.   Even when I teach at “work”, I have fun.  Because otherwise, why do it.

If we can’t have fun, what’s the point?  What defines your life and how you live?  Are you working just for another paycheck?  We all have to have money to live, but do you make the best use of your life outside of that paycheck?

A few recent snaps that made me smile and I hope they will you as well.  May this day bring you all the smiles and joy you desire.

Toast Tuesday: Fernet Redux

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During my year of drinking adventurously, we tried Fernet-Branca, which is a bitter liqueur.  It is often served as a digestive or a common drink is Fernet mixed with coke or ginger beer.  I was not a fan.  I thought for sure I had just wasted money on a bottle that was going to collect dust on my shelf for eternity.

While doing research for Irish whiskey cocktails, one caught my eye, the Southside Smash from the Jameson website.  It called for lime juice, whiskey, mint… so far so good… and Fernet.  I like all of the other ingredients in there so I think I need to give it a try.  I dialed back the Fernet to almost half what the recipe called for.  This allowed all the flavors to come through and not be bullied out by the Fernet.

The two weeks before my recent Concoct event at Shelby Farms, I had two different taste testing evenings to fine tune my recipes and finalize the menu.  The Southside Smash was one that gave people a new flavor element within the comfort of more familiar flavors.  Everyone did a straw taste of Fernet, one woman really liked it, and no one was repelled by it.  So, here’s to trying new things!

This second Concoct event was so much fun.  The people were amazing, the energy of the group was congenial, and there were some great conversations.  A handful of us went for dinner afterward to keep the party going.

For your next Irish Party, give the Southside Smash a try.

1 ½ ounces Irish whisky
¼ – ½ ounce Fernet-Branca
¾ ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
¾ ounce simple syrup*
4-6 mint leaves

Combine ingredients into a shaker, add ice and shake vigorously for 10 seconds.
Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass.
Garnish with a mint sprig.

*Simple Syrup is equal parts sugar and water.  Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve.  Cool to room temperature and store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

 

Alright, run along now and enjoy this spring!  Slainte!

Toast Tuesday: in a jam

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I have been exploring fermentation in many ways lately. I’ve got so many kobucha scobies that I’ve started naming them. I’m trying to eat more good yogurt and probiotics so I’ve started making yogurt again. I’ve said it before, but there is just something so satisfying about creating something from scratch.


I really like good plain, tart yogurt. I’ve not gotten mine to the tartness level I’d like, but I’m working on that. I usually just put a spoonful of good jam on top and swirl in it. My neighbor has gotten me addicted to this awesome and expensive fig jam. After going through a jar in a week, I figured there has to be better way.

I recall my step-mother makes jam without pectin, but aside from just watching the process, I have never made my own jam from scratch. When I started googling, I found you could use chia seeds as part of the thickening in lieu of sugar and pectin. I love my chia seeds, so that’s what I did this week.


I mostly followed a recipe I found online, but made a few tiny modifications, like reducing the sugar and increased the chia seeds slightly. I also cooked the fruit a little longer in hopes a getting a slightly thicker jam. The result is a really fresh berry flavor that tasted just like the berries of a homemade berry cobbler. Next time I’m going to cook a little longer still and add another tablespoon of chia to get it a touch thicker.


Here’s the recipe I followed, with my modifications below the ingredients list.

2 cups chopped fruit
1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons honey, agave, maple syrup, or sugar, to taste
2 tablespoons chia seeds, plus more if needed

I had frozen berries in the freezer, a blend of raspberry, blueberry, and blackberry, so I tossed them in the pot frozen and turned on low until they were defrosted.

Added lemon juice (I accidentally added more than called for), brought to a low boil, stirred frequently to prevent berries from scorching and to help the fruit break down. Added 3 tablespoons sugar, stirred to dissolve and cooked about 10-15 minutes.

Added 2 ½ tablespoons chia seeds and stirred in to combine.

Poured into mason jars and allowed to cool to room temperature before sealing lid and putting in the fridge.


This will require refrigeration and should be consumed within a couple weeks. For me, based on my current yogurt and jam consumption, this recipe will work just right and won’t last long enough to go bad. It came together very quickly and easily and I’m really looking forward to trying this when my mother’s figs start to come in this summer.

Toast Tuesday: Stepping it Up!

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Spring is a time of new growth and rebirth. The old saying is April showers bring May flowers has been a little early this year. We have had a ridiculous amount of rain, and a very warm winter, so daffodils are already in bloom.

Following my bout with the flu, I had to go take a stress test. Since I moved to Memphis I have slowly gained weight, and reduce my exercise, from my previously active Portland level. I am in the worst physical shape I have ever been in in my life. It really doesn’t help that with my slowing walking partner I find it increasingly difficult to get the exercise in my day.

Since it’s spring I’m stepping up my steps. I got a Fitbit, and I’ve been counting my steps. I hope you, my friends, will step along with me and help keep me accountable. Here, and on Facebook, I will be posting my daily steps as a way for me to hold myself accountable.

