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You’ve got to read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book –Take Me With You. What a story.  From Amazon’s description: August Shroeder, a burned-out teacher, has been sober since his nineteen-year-old son died. Every year he’s spent the summer on the road, but making it to Yellowstone this year means everything. The plan had been to travel there with his son, but now August is making the trip with Philip’s ashes instead. An unexpected twist of fate lands August with two extra passengers for his journey, two half-orphans with nowhere else to go. What none of them could have known was how transformative both the trip—and the bonds that develop between them—would prove, driving each to create a new destiny together. Have a tissue handy at the end. It’s such a charming, sweet story. You’ll fall in love with the young boys, and fall in love with them again 10 years later.

One of my book clubs occasionally reads a kind of edgy book. This is one of them. By Mohsin Hamid, Exit West: A Novel is a book set in an age not dissimilar to our own and in current time, but something bad has happened in the world. Something never divulged, although symptoms of a civil war are mentioned. A unmarried couple, Nadia and Saeed, are given the opportunity (as others are, as well) to go through a door (this is the exit part of the title) and to another place in the world – it takes but a second – to go through the special door. They go to England (London), to a palatial mansion. Sometimes the power grid is sketchy. Another door. And yet another. And finally to Marin County (north of San Francisco). You follow along with the ups and downs of the chaste relationship of the two, this couple from a house to living on the streets. And the eventual dissolution of the relationship too. I wasn’t enamored with the book, but after listening to the review of it and hearing others talk about it, I suppose there’s more to this story than it might appear. Hope is the word that comes to mind. The book is strange, but it won the Los Angeles Times book award in 2017. It’s received lots of press. It made for some very interesting discussion at our book club meeting.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes. Story: Jennifer Stirling wakes up in hospital, having had a traumatic car accident. She’s introduced to her husband, of whom she has no recollection, and is sent home with him eventually, to a life she neither remembers or embraces readily. But this is the life she was raised to have, so surely it must be worth living, underneath the strange, muted tones of her daily existence. Jennifer goes through the motions, accepts what she is told is her life and all seems to bob along well enough, except when she finds a letter that isn’t her husband’s handwriting, and is clearly a link to someone she has been involved with, but whom? London, France, Africa and America all come into play in this story of a woman piecing back together her life in effort to understand what she has lost, and what she threw away. There is a bit of a time-hop from 1964 to 2003. . . from a reviewer on amazon.  I loved this book from page one to the end. There’s some bit of mystery and you so get into the head of Jennifer Stirling. I could hardly put it down. Great read.

Francine Rivers, an author relatively new to me, but much admired, is most known for this: Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) It’s a trilogy. The first 2 books are about Hadassah, a young woman in the time of the Roman Empire. When Jerusalem was overrun and destroyed, the Christians still alive were sent off and away, separated and derided and abused. Hadassah was one of them. She’s a slave to a wealthy family and it takes 2 of the books to read before the son of the family finally realizes that he’s in love with Hadassah. If  you’re a Christian, you’ll learn a whole lot more about the time following Christ’s crucifixion, about the lot of the struggling Christian community. The 3rd book in the trilogy is about a gladiator who is part of book 1 and 2, but not a main character. You’ll learn about his life too, after he regains his freedom from the fighting ring and the battle of his soul. These books are a fabulous read. Can’t say enough good things about them all. I’ve never been a huge fan of old-world Roman Empire reading, but this one was altogether different. Very worth reading.

Amy Belding Brown wrote this book: Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America, a true accounting in 1676, of Mary Rowlandson, a woman who was captured by Native Americans.  Even before she was captured on a winter day of violence and terror, she sometimes found herself in conflict with her rigid Puritan community. Now, her home destroyed, her children lost to her, she has been sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, made a pawn in the ongoing bloody struggle between English settlers and native people. Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness. To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. The story is riveting, and perplexing once she is traded back to her home. You’ll see a different side to the Indian problem back then and find yourself conflicted. An excellent read.

Taylor Caldwell was a prolific writer, and one I read when I was younger. She died in 1980, and this book, her last, Answer As a Man certainly delivers as her others did. All his life, Jason Garrity has had to battle intolerance and injustice in his quest for power, money, and love. His new hotel will give him financial security, the means to support a loving family and become an upstanding citizen. When family secrets and financial greed combine to destroy his dreams, his rigid moral convictions are suddenly brought into question. . . from Goodreads. Caldwell believed the banking industry was way too powerful, and often took aim at it, as she did in this book. It chronicles the life of a very poor, impoverished Irish immigrant to the U.S. He was an upstanding citizen, God-fearing, but maybe naive in some respects. Good book if you enjoy very deep character study.

Another book by Diney Costeloe, Miss Mary’s Daughter. When a young women is suddenly left with no family and no job or income, she’s astounded to learn that she’s actually a granddaughter of a “grand” family in Ye Olde England. She’s very independent (at least I thought so, for the time period), but is willing to investigate this new family of hers. There are many twists and turns – is she going to inherit the family home – or is the man who has been caring for the home and his daughter the logical inheritors. There’s a villain who nearly sweeps her off her feet, much intrigue from many characters. Well developed plot with a happy ending. A good read.

Celeste Ng is a hot new author. I read another of her books (see below) but this time I read Little Fires Everywhere. There are so many various characters and plots in this book, as in her others. This book focuses on a Chinese baby abandoned at a fire station and the subsequent court battle when the single mother surfaces six months later to try to reclaim her daughter from the family in the process of adopting her. Emotions well up, waxing and waning on both sides of the issue. You may even find yourself changing your own mind about the right or wrong of a child raised with a natural-born mother (albeit late to the raising) or the mother the child has known since near birth. Ng likes to write books with lots of grit and thorny issues. Although a good read, I liked Everything I Never Told You better than this one.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

Recently finished C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Beverages, Brunch, on August 5th, 2013.

kale_mango_peach_smoothie

A month or so ago I know I mentioned that I’d acquired a Vitamix blender. A workhorse of a machine that could mix cement, I think, if the quantities would fit in the container. (I’m joking, you’d never want to do that to a blender.)  A couple of weeks later, with me having not used the blender for anything except salad dressings, I saw a class listed at our favorite cooking school in San Diego (Great News, in Pacific Beach) on the Vitamix. I suggested my DH and I both go – he hardly does any cooking, but he was game. It was very inexpensive – although it didn’t include a meal – just a few samples of what the blender would do and we learned a bunch of techniques too. We had a strawberry agua fresca, a peanut and almond butter (wonderful), an orange vanilla vinaigrette (fabulous), kale and basil pesto (also fabulous) and a hot soup.

