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.

Toast Tuesday: the cake

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I just celebrated another year on the planet with a food feast. I love being the host. It gives me such great satisfaction to prepare a meal that feeds not only the belly, but the soul. It feeds my soul to get in the kitchen, play around, and to pour my heart into something that my friends and family will savor.

I spend hours reading about food and cocktails and recipes. I spend days planning menus. I spend a ridiculous amount of money and energy so that everything is just right. It all brings me such intense pleasure.  I listen to a podcast called the Good Life Project & there was a recent episode where he talked about the act of creating art is when he is most spiritually connected. Getting in the kitchen, and creating something from scratch, is that way for me.

In my endeavor to do something new this week, I baked a cake from scratch.  One girlfriend was stunned when I told her I had never made a cake from scratch.  I’ve opened a box and made modifications, but never flour, water and tadah… you  have a cake.

As I sit here pondering this post, I am recalling a brief foray into the cup-cake, but I really wanted to make a cake-cake.  My coworker was going on and on about this whipcream pound cake she makes at the holidays.  It sounded amazing and simple, so I decided to give it a go.

I creamed my butter and sugar in my fancy kitchenaid, added eggs, sifted flour, and added my personal touch of lemon zest.  I first realized something wasn’t quite right when I poured my beautiful fluffy batter into the bundt pan when I got to the bottom of the mixing bowl and there was batter not mixed up.  That part stayed in the bowl.

Next thing that wasn’t quite right was the burnt top that looked like a volcano in Hawaii blew.  The final nail in the coffin was that 1/4 of my cake stayed in the pan.  My taste testers agreed, good flavor, good texture, but clearly something wasn’t right.

I divided my recipe by three and made a small test batch.  Closer, much closer.  The third and final run, I made a last small variation and came up with a good flavor and beautiful crumb.  In my test, I had used mini bundt pans and stuck with those in the final version.

Since the final cake that was served was a mini cake, I feel like I need to tackle the cake challenge again.  Conversley, the rest of the dinner was pretty freakin’ awesome, if I must say so.  Made the family red gravy (pasta sauce) and fresh baked bread.  First time in sveral years I’ve had a really good playtime in the kitchen.  Breaking a shoulder will do that.

One question that I have for my baker friends is kitchenaid versus handheld mixer.  I got better incorporation of ingredients with the handheld than I did with the kitchen aid.  Is this normal of a kitchenaid?  I was really disappointed in that.

I’m really enjoying being back in the cooking groove!

Toast Tuesday: Toasting Life

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In the new year, I am going to continue with Toast Tuesday, but with a twist. I am going to be toasting life. I will be trying new spirits, new cocktails, new recipes, new restaurants, meeting new people, and in short, trying all sorts of new stuff.

It’s not like I have really ever had trouble getting out of my shell, but I am going to make myself try things I would not otherwise.  In the past year, I have spent a lot of money on booze in the pursuit of drinking adventurously.  I normally read a lot of food and cocktail recipes.  I buy herbs, spices, and chiles with the intent of making some dish that ultimately never gets made.  Those days are over.

One of the things I bought last year, with no real plans, was creme de cacao.  This is a chocolate liqueur and since I don’t really like sweet drinks, I can’t recall why I bought it.  I am working on a new series of workshops focusing on cocktails and crafts.  The first will be in February and I am focusing on chocolate.

In the name of research, I have been making cocktails with the creme de cacao.  Most of the recipes I have found, have focused on the sweet chocolate aspect of the liqueur, of which I abhor.  I’m more interested in cocktails that make you wonder what’s in there.

The two I have found most interesting so far pair tequila and aged rum with the creme de cacao.  Both are rich and decadent, but with the addition of interesting tinctures and bitters, balance into something really enjoyable.

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This is Occam’s Razor with cold brewed coffee, chile tincture, and a mint garnish.  I didn’t have a chance to make the chile tincture this weekend, but instead used Elemakule Tiki Bitters.  I think with the flavors in this drink, it could also be made with bourbon or an aged rum.  I’ll be making the chile tincture very shortly.

