Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Hopping with anticipation

Remember the anticipation of childhood? The upcoming birthday. Christmas morning. Summer camp. Children are capable of an eagerness so passionate, you can almost watch them vibrate when they ponder certain approaching moments.

Of course, we soon learn that the anticipation is often strangely sweeter than the ultimate gratification.

But I must admit, I'm feeling some great, giddy excitement since visiting the Brooklyn Flea recently and picking up one of Brooklyn Brew Shop's dandy little homebrew beer kits.

Gallon Brew Kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop

Check it out: freshly cracked barley, yeast, hops, sugar and an adorable gallon-sized glass carboy that'll actually fit in a New York City-sized apartment. Genius.

You may be thinking I'm an alcoholic or wondering whether I'm unaware that NYC features both terrific beer pubs and excellent beer shops. Why make it when you could just buy it and be assured of a good product every time?

Valid thoughts across the board. But what I'm really amped about, that is, my true reason for excitement... well, it isn't really about the beer at all — it's the thrill of discovery. If this little kit produces a gallon of nice beer at the end of the process, that's just a satisfying bonus.

I chose the Belgian Tripel kit, though the Brew Shop also offers a Grapefruit Honey Ale, a Berry Red Ale and a Chocolate Maple Porter — which may be next on my to-do list if all goes well with the Belgian.

In this video, you can watch Brooklyn Brew Shop's gregarious brewmaster/millmeister Stephen Valand crushing (gently, so gently) my newly purchased Belgian barley. He'll also tell you why this is important to the brewing process.



I'll report back once my little yeasty beasties have done their work.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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10.06.2009

A (Modern) Jazz Age Cocktail

"First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Jazz Age Dancers

Say you find yourself standing on an uninhabited island among gaily costumed picnickers with a cocktail in your hand, a dance floor and orchestra before you, a pie contest to your left and the Dorothy Parker Society just behind you.

Pie Contest Here

Never fear. You're probably not dreaming or in a time warp. In fact, I'm guessing you're simply getting in on what more and more New Yorkers are doing this year — spending an afternoon on Governor's Island.

Spiffy Cars

In case you're unfamiliar with the place, my use of the word "uninhabited" isn't a typo. Governor's Island is officially a public park space, having been vacated by the Coast Guard after 1996. The park service folks clear out all visitors each night (which is a shame, because I'd move there in a heartbeat).

And what a public space it is... 172 lush, tree- and rolling grass-covered acres full of strange, abandoned apartment complexes, gorgeous Civil War-Era buildings, a fort (complete with cannons), and as of recently, an archaeological dig and a Water Taxi Beach.

But I digress. You were holding a cocktail and watching the flappers dance the Charleston, weren't you?

Michael Arenella & His Dreamland Orchestra put on periodic Jazz Age Lawn Parties on Governor's Island. Fun, no?

The one produced just today was also sponsored by St-Germain, makers of tasty elderflower liqueur with which one might, if so inclined, make mighty strong cocktails the likes of which you see in this photo.

St-Germain Cocktail

Now technically the Jazz Age took place during the era of US prohibition, but we all know there was still plenty of drinking going on. And, as it turns out, The St-Germain isn't terribly far off the classic Gin Rickey said to be favored by Fitzgerald — one of the most recognized spokesmen of the Jazz Age.

Anyway, I found it tasty, so I'll pass on the recipe to you, dear reader. (I'm sure the company won't mind. Corporate marketing departments are generally pretty happy about spontaneous viral exposure.)

The St-Germain
2 shots Champagne (or Sauvignon Blanc)
1 1/2 shots St-Germain Liqueur
Top with 2 shots soda water or sparkling water
Mix in a tall, ice-filled glass and garnish with a lemon twist

And by the way, if you're local and interested in zany events of this kind, Gov Island tweets, so it's easy to keep up with all the wonder and weirdness they have on offer.

To see more Jazz Age Lawn Party photos (including Michael Cumella's lovely gramophone) click here.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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10.04.2009

Recycled Bird (or Squirrel) Feeder

Correct me if I'm wrong, because I don't buy a lot of juice, but I believe this image is showing off a clever way to reuse an old plastic juice container.

Squirrel Modeling the Bird Feeder

Visiting in Minneapolis last weekend, mom and I stopped in at a roadside rest stop and found this little household recycling project swinging from the trees. (And come to think of it, that actually looks like an onion bag filled with suet in the background. Yet more great recycling. Go Minnesota DOT, go!)

Looks like all you'd need is a big plastic juice jug, a utility knife (to cut the flaps in the sides), a nail (to pierce a hole in the lid), a knotted piece of string (to push through the hole in the lid) a stick or dowel (to give the birds a perch) and a little premium bird seed.*

It's certainly not squirrel-proof, but with squirrels this charming, maybe you don't really want to repel them.

Squirrel Close-Up

As a kid, I remember using the canisters from orange juice concentrate to make pencil holders, but I'm a bit of out of the loop on the world of food packaging projects.

If you're so inclined, post in the comments if you've seen any other inventive recycling ideas lately.

In the meantime, I hope y'all had a delightful weekend!

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

* And conveniently, we learned last week that buying premium bird seed lets credit card companies know that you're reliable and creditworthy.

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5.26.2009

Recession-Proof Espresso: Become a Barista

I must say, I'm a little torn these days between supporting my local coffee shop and saving some money by making my own espresso drinks. They need the money. I need the money. I'll probably just split the difference.

I love the community that local, independent coffee shops provide, but having worked as a barista in college, I also know that the process of creating coffee drinks is easy (and yes! even fun!) once you get the hang of it.

Espresso!

How much can you save? Let's run the math... When you figure about 75 tablespoons of ground coffee per pound of coffee beans, that's about 37 espresso servings in a pound of beans.

At roughly $7 a pound for beans, you can make a serving of espresso for 19 cents. Like lattes? Tack on about 50 cents per serving for organic milk or 25 cents for the conventional stuff.

At about 5 cents per tablespoon for chocolate syrup, you can make an organic mocha latte for just 74 cents. A small mocha latte (with conventional milk) at a coffee shop normally costs between $2.50 and $3, so that's a significant savings. Compelling, no?

My Moka Pot

And yes, I think anyone would love to have a gorgeous espresso machine like J's big red FrancisFrancis!, but at $800-$1,000 apiece, that's just not reasonable... or even necessary.

Instead, I suggest making espresso on the stove using the same inexpensive tool that Italian families use at home: the moka pot or stove-top espresso pot.

This type of espresso pot is cheap ($20 or less) and simple to use. Since they don't have breakable parts, they last and last, so if you figure that a single shot of espresso costs about $1.50 at most coffee shops and amortize the cost, it'll take you less than 20 drinks to pay off a moka pot.

Once you follow the money, it begins to make dollars and sense to learn a little espresso magic.

All you have to do to use one is buy the very fine-ground espresso coffee or, better yet, grind the beans very fine in a coffee grinder.

To make stove-top espresso with a moka-style pot:
1. Unscrew the top of the espresso pot, setting it aside for a moment.
2. Fill the bottom with cold water to just below the safety valve on the side.
3. Fill the funnel-shaped section with about two tablespoons of fine-ground coffee, tamping the top gently to flatten the grounds.
4. Place the funnel back into the bottom section and screw the top back on.
5. Place the pot over medium-high heat. It'll take about 3-4 minutes for the espresso to bubble up to the top. (It's okay... you can peek under the lid while it's bubbling if you want.)
6. When the espresso fills the top section up to the bottom of the pouring wedge, you can remove the moka pot from the heat and pour out the espresso. Yay! Just rinse everything out with water to clean.


Inside the Moka Pot

Dead simple, right? And once you can make espresso, you've opened the door to the giddy world of espresso drinks.

A number of espresso drinks utilize hot milk, which you can obviously just use a saucepot or microwave to produce. A fancy electric milk frother can make quick work of the decorative milk foam, but you can also simply froth the milk with a little dedication and a cheap whisk.

Here are an array of basic recipes for the most common espresso drinks.
Latte
Espresso + 1 cup hot milk + 1 tablespoon decorative milk foam

Mocha Latte
Espresso + hot milk + 1 tablespoon chocolate syrup

Breve
Espresso + 1 cup hot half & half + 1 tablespoon decorative milk foam

Cappuccino
Espresso + 1/3 cup hot milk + 1/3 cup milk foam

Americano
Espresso + 1 cup hot water

Cortado
Espresso + 1 tablespoon hot milk

Macchiado
Espresso + 1 teaspoon milk foam

You'll also find an array of cute coffee construction images over here. And clearly, once you know the process, you can go all crazy with flavored syrups and whipped cream, if that's what you're into.