Years ago, I did weight watchers. It is a great program, and it taught me a tremendous amount about portion control. It also taught me about setting goals and sharing those goals. Since I’ve been in Memphis, I will grant you I have had more barbecue than I should have, but my biggest downfall has been my lack of exercise. I was surprised and delighted when my cute cardiologist said my stress test results were excellent, and my exercise level results were in the high range. I am going to take this as my muscles have memory of being fit and active and hopefully they will not have too much trouble getting back to this.


If you also have a Fitbit, friend me. My daily goal is 10,000 steps. What’s yours?

Step it up y’all!

Toast Tuesday: New Orleans style Barbeque Shrimp

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When I was a kid, my favorite foods were mac and cheese and shrimp scampi. The first time I was served scampi with the heads on, I didn’t eat shrimp for a year. I was a little horrified
Fast forward a few years and a trip to New Orleans. We went to Pascal Manale’s, home of Barbeque Shrimp. There is no grill involved in this BBQ, just lots of butter, garlic, and bread to dip. This was a hedonistic mess of goodness sautéed and served family style. This recipe was developed in 1953 and is one of the city’s most copied creations.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. There are dozens of variation and takes on this recipe. My favorite was one we had a few years later at Slice Pizzeria on Magazine St. It was the garlic and butter plus a huge amount of herbs that reminded me of a chimichurri sauce. The herbs really brightened up the heaviness of the butter and took this dish to a whole new level.

This Sunday we had a Mardi Gras dinner with a bunch of friends with everyone making their Nola favorites. I’m happy to report my barbeque shrimp were divine, and the dish was scraped, sopped, and mopped clean. I will definitely be making this again, and very soon!

Here’s what I did:

New Orleans Style Barbecue Shrimp Recipe

1 Sticks of Unsalted Butter
2 Tbsp Garlic, minced
1-2 Tbsp Fresh Thyme, chopped, plus more for finish
1-2 Tbsp Fresh Oregano, chopped, plus more for finish
1-2 Tbsp Flat leaf parsley, chopped, plus more for finish
Juice of 1 Lemon
about ¼ cup Louisiana Hot Sauce
about ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
generous dusting of white pepper (I’m allergic to black pepper)
generous dusting of Tony Chachere’s
1 Tbsp Kosher Salt)
2 lbs tails on shrimp
½ cup Abita Amber Beer (optional for deglazing. I didn’t have any)

Start with 2 tablespoons butter in a medium hot skillet. Add the garlic and sauté until slightly browned. Add the fresh herbs and cook for 2 minutes. Deglaze with the beer if you have it, otherwise add lemon juice and reduce by half.

Add Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, pepper, salt, Tony’s and shrimp. Toss to coat. Put lid on skillet and sauté shrimp for about 5 minutes or until done. Do not over-cook!

Chop up thyme, oregano, and parsley so you have about a cup of herbs combined. When Shrimp are done, add remaining stick of butter and stir in, followed by cup of fresh herbs. Serve with good crusty French bread or dinner rolls for sopping.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Toast Tuesday: Concocting crafts and cocktails

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I live next to one of the most amazing parks.  I walk out my front door and I’m in 120 acre wooded off leash dog heaven.  It’s where I dust off the cooties of the work day, find peace, and my sanity.  Coe and I spend a great deal of time in this park, day and night.  In the three Decembers I’ve lived in Memphis, I have given back to this awesome park by volunteering at Starry Nights, a drive through holiday light display.  Some nights have been cold, raining, warm, and stormy, but it has always been great fun.

I’ve met some incredible people in my volunteering time and when I had the opportunity to share an idea with the park, they listened.  I’m sure it helped that I made cocktails for our first two meetings.  One of the things I’ve found in my move is that there is a gaping hole in the activities available for 30-50 year olds.  I know the kind of things I like to do and I just haven’t been finding it here.  As a result, I’ve made my own.

If this hadn’t already been on calendar, I might have been inclined to bail, since still recovering from the flu.  We had worked so hard to promote this event and get folks interested, I was making this happen.  Thanks goodness for my lovely assistant and the awesome folks at the park.

At our kickoff event, we had 20 enthusiastic people, one really yummy cocktail four ways, and a creative Valentine painting project.  I talked to folks about bitters and how they enhance and highlight different flavors in a cocktail.  They got to taste the different bitters and customize their cocktails.  While they sipped, they painted, glued, and glittered.  I think I can safely say this event was a success and I am delighted and giddy for the next ones.

We are going to do this monthly, with each month’s drinks selected for the season or event of the month.  In the upcoming months we will be doing Irish whiskey, mint julep, and sangria.  So many yummy ideas are swirling in my brain… what to concoct next?

Wondering what we made?  Here’s our cocktail: Mambo til Morning

Mambo til Morning
1 ounce tequila
1 ounce fresh expresso or cold brewed coffee
½ ounce heavy cream or ¾ ounce half & half
1 ounce cream de cacao
2 dashes chile tincture or bitters

Tools: shaker, jigger, strainer
Glass: coupe or cocktail glass
Garnish: mint leaf

Combine the ingredients in your cocktail shaker, fill with ice and shake briskly.
Strain into a coupe.
Slap fresh mint leaf in the palm of your hand and float on cocktail

Chile Tincture
Fill a small jar with stemmed hot chili peppers and cover with high proof vodka. Let sit soak for three days, shaking at least once per day, then strain. You can use a combination of any type of chili peppers such as habaneros, jalapenos, arbol, or Thai chiles.