The very first thing the instructors did was a green smoothie. I was intrigued about that, because I’ve heard people say they’re really good and good for you. I watched The Chew one day a year or so ago when Daphne Oz  prepared green smoothies for all the other show cast. A few would just barely take a sip or two. Others loved it. Hers contains spinach, celery, kale, cucumbers, mint, parsley, apples, fresh ginger and lime juice.

In our class there was a recipe included in the handout for a “Spring Green Smoothie,” but this one we had in the class (below) was so good, I’ve barely ventured any further.  I’ve made this 3 times, so not every day – I have to have kale on hand, or baby spinach and I don’t always. Kale keeps for at least 10 days or so – spinach only a few days, so kale is my green of choice when I make this.

judy_jerry_green_smoothiesPlease don’t make a frownie face about this – you should try it before you decide you really don’t like it. Our friends, Judy & Jerry say they liked it (at right)! Jerry even asked for the recipe, so does that tell you how much? These are our friends from Newtown Square, a village outside of Philadelphia. My DH, Dave, and Jerry have been friends since high school, bonding early-on at sailing. These friends have a home in Florida also and they SAIL their boat from Annapolis to Naples, FL (it takes a month of sailing each way) in the fall and return in the late spring.

The fruit balances out the greens – it really does. The couple-instructors were vegetarians mostly, but they said they start every morning with one of these drinks. There’s all kinds of good nutrients contained in kale and other dark leafy greens that are so very good for us, and particularly if you have them as your first meal, or part of your first meal.

Providing you have a blender that will chop ice (a requirement here), this smoothie is very simple to make. You want to include some very fruit-forward fruit – meaning fruit that has lots of flavor like mango, pineapple or apple. You can use grapes, blueberries, strawberries, peeled oranges, or other stone fruit, but stonefruit, doesn’t have as much flavor as you might hope. It’s good, but not exceptional. I’d use an apple before I’d use peaches, nectarines or apricots.

About the only trick to making these things is to put the heaviest items in first (i.e. the kale goes in last). So ice, fruit, water, greens and sweetener, if using. Start the motor on low, then increase as it continues to blend. Stop and push any greens down into the liquid. Add more water if needed, more fruit, more sweetener . . . whatever suits your taste buds. The greens are the star of the drink, but you actually don’t TASTE the greens.

The next day after making the first version you see below, I made another one (the 2nd recipe below). A bit of a sweeter one, and everyone liked it better. Me too. I added just a little bit of apple juice, an apple and a small knob of fresh ginger. No other fruit, just the kale, parsley. Oh gosh was it GOOD! And we all really liked the little hint of heat from the ginger. Next time I’m going to add fresh mint leaves – just a few.

What’s GOOD: Well, what can I tell you – not only do these taste good, but they’re good for you. I like these a lot – the 2nd one maybe a bit better, but probably because I’m a novice at green smoothies and I prefer a bit more sweeter flavor.
What’s NOT: nothing – it takes a few minutes to make, that’s all. And really not all that many.

Green Morning Smoothie printer-friendly PDF – created with CutePDF Writer
Green Morning Smoothie MasterCook 5 file and MasterCook 14 file

SCROLL DOWN BELOW FOR SECOND RECIPE AND FILES

* Exported from MasterCook *

Green Morning Smoothie

Recipe By: From a Vitamix cooking class, 2013
Serving Size: 4

PLACE IN BLENDER CONTAINER IN ORDER:
2 cups ice
3 cups kale — or spinach or watercress (discard kale ribs)
1 cup parsley
1 cup fruit — your choice: mango, pineapple (or berries)
2 cups water
2 tablespoons honey — or sweetener

Notes: If desired you can add protein powder to this to make a complete breakfast.
1. In blender container add ingredients in order shown. Attach lid and hold it, then gently increase blender speed, stopping at least once to push greens down into the liquid. Continue to puree until the mixture is smooth. Taste for sweetness (add more fruit) or honey. (I prefer to use a little less water as I don’t like it watery – use just enough to get the mixture to blend completely.)
2. Pour into glasses and serve. Will keep for 24 hours in the refrigerator – reblend before serving as it will separate some.
Per Serving: 63 Calories; trace Fat (5.8% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 37mg Sodium.

Green Smoothie with Green Apple and Ginger printer-friendly PDF – created with CutePDF Writer

Green Smoothie with Green Apple and Ginger MasterCook 5 file and MasterCook 14 file

* Exported from MasterCook *

Green Morning Smoothie with Apple & Ginger

Recipe By: Adapted from a Vitamix cooking class, 2013
Serving Size: 4

ADD TO BLENDER CONTAINER IN ORDER:
1 1/2 cups ice
2 1/2 cups kale — (ribs removed & discarded) coarsely chopped
1 cup fresh parsley
1 small Granny Smith apple
1 1/2 cups water
One small knob of fresh ginger (about a 1″ x 1″ piece)
1 cup apple juice

Notes: If desired you can add protein powder to this to make a complete breakfast.
1. Add ingredients to blender as shown, in order. Turn on blender (low) and gradually increase speed until the mixture is smooth, stopping once or twice to push kale down into the liquid. Continue to blend until it’s very, very smooth.
2. Taste for flavor – more fruit? more kale? more ginger? Pour into glasses and serve. This will keep for 24 hours in the refrigerator – reblend and serve.
Per Serving: 71 Calories; 1g Fat (5.8% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 34mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, Brunch, Desserts, on May 25th, 2013.

horchata_lua_2

Horchata is a refreshing rice-based drink from Latin America. It’s very easy to make, and if you’re so inclined, you can add some Kahlua to it as we did. Not traditional, but oh-so good.