Now go forth, my friends and caffeinate! (Don't forget to tip yourself.)

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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3.22.2009

Day 22: Eggnog Flan

This post marks Day 22 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

After falling in love with the divine flan at Mercadito Cantina recently, I thought it'd be a good plan to combine a lifelong passion for eggnog with the decadent flan genre.



In case you've never made flan, it's kind of a two-step process. The first step involves making a caramel sauce that coats the bottom of the pan. Thereafter, a custard mixture is poured over the caramel and it's baked, then flipped over to put the caramel at the top, making the dish very like a tarte tatin or a pineapple upside-down cake.

You could, of course, pour the caramel sauce and the batter into individual ramekins, but I don't have that many ramekins or that much ambition... so I'm going with one large flan that gets cut into wedges. Less pretty, but it's faster to make and easier to transport.

As it turns out, the recipe for flan and the recipe for eggnog are very similar. The major difference is in the preparation.

In fact, I reserved a bit of my flan batter and warmed it up in a double boiler while the rest of the flan baked. Cream, fresh eggs, sugar and spice... no surprise this combo made a fine, festive 'nog.
Merry Eggnog Flan (Serves 6-8)

3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 (14oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup cream
1/4 cup milk
2 Tbsp spiced rum or whiskey (optional)
1 tsp ground nutmeg

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
2. In a small saucepan, cook the sugar over medium heat until begins to melt. Don't stir or touch it; just lower the heat and heat it, swirling the pan, until the melted sugar caramelizes to a golden brown.
3. Pour the caramel into the bottom of a 9" quiche/flan dish or cake pan. Turn the dish to evenly coat the bottom. Allow to cool.
4. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl, blending in the condensed milk, cream, milk, the rum/whiskey and the nutmeg.
5. Place the quiche/flan dish inside a roasting pan (with high sides) and pour hot water into the roasting pan until it measures about half-way up the side of the flan dish.
6. Carefully move the roasting pan to center rack of the oven and pour the egg batter into the flan dish. (This process prevents flan flubs on the way to the oven.) Bake until the flan is firm in the center, but still has a little jiggle — about 50 to 60 minutes.
7. Carefully move the hot flan dish from the roasting pan to a wire rack to cool. Then chill in the refrigerator at least 2 to 3 hours.
8. To serve, warm the flan for a few minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the dish and place a large plate on top of the flan dish. Gently flip them both together so that the flan gently flops onto the plate. Lift away the flan dish and cut the flan into wedges.

Though it'd be a lovely afternoon treat with hot coffee, I think this flan would also make an appropriate postre for the holiday taquitos of Calendar Day 6.

Feliz navidades a todos!
Miss Ginsu

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12.22.2008

Day 11: Herein We Go a Wassail-ing

This post marks Day 11 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

When I lived in Minneapolis, one of my friends organized annual holiday caroling. It was probably my favorite thing about the whole holiday season.

We spent far more time "practicing" than caroling (you can accurately insert "goofing around" for the quoted material above), but it was good fun for all. We stuck to the classics, and Here We Go a-Wassailing was always on the list. (It's SO much easier to sing than O Holy Night...)

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wandering
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbors' children
Whom you have seen before
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.


Wassail with an Orange Slice

Had we known at the time that wassailing really referred to the same sort of drunken revelry in which we were partaking, it might have made that ancient song all the more charming and relevant.

Indeed, the reason our ancestors sang with love and joy about wassailing was really all about the warmth of companionship... and the love of the drink.

The cider those folks were sipping back then was the hard stuff. (You'll find some nice wassailing history here.)

The trusty wikipedia entry will tell you that for a traditional wassail pot: "Sugar, ale, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon would be placed in a bowl, heated, and topped with slices of toast as sops."

My recipe appears below and yes, I skip the toast. But as with many traditional recipes, folks back then pretty much used what they had on hand, and so, dear reader, can you!

Just make sure that apples make some kind of an appearance (as cider or cooked as fruit). Apples are crucial, but you can also use an ale, wine or sherry as the base along with your favorite mulling spices. For a virgin wassail, skip the booze and do it up more like a spicy mulled apple cider.
Holiday Wassail Pot (Serves 6-8)
4 apples, peeled and cored
4 tbsp brown sugar
1 bottle dry sherry or dry Madeira
3 cinnamon sticks
3-4 allspice berries
4 whole cloves
2 cardamom pods (or 1/2 tsp ground cardamom)
1 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
Zest from 1/2 lemon
1 cup Calvados or brandy

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Place the apples in a baking dish and stuff each with a tablespoon of brown sugar. Add a little water to the bottom of the pan to prevent burning (about 1/4 inch), and bake for 30 minutes.
2. Pour the sherry or Madiera in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Add the cinnamon sticks, allspice berries, cloves, cardamom, ginger, brown sugar and lemon zest. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer over low heat.
3. When apples are done baking, add the apples and pan liquid to the wassail pot. Add the Calvados/brandy and heat for another 20 minutes.
4. Strain out the spice and ladle into mugs to serve.

As you can see, there's enough alcohol in this recipe to ensure a very merry caroling party indeed! I beg you to wassail responsibly, and don't let your soprano pass out in a snow drift.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.11.2008

Day 4: Holiday Glühwein

This post marks Day 4 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Ever open up a bottle of wine and then wish you hadn't bought it? It's not corked or anything. It's just... not your thing.

The Germans have a thrifty and practical solution for this in the form of glühwein, which you might also know as Norwegian glögg or simply mulled wine.

In fact, most wine-drinking cultures have some kind of mulled wine tradition, so I don't wonder whether this recipe started with the need to do something with unsatisfactory vino.

Gluhwein

If you don't have an unappealing bottle of wine to use up, you can simply use an inexpensive one. You'll be adding sweetener and so many other flavors, you shouldn't really notice the wine's flaws.

Though red wine is usually used, it's not out of line to spice white wine in the same way.

There's as many recipes as families, I'd imagine, but I like the following variation.
Holiday Glühwein (Serves 4-6)
1 cup water
2 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp grated lemon or orange peel
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
4 allspice berries
1 vanilla bean, split (optional)
1 750ml bottle red wine
Lemon or orange juice (optional, to taste)

1. Bring the water, honey, citrus zest, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and vanilla (if using) to a boil in a saucepan.
2. Turn off the heat and let the mixture steep 30 minutes, before straining out the spices. Pour the bottle of wine into the spiced liquid and heat to a boil.
3. Reduce heat, adjust flavor with a little lemon or orange juice and a little extra honey (to taste). Serve hot in mugs.

In Nordic countries the local glögg is drunk during the Christmas season with sweets such as gingerbread that are served with blue cheese.

Num! I may very well try the same some bone-chilling afternoon this month.

A holiday toast to you and yours!
Miss Ginsu

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12.04.2008

Day 1: Welcome Cocoa

This post marks Day 1 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

One of the things I enjoy most about winter is that feeling of warmth and comfort that comes after being outdoors in the dank chill.

There's nothing like skating, or sledding or shoveling the walk (or simply bearing up to the driving the winter wind), and then finding yourself indoors — safe and cozy.

It's the "fresh, dry socks and a cup of hot cocoa" feeling.

Hot Chocolate

Maybe you can't always offer up a pair of dry socks to wayward travelers, but it's nice to be able to welcome winter visitors (or maybe just yourself) with a quick cup of homemade cocoa.

Make some of your own mix now, and you'll be ready for those moments of cocoa comfort.

The mix makes a nice gift as well. Just put it in a jar and add a ribbon with a cute tag with the basic how-to.
Hot Cocoa Mix (Makes 8 servings)
3/4 cup good quality cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt

1. In a mixing bowl, blend cocoa powder, sugar, cinnamon and salt.
2. Store mixture in a lidded jar or another airtight container.

To prepare the hot cocoa:

1. Whisk together 2 1/2 tablespoons of cocoa mix (for each serving) with 1/4 cup hot water (for each serving) until smooth and blended.
2. Blend in 3/4 cup whole milk (for each serving) heat the cocoa until it steams.
3. Serve hot one-cup portions in mugs.