Toast Tuesday: the flu

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I have just lived through one of the scariest events ever. I have amazing friends who I can never express enough gratitude to. In my year of wanting to try new things, getting the flu and ending up in the hospital was absolutely NOT on my list.

I knew something wasn’t right Saturday morning. I’ve been dehydrated before, but this was different. I needed help. I called a friend who took me to the emergency room. My heart was racing so fast there was immediately a room full of doctors and nurses doing all sorts of stuff. I have snippets of that experience swirling in my head, but there was so much going on, I couldn’t absorb what was happening. I just know when there’s that many people in your room, things are bad. My doctors though were great. One guy kept making jokes, which helped me tremendously. One nurse had a gorgeous full sleeve tattoo that allowed me to follow birds through the mountains instead of paying attention to whatever the hell was being done to me right then. My friend was looking on the entire process with awe and delight, but was great hand to squeeze as needed.

After that excitement, they moved me to the ICU, which was another first. Friends tag-teamed to keep me company and distracted. It was not the way I wanted to have a sleepover, but great conversation was had. All the while, my actual weekend plans were going on without me.

If you have ever spent any time in the icu, you know rest is nowhere to be found. If you haven’t had the pleasure, there are bright lights everywhere, beeps of every variety and volume, and a constant swirl of activity everywhere. Finding a tiny piece of quiet in the ICU is damn near impossible. Maintaining any shred of modesty or dignity is absolutely impossible. The ICU is a fishbowl where every action is on display and under constant scrutiny. Never have been so thankful for a little curtain, all the while begging and praying for a bathroom with an actual door.

I started crafting this in my head so many time while I was in the hospital, but because of the iv in the bend of my arm, writing was near impossible. What I just experienced was clearly a wake up call from the universe that my health is a priority. I have time in my life for so many other things, I need to make time for my health.

As part of my flu recovery process, when I went for my regular deep tissue massage, the therapist did cupping on me. This was a real first I was delighted to experience. She worked on breaking up the clogged the lymph nodes that have plagued me for the last week and a half. While it was going on I could feel my ears and chest start to clear and drain. 

As usual, the universe sends messages and if we aren’t open to receiving that message, it makes itself heard in the most annoying ways. I’m looking forward to a quiet weekend of nothing. The calendar is clear and the fur babies are ready for the snuggle.

Toast Tuesday: Lunch

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If you’ve haven’t heard, Epicurious does a January challenge called #cook90. The challenge is to cook three meals a day for 30 days in January. Since we know there’s 31 days in the month you get three passes. I am not doing #cook90, but I am inspired by it.

I regularly listen to the Bon Appétit foodcast and two of the Podcasts this month have been talking to Epicurious editor David Tamarkin. In one episode they focus on lunch al desko and how to take good, healthy lunches to work.  Last night I made farro for the first time and roasted a delicata squash the first time. I intended to use both of these on a simple bed of mixed greens.

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Having never made farro before, but having heard nothing but good stuff, I was pretty excited to try it. The fact that 1/4 cup has 7 grams of fiber was another big win.  It is so nutty in flavor and has a great texture.

 

I sliced the delicata squash, drizzled with a little bit of olive oil, sprinkled with an assortment of herbs and spices and tossed on a baking sheet. 425 for 20 minutes got a nice caramelization. It took some effort not to nibble the entire pan and save them for my salad.

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To accompany the farro and delicata, I sautéed some shallots and mixed up a lemon Dijon vinaigrette. My salad was the envy of qhite a few in the breakroom today. Rightfully so. It was awesome. Taking a good, healthy lunch doesn’t have to be difficult. Nice to have reminders of that. Thanks Bon Appétit & Epicurious.

Toast Tuesday: Celebrate Life

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In my ongoing quest to do something new each week, I was presented with an opportunity to do something to help a friend and many others.  I have just contributed to my first Go Fund Me and I hope you will as well.

This from my friends Valerie & Kathryn:

As many of you know, our dear sister, Anne, lost her battle to addiction this past July. In her honor, we would like to establish a scholarship at the Yakima Valley Community College to help fund individuals working towards becoming addiction counselors. (This is the college where Anne received her training.)

We are hoping to raise $5000 which will set up a perpetual scholarship, that will exist as long as the community college does. This is our way of celebrating Anne and her efforts towards fighting addiction and helping others. We hope that by helping others to become counselors, we can save lives and make a difference. Please consider donating to this cause. We have set up a Go Fund Me site which can be found at:

https://www.gofundme.com/anne-barko-memorial-scholarship

If you are not in a position to donate, instead, please talk to your family and love ones about addiction. If you notice anyone struggling, please encourage them to get professional help.

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Here’s to helping make someone’s day, and life, just a little bit better.