Recently our four-couple gourmet group got together for a brunch. What fun we had, even though it wasn’t a nice day – one of those cloudy, overcast days that we, here in Southern California, don’t understand much, except in June, when we usually  have that kind of weather for the entire month, hence we call it “June Gloom.” But it was on Cinco de Mayo (the 5th). Early May!

One of the gals brought my Tuscan Sangria with Tuaca. We had 4 different salsas with chips (2 of them you’ll see here in a few days), then our main food included a egg/chile/cheese baked dish, caramelized carnitas tacos served with hot flour tortillas, guacamole and slivers of radishes. We also had a no-bake vegetarian enchilada dish that was surprisingly good. I’ll post that too. This, our dessert, was a horchata milk shake. I’d seen the recipe in Food and Wine, and since I like horchata, this one, with ice cream, sounded more like a dessert than a beverage to serve with a meal. So that’s what I did. And most of us ended up adding some Kahlua to the drink – making it a boozy drink, but not much. Just enough to taste it.

Horchata (hor-chaatah) is an agua fresca (meaning fresh water). All agua frescas are non-alcoholic and are common refreshing drinks served all over Latin America. In many Mexican restaurants here in California anyway, they serve some type of agua frescas – either horchata or tamarindo (tamarind) or hibiscus (also a favorite of mine – have never made it, I just buy it when I see it). We visit a Saturday morning farmer’s market some miles from us, and one of the food trucks there almost always has the hibiscus agua fresca, or the tamarind one. They’re all sweet, including horchata.

Anyway, horchata is easy enough to do, but since I’d never made it before, it was all new to me, other than I knew it was rice based. First I measured out rice, added water and whole cinnamon sticks (horchata typically is a cinnamon flavored drink). That sat overnight (out on the kitchen counter, not refrigerated). You remove the cinnamon sticks (see ERRATA below), then pour the entire mixture into the blender. The rice was not cooked at all, but after it sat in liquid all night, it was softened somewhat. Nothing is heated up during the making of horchata. I turned on the blender and let it go a bit, then added in some toasted sliced almonds, sugar and cinnamon. And here’s the most difficult thing you’ll do – pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. Do NOT try to push the mixture through – you want the sieve to catch whatever rice it can, although it is ground up, you understand! I poured in about a cup and just let it sit until it had drained through. I rinsed the sieve and did it again, and again. It will take a few minutes for that, but truly that’s the most time consuming thing you’ll do making horchata.

Kahlua Tip:

If you do add Kahlua to this drink, don’t use much – you still want to taste the cinnamon, banana and almond flavors.

At that point in the making I poured it into a pitcher and refrigerated it (several hours before our get-together). When I was ready to serve it I put it back in the blender, added sweetened condensed milk, the banana, vanilla ice cream and ice. I tasted it and put in a tiny bit more horchata_lua_1of the sweetened condensed milk. Truth to tell, in our drive to the hosts’ home, my pitcher, with lid, slid and some of the horchata ended up on the carpet in my car’s trunk. Ooph! I wasn’t sure how much quantity I really had left, so needed to guesstimate how much to add in. Pour into glasses, add a straw and sprinkle the top with the cinnamon sugar mixture.

OPTIONAL: I served the horchata milk shakes in silver tumblers – they’re actually mint julep cups. Some people were drinking coffee with whipped cream on top and Kahlua was on the table. One person added a little jot of Kahlua to their horchata and he made very noisy mmmmmm’s, so someone else added Kahlua, and in short order nearly everyone had added Kahlua. Knowing that horchata is really a non-alcoholic drink, I wasn’t so sure it would be a good thing! Oh, was I wrong. It was fabulous. My only caveat: don’t add too much Kahlua or it does overpower the delicacy of the cinnamon, almond and banana flavors.

ERRATA: I have to confess, I forgot to take out the cinnamon sticks after the rice had soaked overnight. I glanced at the recipe and didn’t see the instructions. I just missed it. So our horchata was a bit grainy from the ground-up cinnamon – but you know what? Everyone seemed to love it that way. They said they liked it grainy and would definitely do it that way if they made it. Well, okay then!

What’s GOOD: every little sip of it was fantastic. I’d definitely make this again, with or without the Kahlua. I didn’t mind the grainy texture from the cinnamon sticks, but that’s up to you. Traditionally, remove the cinnamon sticks! You could lighten up the recipe some by using sugar-free ice cream, or light ice cream. There’s also low-fat sweetened condensed milk in grocery stores too. This one’s a keeper.
What’s NOT: nothing. Absolutely nothing wrong with this at all!

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Horchata Milk Shake

Recipe By: Food & Wine, May 2013
Serving Size: 4 (maybe 5)

1 cup long-grain white rice — rinsed well
3 cups water
4 medium cinnamon sticks — cracked
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon — plus 1/4 teaspoon
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk — plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 banana — (2 ounces)
1 pint vanilla ice cream
1/2 cup ice
OPTIONAL: Kahlua to taste, about 2 tsp per serving

1. In a bowl, cover the rice with the water. Add the cinnamon sticks and let stand at room temperature for at least 3 hours or overnight; discard the cinnamon sticks.
2. Meanwhile, in a skillet, toast the almonds over moderate heat, tossing, until fragrant, 3 minutes. In a small bowl, stir 1 tablespoon of the ground cinnamon with the sugar.
3. Transfer the rice and its liquid to a blender. Add the almonds and puree for 2 minutes. Strain the horchata through a fine sieve into a bowl. Rinse out the blender.
4. Return the horchata to the blender and add the condensed milk, banana and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and puree. Add the ice cream and ice and blend. Pour the shake into glasses, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top and serve.
5. OPTIONAL: Add Kahlua to each glass (about 2 tsp). Don’t overdo the Kahlua as it will overpower the delicate cinnamony flavor of the horchata.
Per Serving (this is off some because you don’t consume all the rice – some yes, all? no): 482 Calories; 15g Fat (26.0% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 83g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; 36mg Cholesterol; 91mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on November 30th, 2012.

alton_browns_grape_juice_cocktail

Last week, before Thanksgiving, I turned on the Food Network and watched a little of  the 3-hour Thanksgiving show, whatever it was called, with about 7-8 of the Network show’s stars. Pioneer Woman mentioned it on her blog, so I recorded it and watched about 15 minutes of it. I actually wasn’t all that intrigued. Not necessarily because of the stars themselves, but with the silliness of the way they were not acting in the beginning. It was too ad lib, and it says to me that the Food Network chefs/stars don’t know how to do that. Seemed to me like it was mostly the stars teasing one another, with a few suggestions thrown in now and then about turkey hints or side dishes, etc.