For an extra-nice cuppa, I like to add in a 1/4 tsp (for each serving) of vanilla extract and maybe a dollop of cream, whipped cream or marshmallows, but all that's just lovely excess...

This mix is also delightful served with a cinnamon stick, a peppermint stick or a shot of peppermint schnapps, as you like it.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.01.2008

1. Go Vote. 2. Mix a Drink. 3. Hope for the Best.

I'm not going to tell you who to vote for (vote Obama), but in a tense time of great anticipation for the American people, this Election Day brings long lines at the polling places, a huge throng of first-time voters (noobs) and the need for a great autumnal cocktail.

Because whether you're happy with the outcome of the poll returns or not (seriously... vote Obama), I think we're all going to need a drink.

Zippy Ginger Fizz

I'm not going to go with red drinks or blue drinks here, because a.) ew. and b.) I'm sure you can find those all over the interwebs.

Instead, I want to feature something that's appropriate to these first days of November.

Though it's not the cheapest or most readily available option on the liquor store shelf, I'm kind of in love with Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur lately. It's delicious. And it's French. And, as you may have noticed, the French have a way with tasty things.

If you can't find it, I recommend you make this cocktail by whipping up some ginger simple syrup (don't worry... it really is simple) and substituting in vodka for the liqueur. I'll provide both options below.

For Ginger Simple Syrup, just add a 5" to 6" piece of ginger root (sliced thin), 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar to a sauce pan. Stir well, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the ginger, and badda bing... that's all it takes.

You can store it, chilled in the fridge, for about a week or freeze it for longer.

This cocktail was inspired by the classic Gin Fizz and a spin on a tasty drink I had at a recent work event... but if you were to heat it up, you'll note it'd be close kin to the ginger toddy recipe I featured last December.

I think the kick of spice and rich ginger tickle are nicely autumnal.
Zippy Ginger Fizz
1. In a cocktail shaker, add 1/4 cup ice, 2oz ginger liqueur, a sprinkle of ground cayenne pepper and the juice of half a lemon (about 2 Tbsp).
2. Shake well and pour into a highball glass or straight up into a chilled martini glass.
3. Top off the glass with club soda.
4. Garnish with a twist of lemon and a sprig of mint, if desired.

Zippy Vodka Fizz
1. In a cocktail shaker, add 1/4 cup ice, 1oz ginger simple syrup, 1oz vodka, a sprinkle of ground cayenne pepper and the juice of half a lemon (about 2 Tbsp).
2. Shake well and pour into a highball glass or straight up into a chilled martini glass.
3. Top off the glass with club soda.
4. Garnish with a twist of lemon and a sprig of mint, if desired.

Remember: It's 207 270(!) electoral votes for the win. There's a map here if you want to print it out and color in the states while the returns roll in tonight. I'm pretty sure that's what I'll be doing.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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11.04.2008

Egg Cream: No Egg, No Cream. Still Good.

"When I was a young man, no bigger than this
A chocolate egg cream was not to be missed
Some U-Bet's Chocolate Syrup, seltzer water mixed with milk
Stir it up into a heady fro', tasted just like silk
You scream, I scream, We all want Egg Cream"
— Lou Reed from Egg Cream

If you ever move to New York — and lots of folks do just that each year — you are bound to encounter the classic beverage that goes by the name Egg Cream.


My coworkers graciously provided egg cream-makin' supplies for my birthday fest. Ain't they sweet?

If you don't see the egg cream in some ironic "deconstructed" form at a schmantzy bar, you'll meet it at a luncheonette or deli (the 2nd Avenue Deli makes theirs in a dairy-free version). Or maybe you'll try one at the Lower East Side Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Festival that the Museum at Eldridge Street puts on every summer. No matter. You'll find it.

Of course, you could always cut out the middle-man and make your own. They're mighty tasty. And as Lou Reed reveals, it's truly simple process: all you'll need is a glass, a spoon, chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer water.

But first, what's the deal with the misleading name? An egg cream does taste creamy, so that part of the term isn't much of a stretch. But as it turns out, there's some contention about the "egg" in an egg cream.

It's possible that the "egg" came from the Yiddish word "echt" (good), as in "good cream," and that's a popular theory — but knowing how common raw eggs used to be in cocktails and in the drinks at soda fountains, I suspect that original versions of the egg cream used creamy, frothy eggs in the raw... Rocky Balboa style.

I can almost hear the vigilant souls at the New York Health Department shudder as I type that.

But the modern egg cream has not a drop of egg, so relax and follow the authentic directions conveniently provided by Fox's on every bottle of their famed U-Bet Chocolate Syrup:

* Take a tall, chilled, straight-sided, 8oz. glass
* Spoon 1 inch of U-bet Chocolate syrup into glass
* Add 1 inch whole milk
* Tilt the glass and spray seltzer (from a pressurized cylinder only) off a spoon, to make a big chocolate head
* Stir, Drink, Enjoy

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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9.24.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 09.22.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was spotted (by two clever folks!) in Bryant Park, NYC at the Flatiron Building. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Frothing at the Latte
Some casual research on whether lattes signal political preference.

Unscrambling the Boastful Egg
Decoding what all that labeling is trying to tell you.

Dry sodas — soft and complex
Small-batch soda made with care. I approve.

How to be a thriftysomething: scrimping stylishly
Recession-proof for the Brit set.

6 Food Mistakes Parents Make
Seems like sound advice to me.

New food links — and another postcard from Cupcake — every Monday morning on missginsu.com

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9.22.2008

Old Mr. Boston's Bronx Cheer

Flipping through my Old Mr. Boston De Luxe Official Bartender's Guide (1960 edition, naturally...), I was struck by how many random place names pop up in the cocktails.

Cocktails

There's the Alaska and Alabama cocktails, but with no explanation, Old Mr. Boston gives no such honor to Arizona or Arkansas.

Baltimore represents in the form of both the Baltimore Bracer and the Baltimore Eggnog, but is there a Brooklyn? No. Sadly, there's not. No cocktail for you, Brooklyn.

New York rates two drinks, of course Manhattan gets its own (quite famous) cocktail, and even Fifth Avenue rates a drink, but strangely, of the boroughs Mr. Boston had available for cocktail honors, did he crown Queens? (That'd be a no.) Or stop by Staten Island? (That'd be a hell, no.)

Folks, Old Mr. Boston had it going for The Bronx.

Five cocktail listings for ye olde Bronck's Land. And why is that, anyway? A nod to the thicket of bootleggers and gangs that thrived there during the prohibition era? Does it go even further back to even seedier activities? Only Mr. Boston knows.

And, well, yes... Wikipedia also knows. (Or at least it sorta knows.) Apparently the Bronx Cocktail was the toast of 1934, devised either by Bronx restaurateur Joe Sormani, or perhaps whipped up on a whim in Philly and named for The Bronx's famed zoo. Aw!

Whatever the true origin story, we can appreciate the simple beauty of The Borough's namesake cocktail. All five variations focus on gin with various measures of vermouth, citrus juice and garnish. Easy to make, easy to drink.

I'll list out my two favorites — the straight-up Bronx Cocktail, and the evocatively named Bronx Terrace... where I envision 1934's newly retired bootleggers laid back, sippin' on gin and juice in the really, really old-school Bronx style.
Bronx Cocktail

1 oz dry gin
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1/2 oz dry vermouth
Juice of 1/4 orange

Shake well with cracked ice and strain into a 3-ounce cocktail glass. Serve with a slice of orange.

Bronx Terrace Cocktail

1 1/2 oz dry gin
1 1/2 oz dry vermouth
Juice of 1/2 lime

Shake well with cracked ice and strain into a 3-ounce cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

(Bronx) Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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9.09.2008

Raising a Caipirinha to Brazil

I just want to take a moment to say "thank you" to Brazil.

Why? Well, although the country has some challenges (poverty, etc.) those lovely Brazilians export a lot of wonderful things to the citizens of the rest of the world.

Bossa nova, samba, capoeira, jiu-jitsu, feijoada, churrascaria, The Girl From Ipanema... all things evocative of sensuality and living life with verve.

So thanks very much, Brazil! I raise a caipirinha to you. A blackberry caipirinha to be precise.