 

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This is the Coctel de Chocolate that calls for a chocolate sauce made with Mexican chocolate.  Mexican chocolate has spices and depth you don’t normally find in good ole hersheys, but one of the things I’m trying to do in my workshop is get folks to make interesting cocktails with regular ingredients they have in their cabinet.  So, I did use good ole hershey syrup and Scrappy’s Orleans Bitters.  Without the bitters, the drink was too sweet, one most of the Memphis girls will love.  The addition of bitters, gives it more balance and depth, making it something I found much more interesting.

Here’s to toasting you a sweet and extraordinary new year!

Toast Tuesday: la fin

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This year’s drinking adventure has been an incredible learning experience about so many things, number one of which is spend wisely.  The rest do not fall in any particular order, but will be addressed.

Our guide

Our guide

This is week 52 in The Year of Drinking Adventurously and in the true calendar year.  A new year is upon us shortly.  Many of us will be celebrating the new year with some glass of bubbly wine, most common of which is champagne.  Champagne, which hails from the French region of Champagne, is very highly regulated.  Champagne is not the only region in France that makes a sparkling wine.  In the Alsace region, they make Cremant d’Alsace, which will give some of the finer champagnes a run for their money.

I’m a little disappointed to say, I have not yet completed this week’s assignment.  The holidays and travel got in the way, but in my defense, I have been drinking a lot of prosecco lately.  Prosecco is a sometimes sparkling wine from Italy.  I say sometimes because not all prosecco is sparkling; there is a still variety.  The ones I generally indulge in are bubbly, and cheap!  Part of their low price point is because a good portion of their fermentation occurs in steel tanks.

This leads me to one of the lessons from this year.  You must have balance in life and in flavors.  Prosecco can be sweet or dry, just like champagnes and life.  We have days where all we need is someone to be sweet to us and give us a hug.  Other days I just need you and everyone else to leave me the hell alone.  Headphones in, phone off, and a marathon of Midsommer Murders to get me back in balance.

The next life nugget I’ll share with you is mix a good cocktail.  There is nothing worse than something that tastes like… nothing.  Boring.  You should always keep your cocktails and your life in balance.  Back in 1948 at Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy the Bellini was invented using prosecco and fresh peach puree.  A cocktail so lovely we still enjoy it at brunches all the time.  So, if you want to be invited back, you had better mix a good cocktail.

Now, we have all been guilty of this at some point, but don’t spend money just because the label is pretty.  This is a tough one, because it’s so fun to see a pretty label and buy the book, or bottle, just based on the cover.  Conversly, something being really expensive is no indication that the quality is any better than a bottle half the price.

I’m going to leave you with this final thought as we head off into a new adventure.  Life is to be savored.  There is something to be said for moderation.  The leisurely dinner, with lots of courses, is how we should be enjoying our lives.  Taste everything, leave no samples untouched, and keep an open mind.  You may find that the thing you thought you’d like the least, turns into your favorite.

Cheers to you all and to Meg who kep me company on this journey.  Let’s see what toasts our new year brings,  Here’s a brief look back at a few of this year’s drinks.

Toast Tuesday: Tiki

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This is week 51 in The Year of Drinking Adventurously. On the home stretch. While it is 16° out, it seems like the perfect time to discuss tiki cocktails.

I have spent a good portion of this year really trying to embrace Tiki. I have not been very successful. What I have been successful in, is amassing an incredible collection of rum.

As I have lamented many times before, Memphis is a wasteland of quality spirits. Every time I travel, I explore new bars and new liquor stores looking for their gems that I cannot find it in my new home town.

Back in January, I spent an inordinate amount of time reading about the tiki culture, tiki cocktails, and the assorted and varied rums that are used to make up the elaborate cocktails. Never having tried many of these drinks in a bar, and not having access to the assorted rums that make up these drinks, I had to make some substitutions. I was not entirely thrilled with how some of my drinks turned out, but some were pretty tasty.