I did stick with it long enough, though, to watch Alton Brown make this cocktail. I went online to find it – nothing there that day anyway – so I had to go back on my recorded show to scribble down notes about it. Alton didn’t even give it a name, so I’ve made one up. He explained that in his house he needs to serve a “cocktail” that can do double duty – for adults and children, so he came up with this drink that can be mixed with sparkling wine (I used Prosecco) or with club soda. The young ‘uns in our household weren’t all that excited about it – I think it was the color (kind of brown) rather than the taste, but that’s just my take.

You start with a quart of grape juice. A disclaimer here – I bought light grape juice – and I’m sure it was a mistake. To make a syrup you need the sugar. So buy the real sugar-loaded type. He said to add an 8-inch sprig of fresh rosemary and a 3-inch piece of crystallized ginger. I didn’t have the right kind of ginger, so I used fresh ginger – about 4 inches worth. I cut it up into large chunks (don’t do small as it needs to be strained out later). You bring that mixture to a boil and reduce it by half. It might help if you did this in the microwave, actually, in a big glass measuring cup so you could see how much it’s reduced. I did it on the stovetop and had a hard time measuring the darned thing – it almost burned at the end! Strain out the herbs and ginger. Then add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and continue reducing it again by half. Cool and chill. You should end up with about 1 cup of syrup. That would make about 16 servings if you used a tablespoon per person.

To make the cocktail, pour about a tablespoon of the syrup into a glass and add either sparkling wine or prosecco. Or the club soda for a non-alcoholic version. You may want to test the proportions. We started with using less than a tablespoon and found that adding more provided a much better flavor.

Just be sure to not boil down the juice too low – because then it will begin to taste like raisins, not grapes. It was different. Almost unusual. I liked it, but only if it was mixed in the right proportion. And I didn’t measure it, otherwise I would tell you exactly. It’s definitely grape juice – so if you’re not a grape juice fan, you might want to give this a pass. Will I make it again? Uhm. Maybe. Maybe not. It wasn’t a wow, but then it was supposed to be something we could use for both the kids and adults. It did fit that bill.

Posted in Beverages, on November 16th, 2012.

clove_scented_sidecar_cocktail

Once in a blue moon I’ll make a cocktail when we’re having dinner guests. Usually it’s just wine we offer, but the other day I was flipping through an old magazine, saw this recipe and decided it sounded interesting. Indeed it is – I liked it a lot. Of our 8 guests, only 4 opted to try it. I did. I tried. I liked. I’ll make it again, maybe real soon. But it’s one of those that could sneak up on you, so be careful and don’t guzzle.

All the ingredients I got out, at-the-ready, and just before guests arrived my friend Cherrie’s hubby, Bud, made these drinks. Now if you are a traditionalist with cocktails – the “give me the straight stuff” kind of person, you probably won’t like this. Maybe too frou-frou. There’s nothing in it, though, other than whiskey (Jack Daniels was what we had), orange and lemon juices, sugar, and then the cloves_sugar_mixtureglasses or tumblers are coated in sugar that’s mixed with ground cloves. A lot of folks, I suppose, wouldn’t want to sully a good shot of Jack Daniels whiskey with sugar! Well, I did, and I liked it.

A sidecar, from its origins in London over 100 years ago was equal parts cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, now known as “the French school”. Later, an “English school” of Sidecars emerged, as found in the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), which calls for two parts cognac and one part each of Cointreau and lemon juice. So, whiskey was never part of a sidecar. Who knew? Certainly not me!

Maybe I’ve mentioned it here before, but the first alcoholic drink I ever tried (I was 20) was Jim Beam bourbon and 7-up. My former father-in-law thought it would be a nice introduction for me to try it – he made a very mild one. I actually didn’t mind it, and even recently when Dave and I were in Las Vegas and went to one of the bars in a casino, I ordered one. I’m not much of a drinker in any case. My parents didn’t drink at all, and when I went to college, drinking just wasn’t “done.” It wasn’t until I was in my late 30’s, when I was single again, my friends Kathy & Peter and I took a 2-3 month course at a local college in wine appreciation, and I began drinking wine now and then. After Dave and I married, I would have a glass of wine (just one) most evenings, usually while I was cooking dinner, but as I’ve gotten older I only drink wine (or anything alcoholic) occasionally. Part of it is because I don’t need the calories. And I’m not very fond of tannic wines anymore, at any time. My DH really likes sharp, tannic wines, and to open a bottle of wine for me alone (a lighter, smoother type) would be silly. It wouldn’t get drunk in a month. But if the sharp part is tempered some – like in Sangria (I do love Sangria, and Trader Joe’s has a great one, called Sangria Ole if you haven’t tried it), well,  I could be more often tempted.

sugared_rimsSo, with this drink – where the sharpness of the alcohol is blunted with something citrusy or sweet, well, I could probably drink one of these sidecars a couple times a week if someone would make them for me! Bud did have to read and re-read the directions a couple of times to make sure he was chunking the lemons and slicing the oranges, muddling some, adding sugar here, not there. Sugar-ing and clove-ing the tumbler rims, etc. He did a great job – if there had been enough for seconds I might have succumbed. But considering the amount of whiskey, well maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t as I might not have gotten dinner on the table! I’m such a lightweight when it comes to alcohol. One drink and I’m a goner almost!