Blackberry Caipirinha
Blackberry Caipirinha at Little Giant in NYC

For any out there living unawares, the caipirinha (kye-per-REEN-yah) is a refreshing Brazilian cocktail composed of ice, sugar, lime and cachaça (ka-SHA-suh), which is a sugar cane liquor that's made like a rum, except that rum is aged in oak, whereas cachaça is often not aged at all (though it's sometimes aged in barrels of various types of wood).

You'll note that blackberries are not particularly Brazilian, but neither am I, and they happen to be tasty and in season at the farmer's markets right now. So... to the cocktail we go.

This is a drink that requires a good, fierce muddling. In fact, I think I may insist on muddled cocktails henceforth, because if you don't have to muddle a mixed drink, there's no love in it, is there? (I may make an exception for cocktails of the martini/old fashioned variety, since there's really not much to muddle there.)

Feel free to substitute the berry in question. We're already breaking the rules by adding it, so why not just go nuts? If you want to do this the fancy way, blend the berries with a tablespoon or so of water and strain out the seeds before proceeding.

However, if you want to do it the fast way and just get on with the enjoyment part, proceed, o impatient one.
Blackberry Caipirinha
2 oz cachaça
6-8 plump blackberries (or any delicious berry you happen to have)
1/2 of a lime
1 tsp sugar (or 1/2 oz Simple Syrup)

1. Cut the halved lime into 3 wedges.
2. In a shaker or pint glass, muddle (as in, "squash the bejesus out of") two lime wedges, the blackberries and the sugar (or syrup).
3. Add ice and the cachaça. Cover well and shake vigorously.
4. Pour into a rocks glass and use the remaining wedge of lime for garnish.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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9.04.2008

Make Mine a Mead

Apparently, it's the American Homebrewer's Association Mead Day. And as it's sweltering summertime out there, I can't think of a better day to highlight the pleasures of DIY beverages, not to mention the plight of the threatened honeybee.

Home-brewed mead
Brett's homebrew. Great tiled countertop, right? I helped install that. :)

Though oft dismissed as the stuff of Ren Fairs and the creative anachronism crowd, mead is actually not that difficult to do at home. And (bonus!) being a generous homebrewer is guaranteed to make you immediately popular in your neighborhood and totally valuable after the apocalypse.

My college buddy Brett, a talented photographer and writer, brews all kinds of delights in his enviably large basement in Susquehanna, PA.

And just what does he have down there? Rich molasses-y porters. Dark stouts. Light, spicy Belgian ales. And some new batches of crisp, effervescent mead.

A cold glass beside the sandbox
Nothin' like a cold glass of mead while you play in the sandbox...

While I was out there on a recent visit, he confessed that he's been lazy. Truthfully, he's really only interested in making mead as of late. Why? It's simple. Who wants to fuss with a lot in the summertime?

So here's to simplicity. And here's to the bees that make mead possible. Unfortunately, North America's bee populations are threatened by mysterious, deadly troubles that science is referring to as Colony Collapse Disorder.

A number of honey-loving businesses, from cosmetics company Burt's Bees to ice cream maker Häagen Daz have recently joined forces highlight this issue and throw some money at CCD research.

When honeybees die, we lose more than honey, beeswax products and mead. Bees are essential to agriculture and maintaining our food supply.

Meanwhile, I submit to you a spiced mead you can do at home, if you have the patience, the space and/or your housemates are forgiving. This mead is technically a methyglyn, which is a mead with spices, while a melomel is a mead with fruit.

Before starting, you'll need about 25-30 clean 12oz bottles, the same number of corks or caps and a capper, and primary and secondary fermentation buckets or a carboy that you've sanitized (bleach works well for this).
Double-Fermented Citrus Mead Makes about 2 1/2 gallons, (about 26 12oz bottles)

6 to 9 lb good quality honey
2 1/2 gallons water
1/8 oz freeze-dried wine, champagne or mead yeast
Peels from 4 oranges or lemons (no whites)
2" piece ginger, sliced
2 Tbsp coriander seeds

1. Bring the water to a boil. Once the water reaches a boil, remove it from the heat and mix in the honey, sliced ginger, citrus peel and coriander.

2. Meanwhile, mix 1/2 cup of lukewarm water in a clean bowl with the yeast.

3. When the pot is cool, skim out the peel, spices and ginger and stir in the yeast mixture. Transfer the mixture to a clean, sterile fermentation bucket or a carboy.

4. Cap the bucket/carboy and let the mixture ferment for two to four weeks. The number of carbon dioxide bubbles emitted from the air lock should drop to one bubble every minute, indicating the first fermentation is almost complete.

5. When the bubbling activity subsides the yeast is dead. Carefully siphon the mead the secondary fermentation bucket and cap it (try not to get the lees at the bottom of the bucket). Age for one to four months.

6. Once the mead has cleared and matured, you can siphon it into sterilized bottles and cap them. Let the bottles sit for at least another week or two, then chill and serve.

Brett is quick to remind homebrewers that, like most alcoholic brews, mead improves with age. Even if you're not crazy about the first bottle you sample, you might really love the same brew a few months (or years!) later.

The Beer for Dummies guys offer this additional advice:
Note on equipment: Making mead requires essentially the same basic kit necessary to brew beer at home: primary and secondary plastic-bucket fermenters with air locks and spigots, transfer hosing, a bottle-filler tube, heavy bottles, bottle caps, bottle capper, and a bottle brush and washer. You should be able to find these items for approximately $70 total (excluding the bottles) through a home-brewing supplier, such as The Home Brewery. Bottles cost from $6 to $20 per dozen, depending on style. You might instead buy a couple of cases of beer in returnable bottles, drink the beer, and — after sanitizing them! — reuse those bottles, for the cost of the deposit.


Cheers!

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8.02.2008

The Banana Batida: Crave Hero

I can pass on cake. I can stop at one cookie. I'll often slice a brownie in half and be satisfied with a slim portion. I demonstrate wonderful restraint when presented with a box of chocolates... one every few days is really all I crave.

But ice cream is the point at which restraint and prudence end. I really love ice cream. It's probably my biggest dessert weakness. Maybe it's genetic. My mother believes that any proper vacation includes "ice cream every day."

To rip on the words of a newer, more moderate Cookie Monster, "Cookies are a sometimes food." And I think the same goes for ice cream. Ice cream is a sometimes food.

And yet, super-premium, super-chunky, super-sweet ice creams come in darling pint-sized containers that wait, beguilingly, in the freezer.

If there's not a siren pint of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey calling from my freezer, there's a whole gaggle of them less than a block away at my local bodega, which is kind of like an "off-site freezer," actually.

Sometimes I get on a kick and I want ice cream every night. That's just not practical. Once a week, yes. Five times a week, no. So lately, when the ice cream urge strikes, I've been heading for the blender.

Banana Batida
Banana batida at Caracas Arepa Bar, NYC


I've been enchanted with the batida for a long while now. It's essentially a fruit shake, although many spike their batidas with rum or cachaca for cool cocktails.

They make batidas par excellence at Caracas Arepa bar... cool, creamy, sweet (but not too sweet), a little malty and lightly spiced with cinnamon (and perhaps nutmeg). So delightful, I'm not even wishing for ice cream.

While a serving of my beloved Chunky Monkey (that's 1/2 cup or 1/4 of the pint) contains:
300 calories
19 grams of fat (11 grams saturated fat)
26 grams of sugar
and just 4 grams of protein

My banana batida (a 1-cup serving) is more like :
195 calories
6 grams of fat (1 gram saturated fat)
16 grams of sugar
10.5 grams of protein
and 5 grams of fiber

A little fiber and protein help to make the batida more satisfying, since sugar without fiber often just gives me a sugar high followed by a slump. There's also some research that indicates that cinnamon may help some people regulate their sugar absorption. I just think it's tasty.

And if I were really concerned about my fat intake, I could make my batida even more virtuous by using nonfat yogurt and nonfat soymilk. But I'm more interested in flavor than virtue.

Crave-Busting Banana Batida (About 8 oz; Serves 1)

1/2 frozen banana
1/4 cup plain yogurt
6 oz plain soymilk
1 Tbsp malt powder
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Dusting of nutmeg

1. Put banana, yogurt, soymilk and malt powder in a blender. Spin until smooth.
2. Garnish with cinnamon and nutmeg.
3. Enjoy immediately.