In August when I went to Chicago on my whirlwind booze trip for malort, I also went to a tiki bar. I ordered a mai tai, my first ever professionally prepared, and made the determination that I really did not care for this drink. I find it too sweet, and unbalanced. In my cocktail exploration I have come to find that I absolutely prefer classic cocktails that are nuanced and subtle. The mai tai was neither of these. I also ordered some other cocktail, one of their house specialties that was not terrible, but still not what my palate was looking for. I will absolutely grant you that tiki cocktails are truly some of the prettiest works of art in their assembly and delivery methods.


Jump ahead a few more months, to Thanksgiving and my recent trip to New Orleans. I intentionally sought out and made a point of going to Beachbum Berry’ Latitude 29. For those of you who don’t know Beachbum Berry is a legend in the tiki world. He has spent an incredible amount of his life researching and re-creating many of the original classic tiki cocktails that were lost by history. It was here at Latitude 29 that I develop a greater appreciation for what tiki can be.



I will continue my tiki exploration in the new year without the mai tai, but with lots of pretty flowers and very yummy rums. Let’s see how Meg did this week.

Cheers y’all!

Toast Tuesday: Glogg

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This is week 50 in my Year of Drinking Adventurously and my liver has almost had enough.  Almost.

Our guide

Our guide

Way back 48 weeks ago, I learned a very important lesson.  Read ahead and know what’s coming up next.  I soon added the week’s drinks to my calendar and added several reminders.  Before that happened, back in week 2, I accidently skipped ahead to week 50.  oops…

This week is glogg or gluhwein, which is akin to mulled, or spiced, wine, but with a kick.  Our author focuses a bit more on gluhwein, which hail from Germany since they are the inventor of the modern concept of Christmas.  Since I don’t really celebrate Christmas, that was of no interest to me in chosing what I drank.  I chose based on flavors I like.

For my birthday, way back in January, I had folks over and made glogg (sounds like glug).  Glogg is a Scandanavian fortified wine punch that typically has flavors of cardamon, clove, cinnamon, and very often will have raisins and almonds.  What’s better on a blustery cold night than a warm punch to take the chill off your bones?  A punch with some punch.

I turned to The Punch Bowl by Dan Searing.  This book has some beautiful photographs of antique punch bowls and tells the history behind the recipes.  He also helps you make a good punch that is balanced and good.  The recipe I made, and failed to take pictures of, called for raisins and almonds to go into the bottom of your punch cup.  You then pour your warm spiced wine over it.    It was quite tasty.

While some of these weeks were tougher than others, this wasn’t bad.  Let’s see how Meg did on her week’s drinking.   I’ve spent quite a few nights volunteering in the cold at Shelby Farms Starry Nights holiday light display.  Glogg is exactly what I’ve needed!

Toast Tuesday: Aquavit (a little late)

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This is the first week I’ve seriously considered going dark for a Tuesday, purely out of sheer laziness.  I started writing this last night, and wasn’t feeling so hot, so I set it aside. Then I spent a good portion of the night recreating scenes from the Exorcist, so I kinda forgot to finish this up.  So without further ado…

This is week 49 in our Year of Drinking Adventurously and officially, I’ve had aquavit. Just not this week. This summer I did a whirlwind distillery tour around Chicago to meet another weekly challenge of Malort. While tasting anything and everything at CH Distillery, I had their Aquavit. 


Aquavit is traditionally a Scandanavian spirit flavored with caraway and other spices. Not something I would typically go out of my way to drink and I don’t stock on my home bar. As a result of my less than enthusiastic response to Aquavit, I’m just proving to you I’ve had it AND within the year. Totally counts. 

I’ve also had Aquavit from House Spirits in Portland. Just one more time for you to know for sure, that I’ve tried it.