So anyway, these little numbers are fun. The recipe is from Sunset Magazine, in 2010. Tasty. Worth the trouble – but it would be nice if you’re the hostess – if you can get somebody else to do the prep and serve them for you. I’m always a one-armed paperhanger during the last 10 minutes before guests arrive. I used these silver mugs (they’re actually mint julep tumblers) to serve them in. And don’t forget to drop the one clove into each glass or mug before serving. And sip it all around the rim so you can enjoy the ground cloves which enhance the flavor a lot.

What’s good: the citrusy, sweet flavor – a very nice way to cut the sharpness of whiskey. A fun drink all around.
What’s not: probably the time to make it – not all that bad, but you do have to cut, squeeze, slice, mix, muddle, measure, and use a shaker too before you can finally pour out the drink.

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Clove Scented Sidecar

Recipe By: Sunset Magazine, 12/2010
Serving Size: 2

5 tablespoons sugar — divided (you probably won’t use it all)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 whole lemon — cut into chunks
1 whole orange
Ice
1/2 cup whiskey
2 whole cloves — for garnish

1. Mix 2 tbsp. sugar and ground cloves on a small plate. Rub one lemon chunk around the rims of two cocktail glasses. Turn rims in the clove sugar.
2. Cut orange into two slices about 1/4 in. thick; cut slices in half. Put lemon chunks, orange slices, and 3 tbsp. sugar in a cocktail shaker. Using a wooden spoon, muddle together the fruit and sugar until fruit is broken up.
3. Add about 1 cup ice and whiskey to cocktail shaker. With lid securely fastened, shake vigorously to blend, then strain into the sugared glasses. Garnish each with a whole clove.
Per Serving (not accurate – it assumes you eat all the sugar plus the orange and lemon, which you don’t): 308 Calories; 2g Fat (6.8% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 46g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 18mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on August 27th, 2012.

agave_meyer_lemonade

Some weeks ago we attended a very special dinner. Reading Cheryl Sternman Rule’s blog, 5 second rule, I saw that Cheryl was going to visit our neck of the woods here in Southern California and would be cooking a dinner for up to 20 lucky people with help from a charming couple, Kim and Barry, who opened their home to host the dinner. Cheryl’s blog is a favorite of mine, and I’ve featured a couple of her recipes here in the past. She’s a professional food writer and developer; she’s also a wife and mother of two sons. And, she’s just published a cookbook (with an amazing photographer, Pauline Phlipot – and no, that’s not a typo – her name is spelled that way) called  Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables.

When I clicked on the link to enquire about the dinner, I discovered that the hostess lived very near us. Wow, that made it even more enticing. Quick-like, I signed up (and paid for the dinner, obviously) so my DH and I could go. Included in the price was a cookbook for each person! Yea! I will use the 2nd one as a gift, and I had it signed by Cheryl. When we arrived at Kim and Brian’s house, Cheryl and Kim were busy at work in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on a wonderful multi-course meal. Eighteen more people arrived and appetizers were served (a Radish and Olive Crostini) along with this very nice, refreshing lemonade enhanced with agave nectar. And Kim added in some vodka.

RIPE_cover, Photography © 2012 by Paulette PhlipotPhoto from: http://www.eastwest.com/september-2012-events-east-westIsn’t that cookbook cover just stunning? The book is so chock-block full of gorgeous photographs, it’s almost worthy of being a coffee table book, if you get my drift. Cheryl made a fabulous match with the photographer in creating this book. Cheryl did give a short talk to all of the dinner guests about how the book came about and shared some of the story about how any writer works with a publisher. That was interesting to me since I’d never heard much about the actual publishing part. I’ve heard and read that today, with the gigantic flush of cookbooks out there, and new ones every single day of the year, you have to have some kind of a hook, a niche, to be a successful cookbook author. Cheryl cleverly decided to write her book based on color. Yes, you read that right. Color. The book is divided into chapters for Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Purple & Blue, and White. Just imagine what fruits and veggies you’d find in each of those chapters. The theme, of course, is to cook or prepare foods at their prime, when they’re RIPE, and with some fairly simple additions or preparation, the fruit and veggies will do all the work. All the recipes are contained on one page, so that makes most of them relatively easy.

I’ll be sharing three of the recipes here on my blog (the publisher won’t permit more than that), so I had to choose – oh, that was hard because everything we had was delicious. Today I’m giving you the beverage. Another day you’ll read about the vegetarian main course, a delicious red pepper chili with grilled corn, and lastly the oh-so delicious dessert, a blueberry nutmeg cake.  Other bloggers and/or newspapers have featured all of the other menu items from the dinner we went to – click the links if you’re interested in any of these: Cucumber Halloumi Salad with Licorice Notes (it was the cheese that made that one special), Carrot Soup with Garam Masala Cream (I love garam masala, so it was a given that I’d like that one too), and a salad called Red Leaf Lettuce with Grapes and Table Flowers (this one wasn’t my favorite, but perhaps my salad didn’t have enough dressing on it – I liked the nice touch of the edible flowers, though).

lemonade_and_cookbookNow, back to this refreshing beverage . . . if you happen to have Meyer lemons, you’ll enjoy using the juice for this. If you have regular lemons . . . no worries . . . just add a bit more agave since regular lemons are a bit more sour.

meyer_lemon_540In the cookbook, on the page for lemons, Cheryl wrote a short blurb about lemons, about her dwarf Meyer lemon tree that thrives in her front yard. She swears that if she ever moves, the tree is going with her. Hmmm. Good luck with that! But just below (as she does with every fruit and veggie in the book) she gives a few simple ideas/uses. For lemons she suggests a risotto (butter, shallots, Arborio rice, white wine, stock, lemon zest, juice and pecorino); another suggestion is avgolemono (a Greek lemony soup) of stock, rice, egg yolks, lemon juice and parsley; and lastly lemon curd (egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice zest and butter). Then on the facing page is the recipe for the lemonade. And a photo of the food.

Cookbook cover photo:  © 2012 by Paulette Phlipot; Cheryl’s photo: www.eastwest.com. All other photos are my own. Recipes reprinted with permission from RIPE © 2012 by Cheryl Sternman Rule, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Book Group.

What I liked: well, I’m not much of a drinker, but I loved the vodka-enhanced lemonade. Loved the sweet-sour taste (more sweet than sour). Just so very refreshing. Great for a summer evening.