You can switch it up by using chocolate malt powder (Choco-Banana Batida!) or a 1/2 cup frozen strawberries instead of the frozen banana (Strawberry Batida!), or frozen blueberries (Blueberry Batida!)... you get the point. Frozen fruit is essential to keeping the drink cool and giving it thickness.

I've seen recipes that use fresh fruit and ice instead of frozen fruit. That's probably the best option if you happen to have access to quality produce.

Salud!

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4.17.2008

Beer Respect: March Edition

I've been a fan of Beer Advocate for a while. After all, their official slogan is "Respect Beer." So simple. So direct. So reverently hedonistic.

glowing hefe

As one of my recent resolutions was to drink a new beer every week and record my thoughts about it for future reference, I discovered that Beer Advocate's online review system provided a terrific tool for this purpose. (Though sadly, my daily running resolution hasn't been half as easy to maintain.)

I'm hoping to be able to post my beer explorations here each month. Below you'll find the beer name, the brewery, the beer type and the letter grade I ended up bestowing on each. (Be forewarned that I naturally skew toward Belgian farmhouse styles and creamy dark stouts, so MGD and Pabst aren't likely to earn high marks over here at Chez Ginsu.)

Overall, I was very pleased with what I found this month, though I'm sorry to report that the Raspberry Porter from the Southern Tier Brewing Company ended up being a low point.

Gulden Draak (Dark Triple)
Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V.
Belgian Strong Dark Ale
Grade: A / 4.45
"A beautiful beer. And damn fine with barbecue!"

Smuttynose Hanami Ale
Smuttynose Brewing Company
Fruit / Vegetable Beer
Grade: B / 3.7
"This one's a challenge. Could be great with roasted duck."

IPA (India Pale Ale)
Southern Tier Brewing Company
American IPA
Grade: A / 4.3
"A very drinkable IPA. Great with curry (go figure)."

Raspberry Porter
Southern Tier Brewing Company
American Porter
Grade: D / 2.2
"Not really sure what this beer would go well with..."

Brooklyn Local 1
Brooklyn Brewery
Belgian Strong Pale Ale
Grade: A / 4.4
"A lovely brew with tiny, delicate, champagne-like bubbles that zip up the glass in long strings"

Foret
Brasserie Dupont
Saison / Farmhouse Ale
Grade: A / 4.45
"Ace. This crisp blondie is one of my all-time favorites."

You can read any of the full reviews at BA. Meanwhile, if you're already a beer advocateer, make me your buddy! I'm MissGinsu, naturally.

Cheers,

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3.25.2008

Food Quote Friday: Madame d'Arestel

Hot Chocolate with fresh-whipped cream at Angelina in Paris

" 'Monsieur,' Madame d'Arestel, Superior of the convent of the Visitation at Belley, once said to me more than fifty years ago, "whenever you want to have a really good cup of chocolate, make it the day before, in a porcelain coffeepot, and let it set. The night's rest will concentrate it and give it a velvety quality which will make it better. Our good God cannot possibly take offense at this little refinement, since he himself is everything that is most perfect.' "

— as quoted by Brillat-Savarin from The Physiology of Taste, 1825

Sip up more decadent food quotes here.

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2.08.2008

There Will Be Milkshakes

The Golden Globes are in the bag, the Oscars are rolling up and all the fashionable awards parties should really be serving spiked milkshakes, shouldn't they?

For your Saturday enjoyment, here's a quick recipe accompanied by a shot of my little friend Dash rocking the "There Will Be Blood" trend wave.

I drink your milkshake baby onesie
White Russian Milkshakes (Makes 4 Servings)
8 oz vodka
4 oz coffee liqueur, (such as Kahlùa)
4 cups pure vanilla ice cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups milk

In a blender whip all ingredients together until smooth. Serve immediately in tall glasses with straws. Drink it up.

An enterprising soul could also substitute frangelico, amaretto or a chocolate liqueur and enjoy tasty results.

Meanwhile, if you know any under-clothed babies (or adults, for that matter), by all means, do make haste to swaddle them in something sassy.

Cheers,

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1.26.2008

Hedonista Hundred, Part VI: 26-30

In which Miss Ginsu gushes about a run of wonderful, inexpensive pleasure places.

Yes, this is a project that's taking me forever to complete, but I press on... The Hedonista 100 is an ongoing list of 100 favorite food finds: cookbooks, snacks, tools, places, recipes, ideas & more.

Now, I could give you a thousand words each on these delicious entries, but I believe a pretty photo alongside an ounce of linguistic restraint might be a bit more in order. Thus, herein you'll find a five-pack of tasty photos and their corresponding source sites.

Brekkie at Le Pain Quotidien
26. The Grand Street (off Broadway) Le Pain Quotidien. A soft-boiled egg and bread with a cafe latte whilst sitting at the communal table, perusing the Sunday Times.

Shakshuka and Hummus Brunch
27. Shakshuka and hummus brunch at Hummus Place, 109 St Marks Place just off Tomkins Square Park. Don't miss their zippy, spicy green sauce. It ignites the tongue (in a good way).

Gingered Duck Soup at the Slanted Door
28. Gingered Duck Soup at the Slanted Door in the Ferry Market, San Francisco. Clean, sleek decor alongside fresh, flavorful food. Whenever I feel I'm teetering at the edge of a cold, I want this gingered soup in a bad way.

Pastries at Bonaparte Bread in Baltimore
29. Pastries at Bonaparte Bread (903 South Ann Street, Fells Point in Baltimore, MD) are everything a pastry should be: flaky, tender, buttery, lightly salted... among of the best you'll find this side of Paris.


30. Banana batidas and tasty arepas at Caracas Arepa Bar, 91 East 7th St in the East Village. Always crowded... and with good reason. They just keep putting out awesome food at reasonable prices.

Miss out on the previous 25 wondrous food finds? You'll find them at the archive page.

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1.16.2008

Goal 1: Hydration

I love resolutions. In fact, I love 'em so much, I tend to make biannual resolutions, because sometimes the things I resolve in January make less sense six months later.

Thus, I'm embarking on seven days of healthy food resolutions this week.

Each goal will support good health with good food without wrecking one of my other goals: saving money so I can pay down my student loans.

Goal 1: Hydration

One of the cheapest, most sensible tips I've found for maintaining a healthy weight and a happy body is bizarrely simple: Stay hydrated.

There's so many compelling reasons to keep ample fluids in the body. When you drink enough water, you give yourself the gift of nourished skin, better breath, more energy, happy bowels and kidneys, easier digestion, more brainpower and very probably a decreased caloric intake (dehydrated people tend to snack).

There was a period in my life several years ago when I didn't drink water. Ever. I drank milk, juice, sodas, tea, cocoa, lemonade... anything but water. To be honest, straight-up water kind of bored me.

In retrospect, it's not surprising that I also had chapped lips, often felt dizzy and passed out in public places with concerning frequency. (They called an ambulance when I passed out in the Rainbow Foods checkout line.) My doctor took blood tests and did an EKG to try to figure out the fainting spells, but came to no conclusion.

At some point, I realized I'd never really paid any attention at all to that whole "drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day" rule. I gave it a shot (though I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that the experiment was more for the promised energy boost than anything else).

Suddenly, like the forgotten plant on the windowsill... water brought me back to life. Random headaches, swooning, dry skin, constipation and dry mouth? Gone. Turns out I had low blood pressure thanks to a mild, but chronic, dehydration.

I haven't had a dizzy spell since, and I now begin every list of annual resolutions with this one simple statement: Drink more water.

Washable Water Bottle
Your ally in the war on dehydration

There's a few easy ways to make this resolution stick.

1. Figure out how much you need.

Honestly, that whole six to eight glasses of water a day rule might not be right for you. If you exercise heavily, that's probably too little. If you drink a lot of other fluids, six to eight glasses might be too much. The proof is in the loo. Do Is your urine clear or pale yellow? You're probably doing fine. (Though it's important to note that B vitamins and some medications change the color of your fluids.)

2. Get yourself a water bottle you love (and a brush to keep it clean).

Most people are probably aware by now that disposable plastic water bottles are an environmental nightmare, so gift yourself a nice reusable water bottle. I've got a quart-sized Nalgene bottle on my desk at work and a smaller one that goes in my purse. Keep in mind that a bottle brush is key... nobody loves funky water.

3. Bored by water? Cut it with a little juice.

I mentioned this one a few months back in my post on workout foods, but somehow, it's even more valid in the winter. For some reason, I always think water tastes better in the summer. For the winter months, like to I hit my waterglass up with a wedge of lemon, lime or orange.

4. Take pride in your city tap water.

J was on the Staten Island Ferry recently when he overheard a young lady telling her friends, "Omigod, you guys... I am so broke. My parents didn't give me anything this week. You guys, I drank water... out of the water fountain!"

First, it's funny. Then, it's sad. I realize not every municipality has tasty water, but darn it, I really believe New York City has some of the finest water in the country. (In fact, Jeffrey Steingarten had a great chapter on this topic in his book, The Man Who Ate Everything.)

If your city water is horrible, then buy a tap filter and make it your civic duty to protest loudly, angrily and often. Bad city water needs to be an outrage, not a reason to give more money to Coke or Pepsi (Pepsi's Aquafina and Coke's Dasani bottled waters are processed from municipal taps).

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1.01.2008

Day 21: Ginger Toddy

This post marks Day 21 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

The common cold. It really is the gift that keeps giving.

I've got one now (sneezing, coughing and reaching for tissues as I type... but don't worry: it's not a virus), and it brings to mind all the other colds I've had in all the other winters of my life.

When I was little, my grandmother used to make me a cough syrup with honey, brandy and simmered rose hips (chock-full of vitamin C).

When I was sick at one of my restaurant jobs, an older Indian lady simmered up something similar that her mother had always made with some jaggery (a flavorful raw sugar used in India), fresh lime juice and simmered fresh ginger.

One of my coworkers told me about a time when he was sick with a cold in France and a kind soul administered hot Calvados with lemon and honey until my coworker fell into a deep sleep. He awoke the next day much repaired. He claims it's a panacea.

Just recently, I realized that all these beverages are simply variations on a Hot Toddy.

I don't know if it's the warmth on the throat, the soothing sweetness or the direct application of affection that makes homemade cough remedies feel so good, but I guess I don't care. Whatever works, works. Make one for yourself or someone you love.

Obviously, I'm not suggesting anyone fall off the wagon or liquor up the kids (that was the practice of another era), but I have the requisite number of years behind me, and I think the brandy sounds like a good move.



Below, my amalgam of the remedy tonics administered throughout my life. Good for a cold, and good even when you don't have a cold.
Ginger Toddy
1" fresh ginger, sliced
2 cups hot water
2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Optional add-ins
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
brandy

1. Simmer water and sliced ginger (with the spices, if desired) in a small saucepan for 20-30 minutes.
2. Stir in honey and lemon juice and taste. Adjust with a little more honey and/or lemon, to taste.
3. Add in a shot of brandy (if using), and serve immediately.

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12.21.2007

Day 15: To Blog the Nog

This post marks Day 15 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Christmas means different foods to different families. Some people go for gingerbread houses or pigs in blankets, but for me... it's all about the nog.

The "egg" aspect of eggnog is easy enough to figure, but people bicker about the origins of the "nog."

I was entertained to learn that within the taxonomy of cocktails, the eggnog falls under the "flip" category and is sometimes referred to as an "egg flip."

For me, the ideal 'nog is rich, creamy, loaded with nutmeg and spiked with rum. I usually go for the Ronnybrook stuff, locally available at NYC farmers' markets and FreshDirect.

But eggnog is so darn easy to make, I should really just suck it up once a year and whip up my own. All you really need is milk, cream and reliably fresh eggs.

If you don't trust your eggs, or are serving the squeamish (or immune-deficient), Alton Brown's frothy 'nog recipe provides a handy cooked method.

eggnog
It's nog, it's nog! It's thick, it's heavy, it's cream!

Alton Brown's Eggnog

4 egg yolks*
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
1 pint whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 ounces bourbon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 egg whites*

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Add the milk, cream, bourbon and nutmeg and stir to combine.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat to soft peaks. With the mixer still running gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.

Whisk the egg whites into the mixture. Chill and serve.

*Cook's Note: For cooked eggnog, follow procedure below.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, over high heat, combine the milk, heavy cream and nutmeg and bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and gradually temper the hot mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Then return everything to the pot and cook until the mixture reaches 160°F. Remove from the heat, stir in the bourbon, pour into a medium mixing bowl, and set in the refrigerator to chill.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. With the mixer running gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Whisk the egg whites into the chilled mixture.


Cheers!

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12.15.2007

Day 12: What, me bitter?

This post marks Day 12 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

The dank, dark days of December are famously crowded with cocktail parties. Cocktails and latkes for Hanukkah parties, cocktails and pigs in blankets for Christmas parties, cocktails and blini for New Year's Eve.

Aside from the sleek glassware and ostentatious garnishes, my favorite aspect of the cocktail is the stories that follow in the wake of every highball, martini, gimlet and toddy out there. To follow the history of cocktails is to dive down a fascinating rabbit warren of nooks, crannies, characters and concoctions.

My obsession of the moment is with bitters. Having recently discovered that Marlow & Sons, my local shop of culinary wonders was making their own bitters, my mind opened to a new world of possibility.

You can make bitters? Like, not buy them but make them? At home? Without a still? What an adventure!

Yes, Virginia, you can whip up your own homemade bitters. As it turns out, that's what our ancestors used to do. Bitters were common among the herbal tinctures and tonics of an ancient age. And though they're rarely used in cocktails today, bitters preceded the first cock-tails and were, by definition, a necessary component of the earliest cocktail mixes.

The second known printed reference to cocktails comes in the May 13, 1806, edition of the Balance and Columbian Repository of Hudson, New York:
"Cocktail is a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters — it is vulgarly called a bittered sling and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said, also to be of great use to a Democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow anything else."

Hardy har har.

In all seriousness, the bitters-making process is embarrassingly easy and endlessly adjustable, based on your own tastes.

There's heaps of ancient recipes out there, calling for everything from obscure botanicals like columbo root, gentian and Virginia snake root to better-known additives like chamomile, cherry bark, cardamom and caraway.

I'm going with lemon, ginger and common household spices for mine. Look how pretty my steeping bitters look!

375

DIY Citrus Bitters

1/2 cup raisins
2-3 cinnamon sticks
1" piece fresh ginger, sliced
2 lemons, sliced
1 Tbsp whole cloves
1 Tbsp whole allspice
750 ml whiskey, rum or vodka (highest proof you can find)

1. Combine spices, citrus and liquor.
2. Cover, refrigerate and soak for 1-4 weeks.
3. Strain into a clean jar of your choice.

Make bitters now, and they'll be ready for your Christmas and New Year's cocktails.

Toss aside your Angostura and your Campari and imagine how clever you'll look when you whip out your very own home-brewed bitters at your next party.

Or be generous... Make custom labels and give bottles away as gifts.

How will you use your newfound skill in making bitters? Glad you asked! I've included three quick recipes below. Just keep in mind: bitters are not meant for straight-up sipping. Add to cocktails with a light hand, as you would use a seasoning or garnish.
1. Hot Mulled Wine
You may notice some similarity between this recipe and the Hot Mulled Apple Cider recipe from last week. I think they work well in tandem at parties. Offer Mulled Cider to the kids and teetotalers, Mulled Wine to your favorite boozehounds.

1 750-ml bottle red wine
1 cup water
1 tsp DIY Citrus Bitters
1/3 cup honey
2 cinnamon sticks
3 allspice berries
2 star anise
Zest of 1 orange, removed with a vegetable peeler

1. Pour the wine, water, honey and bitters into a large saucepan.
2. Wrap the spices and orange slices in a square of cheesecloth and tie with kitchen string (or simply use a strainer to remove spices and slices the at the end of simmering).
3. Add the spice bag to the pan and heat the wine, uncovered, over very low heat until hot, about 30 minutes.
4. Remove the spice bag (or strain out the spices and oranges), and serve hot, garnished with cinnamon sticks.

2. Citrus Bitters & Soda
Cool and refreshing on a hot summer day.

6 oz DIY Citrus Bitters
6 oz soda water

1. Half-fill a highball glass with ice.
2. Pour in bitters.
3. Fill the rest of the glass with soda water.
4. Top with a twist of citrus. Serve immediately.

3. The Gin Bitter
A cocktail classic. Substitute rum or whiskey for the gin, if you prefer.

2 jiggers gin
2 dashes DIY Citrus Bitters

1. Half-fill an old fashioned glass with cracked ice.
2. Shake gin and bitters with 1/2 cup cracked ice.
3. Pour into prepared glass.
4. Top with a twist of citrus and/or a thin slice of cucumber. Serve immediately.