What I didn’t like: nothing whatsoever!

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Agave Meyer Lemonade

Recipe By: Recipes reprinted with permission from RIPE © 2012 by Cheryl Sternman Rule, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Book Group.
Serving Size: 6
Yield: 1 1/4 quarts
NOTES: Cheryl Sternman Rule says: I can think of no better way to honor the bright, uplifting flavor of sunny lemons than with this fresh, agave-sweetened lemonade. If you can’t find Meyer lemons, swap the more acidic (and more common) Eureka variety. In either case, adjust the agave to taste.

1 1/4 cups Meyer lemon juice
1/2 cup agave nectar — (170-340g) or to taste (1/2 to 2/3)
4 cups cold water — (0.95l) preferably refrigerated
Ice
[Add vodka, if you’d like – our hostess prepared it that way]

1. Squeeze enough lemons (6 to 7) into a 2-cup (500-ml) glass measure to yield 11/4 cups (300 ml) of juice. Strain into a large pitcher.
2. Whisk in the agave nectar, beginning with 1/2 cup (118 ml) and adding more to taste. Pour in the water. Whisk to combine. [Add vodka if you’d like to zip it up a little bit.]
3. Chill, covered, until ready to serve. Distribute the lemonade among ice-filled glasses. Slice the remaining lemon (you may even have one left over), and float 1 slice in each glass. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 13 Calories; 0g Fat (0.0% calories from fat); trace Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 5mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on June 28th, 2012.

moroccan_mint_tea

Over the years we’ve gone to Marakesh (the restaurant) and always at the end of the meal they serve mint tea. Hot, sweetened mint tea. And I always love to watch the servers pour it from long narrow-spouted decorated metal teapots into delicate glasses from 2-3 feet above.

Until the other day I’d never made mint tea. In Moroccan tea culture, the tea is made with gunpowder green tea – and mint added. Checking info over at wikipedia, I discovered the Moroccans are concerned now about all the pesticides used in commercial mint production, so some Moroccans are foregoing the mint. How sad, I say!

Fortunately I had a copious amount of mint (without pesticides!) from my friend Joan’s garden. She made the mistake of planting it somewhere in her back yard some years ago and now it wants to take over, as mint likes to do. I used a LOT of mint in my Moroccan dinner I made the other night. And making the mint tea was so easy – I bought some green tea at Trader Joe’s (green tea isn’t a tea variety I turn to, nor did I have any in my tea arsenal). You can vary the amount to suit your taste – I made about 12 cups, I think, and used 5 green tea bags (which were so easy to remove once the tea had steeped) and about 3-4 long mint stems (about 5-7 inches long) and attached leaves. It steeped for 5 minutes, then I strained it, let it cool and chilled it. I also sweetened the tea, but I didn’t add as much sweetener as the recipe called for, and I liked it that way. You might want to taste it before you add too much.

Interestingly, when I was reading info at wikipedia, in Morocco, actually boiling the tea with sugar is an important step because it allows the sugar to undergo hydrolysis, giving the tea a distinctive taste. Photo at right came from wikipedia, showing the pouring of hot mint tea into glasses. They pour it from a distance in order to create foam.

In Morocco, tea serving is generally the bailiwick of men, believe it or not! And it’s an important sign of hospitality. Some years ago Dave and I did visit Morocco (only for a day), and were served Moroccan mint tea several times – at a spice merchant’s shop, at a Moroccan carpet store, then again after lunch. I have no recollection if it was served by men or women, though.

So anyway, I made the tea, cooled it, chilled it, then served it with a mint sprig in the top and set a pitcher of tea on the dinner table, with a bowl of ice and more mint. Everyone enjoyed it. I had left over tea, so I enjoyed it for many days afterwards. Green tea has less caffeine than black tea, and less caffeine than coffee (a lot less, actually). I’m very careful about caffeine. I get “the jitters” quickly from drinking regular coffee, so on rare occasions do I drink any beverage with much caffeine.

What I liked: the refreshing taste – I like spearmint (but not peppermint at all) – and I like the very mild sweetness added to it. The mint shines through.

What I didn’t like: nothing.

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Moroccan Mint Tea

Recipe By: Phillis Carey’s version.
Serving Size: 6
NOTES: If you buy Moroccan tea, it likely is a combination of green tea AND mint, so you may not need the fresh mint except for a garnish.

4 teaspoons green tea — or Moroccan tea (traditionally Moroccans use gunpowder green)
24 whole mint leaves — plus more for garnish
4 tablespoons sugar — or more to taste [or use agave, or Splenda]
4 cups boiling water — plus more to warm the teapot

1. Rinse teapot in boiling water (to heat the pot). Pour out water. Quickly add tea, mint leaves and sugar to the pot, then add boiling water and swirl the pot gently a few times to dissolve the sugar. Replace lid (cover pot with a towel or a tea cozy if you’re serving hot tea) and allow to steep for 5 minutes.
2. Pour tea through a strainer into serving cups. Or, cool to room temp and chill if you’re serving it as iced tea. Serve with a mint sprig in or on top.
Per Serving: 34 Calories; 0g Fat (0.0% calories from fat); trace Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 6mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on February 29th, 2012.

orange_sparkler

Everybody’s had a mimosa, right? That lovely brunch-time drink that’s a mixture of orange juice and champagne? Well, this recipe has a similar  ancestry, but it’s so much better. With so much more flavor (from the brandy, and the addition of a simple syrup mixture).

This drink is sweeter (obviously since there is the simple syrup added), although you could alter the ratio of the brandy syrup to champagne. That’s completely up to you.

imageThe recipe came from a special class I attended recently, complements of Sunkist. And this recipe was developed specifically for the Cara Cara orange.

What’s a Cara Cara Orange? Well, it’s a Navel orange. Not a hybrid with red grapefruit or blood oranges, as you might think since it has the prettiest rosy color. The orange was discovered in Venezuela in 1976. It’s a cross between the Washington navel and the Brazilian Bahia navel, and growers discovered it thrives here in California.  Oddly, they’re not all that easy to find, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why that I can find. Probably because we’re just primed for regular Navels. But I liked the deeper flavor – and the color. If you can’t find cara cara oranges, just use Navel oranges instead.