Happy adventuring, all! Cheers!

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12.12.2007

Day 8: Care for a Spot of Chai?

This post marks Day 8 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

In a special file in my brain, I keep a cache of borrowed memories. Things I've read, scenes from films, stories collected from the mouths of others. I take them out every now and then. I turn them slowly to watch how they catch the light. Everyone must have something similar.

I once worked with a cook who told me beautiful yarns about his travels. He was one of those with a gift for stories. In the short time I knew him, he filled my mind with brief, colorful scenes from around the world. A lovely gift, no? It's the kind of gift that never wears out. You get to keep it for just as long as you keep your mind.

One of my favorite visions was a description of pressing into a crowded train traveling across India. The cars were loaded with people and baggage, but small, lithe boys would scamper through, swinging on the handrails, banging cups and shouting, "Chai! Chai!" For a pittance, they'd serve it up, hot and milky, before swinging down to the next car.

hot masala chai

My chef grew up in Bombay and Goa. He gave me stories about his grandmother's mango tree and his first kitchen job peeling heaping mountains of onions. He also told me that Indians drink their masala chai hot when the weather's hot. "The spice makes you sweat. The sweat makes you cool."

That's quite a contrast to way we drink it in America: hot in the winter, iced in the summer. But Western though the custom may be, brewing up a hot cup of spice, sweetness and steam seems perfectly welcome to me on a blustery winter morning.

Here's my Masala Chai method. It's maybe a little less traditional than the way chef's grandma does hers, but it's fast, easy, delicious, and just the thing to get me going on a cold winter's morning.

Now, a masala is simply a mixture of spices, and chai literally means tea. Not spiced tea, but just plain old tea. Here in the states, people just say chai when they're looking for spiced chai. I generally try to talk about masala chai when I mean tea mixed with spices.

Ready Masala Chai Mix
It's best to freshly grind whole spices, as the preground ones lose their power pretty quickly. For this recipe, I like a blend of brown and green cardamom pods. The brown ones bring in a nice smokiness. If you can only find green ones (more commonly used in baking) don't fret. It'll still be a nice blend.

Spice Mix
6 cardamom pods
2 sticks cinnamon
4 black peppercorns
1 star anise
6 whole cloves
1 tsp ground ginger

Other Necessaries
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
Tea, for brewing (Assam, Ceylon or Darjeeling work well)

1. Crush the cardamom, reserving the seeds.
2. Add cardamom seeds, cinnamon, peppercorns, star anise and cloves to a clean coffee grinder (alternately, you can use a morter & pestle) and grind to a fine powder.
3. Blend sweetened condensed milk and spices.
4. Brew a pot of tea (or just a cup, as you like).
5. Add a rounded spoonful of the Ready Masala Chai Mix to a hot cup of tea. Stir well. Sip with pleasure.

Store excess mix in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Makes many delicious cups of chai and keeps for quite a long time.


In addition to being an easy hot beverage for holiday gatherings, a kit of pre-ground chai spices wrapped up in a pretty pack alongside a can of sweetened condensed milk, a box of loose tea and a set of instructions might make a welcome gift for a chai-loving friend or coworker.

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12.08.2007

Day 6: Will Sing for Cider

This post marks Day 6 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

The other day I received a scrap of a note from a friend. He wrapped it up succinctly: "I will see you soon, I hope. HOT MULLED APPLE CIDER FTW!!!"

And I have to agree. On a cold, wet, blustery day, is there an aroma more homey and welcoming than simmering spiced cider on the stove? "Come on in," it says, "Sit down and take off your galoshes. You'll soon warm up and everything will be fine."

hot mulled cider

A Minneapolis friend of mine used to organize December caroling rounds. In childhood, she'd done time in a children's oncology ward and wanted to be able to bring a little joy (or maybe just comedy, in our case) to the kids there.

We'd divide into multiple cars to make the rounds from the children's hospital to the homes of key family and friends. Strangely, everywhere we went, someone forced hot cups of cider into our chilly fingers. It was as if the entire Twin Cities area just happened to be simmering spices on their stovetops. "Come on in! You must be freezing! Here, have some hot cider!"

Sticky with juice, giddy on fructose, we'd try to stay on key and remember the order of the verses. Yeah, we were even loopy enough to go for that high section in O Holy Night. On multiple occasions. Crazy kids...

Should you not already happen to have a family recipe for Hot Mulled Cider, I'm including mine, below. Or just ring up anyone in Minnesota. I think the state must be sending out cider kits inside their annual tax packets.

Hot Mulled Apple Cider (FTW!!!)
1 half-gallon jug apple cider
1 cup water
2 cinnamon sticks
3 allspice berries
2 star anise
1 orange, thinly sliced
cheesecloth & kitchen twine or a strainer

Either tie spices into a cheesecloth bundle before you make the cider or know that you'll need to pour the finished product through a strainer before serving.

Add spices, cider and orange slices to an medium-sized saucepan and simmer until a convivial aroma fills your kitchen.

Remove spice bundle and orange peels or pour through a strainer into cups. Serve with a cinnamon stick.

Warning: this recipe may attract carolers.

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12.06.2007

Day 4: A Hot Chocolate Field Guide

This post marks Day 4 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate. Also: Happy Hanukkah!

When it comes to cocoa, there are distinct camps. I think of them as the Swiss Misstics and the Chocovores.

Identifying the Parties

The Swiss Misstic thinks the Chocovore is a pompous twit. The Chocovore sees the Swiss Misstic as a philistine. It's a war over definition.

What nobody understands is the very simple difference at hand. The classic Swiss Misstic is looking for something like warmed milk with chocolate in it. The Chocovore is looking for something like warmed chocolate with milk in it.

It's a difference of ratio, decoration and price vs. quality.

Epistrophy Cocoa
Epistrophy (on Mott Street) serves up a cream-covered hedonist treat for Swiss Misstics

The Swiss Misstics

The classic Misstic is looking for a warm cup of comfort. If it comes with whipped cream, chocolate drizzles, flavored syrups, mini marshmallows or cookies for dipping, that's all the better, but the Misstic is easy to please. Just serve up a powdered mix and hot water or chocolate syrup mixed into warmed milk.

Here's a quick recipe for homemade cocoa mix. Mix up a packet and give it to your favorite Misstic along with instructions and a cute mug.

Homemade Cocoa Mix (Makes about 7 1/2 cups of mix)

Basic Ingredients
5 cups dry milk
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Optional Add-Ins:
1/2 cup crushed candy canes
1 cup mini marshmallows
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

1. Blend ingredients.

2. Store in an airtight container or plastic bag.

3. To make a single serving, combine 1/4 cup mix and 3/4 cup hot water in a mug. Stir well to blend.


Epistrophy Cocoa
The chocolate at St. Helen Cafe (in Brooklyn) is dark and rich under all that foam.

The Chocovores

A Chocovore insists on splendor. It's high-quality chocolate or none at all. You'll rarely see ornamentation on the chocovore's cuppa, and if you do, it's probably something simple, like chocolate shavings. Give the chocovore something made with whole milk and melted dark chocolate nibs (at least 70%). Chocovores also enjoy name dropping. Give them packs of Jacques Torres, MarieBelle, Schokinag Drinking Chocolate or Vosges Couture Cocoa.

To each, his own (cup)

I think we can all get along. Mutual understanding is the key to peace between the factions this holiday season.

If you're mixing up hot chocolate at a holiday party, you can easily please Misstics and Chocovores alike.

Adjustable Hot Chocolate

Add a cup of milk for each cocoa drinker to a saucepan and heat on medium, incorporating pieces of bittersweet chocolate with a whisk until the liquid matches the correct color scheme (see below).

You'll stop early for the Misstics, offering up mugs of lighter-colored liquid topped with marshmallows or whipped cream and chocolate drizzles.

Keep whisking in chocolate for the chocovores. Offer decorations, but don't be offended if they just want their fix straight up.

Use the following chart for color reference:

hot chocolate chart

However you drink your cocoa, I wish good cheer to all, and to all, a good cup!

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12.04.2007

Top-Ten Real-Food Workout Foods

park-side power food

In elementary school, I was always the slowest kid at the track during the mile-run in the annual Presidential Physical Fitness tests. Every spring I'd see all the other kids perched at the edge of the track, pulling up tufts of grass while I puffed my way around the turns to complete those eternally long mile-long runs.