In this recipe, you combine juice, zest, sugar, water and brandy (or cognac if you’re willing to use the good stuff) and simmer it until it’s reduced about half. The mixture is cooled, strained of any pulp and zest, and chilled. When you’re ready to serve this, just spoon in 1 1/2 ounces of the brandy syrup into a champagne flute, pour in a bit of champagne and garnish with a nice Cara Cara orange segment. Done. Easy. Delicious.

What I liked: the pretty color. The lovely taste – the brandy adds a depth of flavor – you can’t really pick out the brandy – you just know it has something else in it!

What I didn’t like: nothing at all. Do make it for your next brunch!

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Orange Sparkler

Recipe By: Altered slightly from a Sunkist Growers recipe by Robert Danhi.
Serving Size: 2-4

FOR BRANDY SYRUP:
1/2 cup orange juice — from Cara Cara oranges, or Navels
1/2 tablespoon orange zest
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup brandy — or cognac
FOR EACH DRINK:
1 1/2 ounces brandy syrup
5 ounces sparkling wine — Champagne, or other type of white sparkling wine
1 piece orange section

1. In a medium-sized, heavy saucepan (taller rather than wider if possible) add the orange zest, orange juice, sugar, water and brandy and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until mixture has reduced about 40-50%, stirring frequently with a wire whisk (be careful it doesn’t boil over). Allow to cool, then strain mixture into a small jar and chill. The mixture will keep for several days.
2. In each tall champagne flute add the brandy syrup, sparkling wine, then the fresh orange segment. Serve.

Posted in Beverages, on September 4th, 2011.

kumquat_negroni

Yesterday I told you about making some kumquat vodka, that sat in my refrigerator for about 3 weeks infusing. Today I’m telling you about what I did with the infused vodka when it was ready!

It was a few weeks ago I was watching Giada on the Food Network and she was making a summer cocktail. An Herb and Orange Negroni, she called it. Maybe I’d heard the word Negroni before, but sure didn’t know what it was. Actually a Negroni became a popular Italian cocktail in the last century, and it was gin-based. Somewhere along the line bartenders began adapting it with other ingredients from its original (gin, Campari, vermouth) by adding sweet vermouth, fruit juices, sparkling water and changing the alcohol to vodka. And when vodka was used, they renamed it Negroski (making it a Russian-language suffix – get it? – vodka=Russian=”ski” suffixes).

Watching Giada, I’d perked up at her use of the herb infused vodka since I had the kumquat vodka stewing in the refrigerator already. Perfect, I thought! Had to buy Campari first (it’s a type of bitters, a bright pinky-red color). I did have sweet vermouth I use occasionally in cooking, we had oranges on our lower slope and one of our grandkids scampered down there and clambered around the awkward hill to fetch some for us to use. They’re Valencias, not Navels, so they’re a little more tart than eating oranges. Worked fine in this cocktail, though. I forgot to decorate the glasses with some orange slices, though. I was too anxious to get them served and dashed to my photo corner to take a picture of my glass before they were all gone!

If you’re looking for a sweet fruit drink, this isn’t it. It’s tart and definitely retains some of the Campari (bitters) flavor, but it’s not overwhelming. I served it to four adults. Three liked it, our daughter Sara didn’t. She isn’t much of a drinker anyway, so I wasn’t surprised. I loved it. I drank mine and a little bit of Sara’s abandoned drink.

What I liked: the savory-ness of the drink; that it wasn’t a sweet fruit drink; how refreshing it was; and how easy it was to make as long as you have the citrus-infused vodka (or use any bottled citrus vodka you already have on hand).

What I didn’t like: nada, nothing. Great drink. Worth making. Different.

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Kumquat and Thyme Negroni

Recipe By: Found online at myrecipes.com
Serving Size: 5

1 cup vodka — kumquat-infused
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup sweet vermouth
1/4 cup Campari
10 ounces sparkling water — or club soda
fresh thyme sprigs and orange slices for garnish, if desired

1. In a pitcher combine the chilled kumquat vodka, orange juice, sweet vermouth, Campari and sparkling water.
2. Stir well and pour over ice. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs and orange slices. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 159 Calories; trace Fat (2.3% calories from fat); trace Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 5mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on September 3rd, 2011.

kumquat_liqueurIs that not gorgeous? Kumquats, mostly cut in half, some fresh sprigs of thyme from my garden, and a huge slug of Russian vodka (plain). Oh, there’s also a bit of simple syrup in this too – you could use sugar, but some recipes suggest dissolving the sugar first, so I took that route.

It was a few weeks ago that Darci, our friend and decorator, told me about a kumquat vodka she’d made for a group of girlfriends. I couldn’t find the recipe she had used, but found a bunch of others using kumquats. The bugs don’t like kumquats. The fruit flies haven’t found it, obviously. The rabbits and squirrels around here obviously don’t like kumquats, either. Hooray for me!

All this takes is a little bit of patience as you need to let this infuse for a few weeks. Some recipes suggest leaving it at room temp for a few days. This recipe wants refrigeration and three weeks of infusing. I loved the idea of the fresh thyme in it. Maybe if you drank this vodka straight you could pick out the herbaceous flavor, but with the drink I made you really couldn’t.

Rarely do I even have a mixed drink, but fruity ones are more palatable to me, and this just was a perfect use of the kumquats. It took every kumquat we had on our shrub to make this, and that’s okay. Tomorrow I’ll share the recipe for the drink I made with one cup (of the 2 1/2) of the vodka. If you have something you already want to make with kumquat vodka, go ahead. Otherwise, wait until tomorrow and you’ll hear all about the fruity drink I served at our brunch. I don’t drink straight vodka in any way, shape or form, so I’m not including my usual “what I liked” about it segment. Just stay tuned until tomorrow . . .

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Kumquat Vodka

Recipe By: Found online at myrecipes.com
Serving Size: 20

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 cups vodka — use good quality stuff
16 whole kumquats — divided use
3 sprigs fresh thyme

1. In a medium saucepan heat sugar and water, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool to room temp.
2. Add vodka to the mixture, stir and pour into a glass decanter.
3. Cut 10 of the kumquats in half lengthwise. Leave remaining ones whole.
4. Add kumquats (halved ones first) to the vodka and add the thyme sprigs. Stick the thyme sprigs down into the kumquats so they won’t float.
5. Cover decanter with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 weeks. Decant the vodka into a clean bottle and discard the kumquats and herbs. The vodka will turn bitter if you leave the fruit in the mixture too long.
6. Serve ice-cold in individual shot glasses (2-ounce servings) if desired.
Per Serving: 80 Calories; trace Fat (0.3% calories from fat); trace Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 1mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on August 22nd, 2011.

ginger_spice_chai

What about you – do you like chai? I certainly do, and order hot chai in the cold winter months when I visit a coffee store like Peet’s or Starbucks. I love the spicy foam from a hot chai that they’ve frothed for me. But I’ve not had iced chai, I don’t think. Maybe the coffee places make it, I just haven’t noticed or tried it. So many of those drinks are overly sweet to me, unfortunately. I do order sugar-free when it’s available. But the sweet ones – why do they DO that, I want to know? Even the blended and freddo drinks are too sweet. Sadly, these stores are just contributing to our dependence on sugar, and increasing the calories in those drinks by huge leaps. Oh well. . .

Anyway, over at Elana’s Pantry (a blog) she recently made a spicy ginger chai. And since we were entertaining a group of 15 for dinner, I thought I’d make a big pot of it for anyone who wanted something other than wine or soft drinks. Elana called hers just “Iced Ginger Chai,” and I suppose by my adding the word spiced in the title makes it redundant since chai means spiced tea. But I wanted you to know that this stuff is not just a chai, but it’s spicy (warm to hot) from a lot of ginger and black peppercorns. I’m enjoying  a large glass of it right now as I write this, and after sipping some a couple of minutes ago, I can still feel the residual heat in my mouth, on my tongue. It’s not unpleasant – in fact I LOVE the taste of it. (If you’re sensitive to any kind of spice-heat, you might want to reduce the quantity of ginger and peppercorns in this by about a third.)

I did make one change (an optional one) since I didn’t have any rooibos tea. Rooibos is that popular (and fairly new to the U.S. markets anyway) herbal tea – also called bush tea or red bush tea (because it makes a very dark reddish-brown colored tea) – made from a legume plant grown only in South Africa and it IS caffeine free. I’m not all that crazy about it as a straight tea (too grassy-like or tree/twig tasting for my tastes), and I gave away my can of it some months ago to someone who loves it. So I substituted a traditional black tea, thereby making it a caffeinated drink. Fine for daytime, maybe not at night. So, if you choose to make this with regular black tea (I used a black tea blend), do as I did – let the black tea soak in the mixture for about 7 minutes, then remove (I used tea bags so it would be easy to get them out). I actually did it after the 30-minute rolling boil – you don’t want to BOIL black tea, a no-no to tea aficionados as it quickly becomes bitter after that magical 5-7 minutes.

Nothing about making this is hard to do – but it does need to steep overnight. Making it the rooibos way, you bring all the ingredients (cardamom pods, whole cloves, peppercorns, the rooibos tea, and fennel seeds) to a boil – not the milk or any sweetener – reduce it to a rolling simmer and let it go for about 30 minutes. At a rolling boil the mixture reduces down some. Elana said hers reduced to about half – mine not that much, so I suppose I didn’t keep mine at the same high boil she did. Then you turn off the heat and let it sit overnight (at room temp – there’s nothing in it to spoil). Easy! In the morning strain out the ginger, tea and spices, and chill the mixture. Whenever you want to use it, either in a single glass or in bulk like I did, you merely use a cup of the chai concentrate and 1/4 cup of almond milk (chill it first) and pour it over an ample number of ice cubes. I added just a bit more of the almond milk (I doubled the recipe and used the full cardboard box of almond milk). Add some sweetener if you choose and you’re ready for a refreshing treat. Most traditional chai drinkers use sweetener, but you can decide that for yourself. When I served it, I didn’t sweeten it but left the sweeteners next to the tall beverage dispenser I served it in. Some people asked what it was, but most didn’t and I was way too busy to go around and tell everyone. Next time I’ll need to make a little sign to place conspicuously near it.

What I liked: the ease of making it; the spicy combo (you’d never know there are fennel seeds in the brew), and the spice-heat from the ginger and peppercorns; it only takes a little bit of almond milk to smooth out the flavors and make it a creamy chai.

What I didn’t like: nothing at all – loved it. It may become a regular thing in my summer kitchen. You do need to plan ahead, however – at least the day before.

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Indian Spiced Ginger Chai (Tea)

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from elana’s pantry blog, 7/2011
Serving Size: 4

2 quarts water
1/2 cup fresh ginger — finely chopped (skin on)
10 whole cardamom — pods
5 whole cloves
10 whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1/4 cup tea — (organic loose rooibos, or substitute black tea – see directions below)
1 cup almond milk — or more if you prefer a more milky tea
Sweetener – stevia, agave, or sugar

1.  Place all ingredients (except almond milk and sweetener) in a large pot and bring to a boil.  If you are using black tea, use tea bags or a tea diffuser to contain the tea, and add it later (see note in #2).  If you’re using rooibos, add it in with all the other ingredients and leave it in for the full steeping time in the recipe.
2.  Reduce heat and allow to simmer (rolling simmer) for 30 minutes.  Turn off heat (and add the black tea now, if you’re using it, and remove it 5-7 minutes later), then allow tea to sit overnight at room temp to continue steeping.
3.  Strain mixture into a 1-quart jar.  This is your “concentrate.”
4.  Fill a glass with ice, pour in 1 cup of chai concentrate and add 1/4 cup (or more) almond milk, or milk of your choice.
5.  Add sweetener if desired – stevia, sugar or agave nectar to taste and serve.
Per Serving: 97 Calories; 4g Fat (27.5% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 43mg Sodium.

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