Even my most patient gym teachers grew drowsy watching their stop watches before I poked along into the final stretch.

Thus, it tickles me pink that I'm now a person who runs. I may even be so bold as to call myself a runner.

This month, in fact, I'm in training to run a jaunty little 3.5 miles for the gigantic JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge run in Central Park. I have an official number that'll be pinned to my tanktop. And I'm not just going to complete it, I'm going to run the whole thing.

Yeah, it's no Ironman, but I bet even old Mr. Wolf would be slightly impressed at my bookworm-to-budding-jock progress.

One of the things the newbie athlete (or honestly, anyone who has working eyeballs) can't help but notice along the journey to fitness is all the so-called "power food" on the market. Endurance workouts are undeniably hungry-making, and there's all kinds of products competing to fill your empty belly. Nutrition bars. Performance beverages. Magic athletic potions and powders.

I have a hard time believing that convenient, inexpensive real-food snacks (such as a handful of dried prunes mixed with raw almonds) could somehow be less powerful for an active body than those nutrition bars that run between $1.50-$2 and contain:
Soy Protein Nuggets (Isolated Soy Protein, Rice Flour, Tapioca Starch, Malt, Salt), Milk Chocolate Flavored Coating (Sugar, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Nonfat Dry Milk, Cocoa Powder, Lecithin, Salt, Natural Flavor), Corn Syrup, Sodium Caseinate, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sweetened Condensed Milk, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Peanuts And Less Than 2% Of The Following: Butter, Lecithin, Gelatin, Salt, Natural Flavor, Ascorbic Acid, Magnesium Oxide, Ascorbyl Palmitate, D-Alpha Tocopherol Acetate, Niacinamide, Zinc Oxide, Fish Oil, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin, Vitamin A Palmitate, Thiamin Mononitrate, Chromium Chloride, Folic Acid, Sodium Selenite, Sodium Molybdate, Biotin, Cyanocobalamin.

I don't buy into products with yard-long ingredient statements, and I don't believe anybody's body really needs more high-fructose corn syrup. Thus, I offer my top recommendations for cheap, easy, tasty performance foods that are made out of genuine, old-school food.

My Top-Ten Real-Food Workout Foods:

1. Boiled Eggs. Mankind's original power food. Eggs come in their own biodegradable packaging, offer protein, iron and vitamin A and cost about 18 cents each for the high-end organic variety. Boil a few on Monday for workout snacks all week long.
2. Yogurt-Fruit Smoothies. A tasty, nearly-instant breakfast. Combine, in a blender, a half-cup of yogurt, a cup of plain soy milk, a half-banana (store the other half in the freezer for future smoothie action) and a tablespoon of peanut butter or a half-cup of any fruit you happen to have around. Throw in a tablespoon of wheat germ and a scoop of whey powder for a fiber + protein power boost if you're into that. Blend until smooth. Drink. And feel pleased you've avoided any sticker shock you might experience at the local Jamba Juice.
3. Fruit & Nut Bars. The Clif company recently produced a line of bars they're calling Clif Nectar Organic Fruit-Nut Bars. I'm pleased to report that they're tasty and the formula contains no high-fructose corn syrup... just dried fruit, roasted nuts, cinnamon, vanilla and the like. All certified organic, of course. That's great, but it seems to me that the cheaper route would be a DIY bar made of the same stuff. As it happens, others have already had this idea. So if you've got a blender, an oven and some plastic wrap or waxed paper for easy wrapping and transportation, you're set to make "power" bars on the cheap.
4. Juice + Water. Gaterade? Powerade? Vitaminwater? You're paying dearly for their national marketing campaigns. My co-worker, a Gotham Girls Roller Derby powerhouse, needs to drink a lot of water to keep up her speed and bruiser moves on the rink. She dopes that quart-size water bottle at her desk with juice to keep the hydration task more interesting. Do like the rollergirl and tip in about a half-cup for every quart of water. WebMD recommends you add a half-teaspoon of salt and/or baking soda if you want to give it electrolytes like the ones found in Gatorade or Smartwater.
5. Scrambled Egg Burritos/English Muffins. Fry or scramble an egg in a small amount of olive oil with salt and pepper to taste. Pile onto/into a warmed tortilla or a toasted whole-wheat English Muffin. Fast fiber + protein = yum.
6. Ripe avocados. A hyper-fast post-workout snack. Full of fats? Pshaw. It's all good fat. Do 'em up like my big, strong (and remarkably slim) boyfriend: Cut avocado in half lengthwise, remove the pit, sprinkle each half with salt and pepper. Scoop into mouth with a spoon.
7. Apple slices with peanut butter. Fuji apples are a good choice, and Smucker's Natural PB has a nicely roasty flavor.
8. Carrots with hummus. Vitamin A, protein, fiber and flavor.
9. Classic trail mix. Throw some raisins or dried currants in a little bag with your favorite nuts. Add some apricot pieces or coconut chips if you're feeling wacky.
10. Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans. A great source of protein with iron and fiber... but that's not why I eat 'em. They're deliciously addictive when drizzled with the slightest amount of good olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh pepper. Add a squirt of fresh lemon or some chopped cherry tomatoes if you're into it. Go fancy with some chopped parsley or diced cucumbers if you have 'em around.

Got a good real-food workout snack of your own? Throw it in the comments!

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6.13.2007

Food Quote Friday: Woody Allen

"Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only food: frequently there must be a beverage."

Woody Allen (1935- )

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5.11.2007

Handy Stuff: Coffee Concentrate

Q. How do you make coffee concentrate?

A. Put it in a quiet, well-lit room with minimal distractions.

ice coffe

Thanks... I'll be here all week. But seriously, folks.

Iced coffee season is officially open, and it's an occasion that fills me with a need to empower any ambitious folks who are willing to listen. For some reason, adding ice to one's java tends to increase the asking price from a straight-up buck to $2.50 or more. Call me cheap, that seems a bit dear.

Iced coffee is something I believe people can and should be able to make at home.

So what's to prevent you from dropping a few cubes in your mug? Well... good sense, naturally. Nobody wants a watery cuppa joe. I've seen some people recommend ice cubes made out of coffee, but I personally think a concentrate is the way to go.

So then, how do you make coffee concentrate?

Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book recommends using a little device known as a Coffee Toddy.
To prepare coffee concentrate, you will need a coffee toddy, 1 pound medium to fine ground coffee, and 1/2 gallon cold water. Set the toddy over an empty jar, place the coffee in the filter, and pour the water over it. Let the coffee drip overnight. This makes 5 ounces of concentrate.

Once made, it's easy to keep coffee concentrate on hand in the fridge for use in ice cream, cakes, smoothies, gelato, granitas and of course... iced coffee.

Take back the power, people. If you're an iced coffee devotee (sipping say, four times a week from now through August) who's paying $2.50-$3 for the stuff, you could end up spending $400 or more to get a summer's worth of fix. A toddy and a bag of beans at the beginning of the season will cost you less than $30.

As an added bonus, by using your own insulated mug, you won't be tossing away dozens of the standard-issue plastic ones. DIY iced coffee is better for your pocketbook and better for the planet. Best of all, it's reliably delicious. And if that's not worth an ounce of concentration, I don't know what is.

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4.28.2007

A little social chit-chat, etc.

Dismal weather and long hours at work got you down? Haven't seen the chums in a spell?

Take a cue from the "The Worcester Letter Writer," (the peerless 1879 edition, of course), and put together a little soiree with the help of one of their lively form letters.
"My dear Lloyd. -- Half a dozen good fellows, together with your humble servant, propose devoting a few hours on Wednesday evening to a little social chit-chat, etc., enlivened by the imbibitions of sundry bottles of wine. I trust you will be present on that occasion... believe me, we shall have a right merry party."
Just cut, paste and switch out dear old Lloyd for another beloved compatriot.

Results are guaranteed merry, and who'll be the wiser?

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4.19.2007

Faster? I’m the fastest.

This entry falls into the "confessional blog" category, so if you're just here for a recipe or a pretty picture, skip on down to a different post. This one gets a bit ugly.

After reading an article in my dad’s Yoga Journal (the April, 2007 issue, I believe) on the benefits of fasting, I was intrigued. Now, I realize this blog is "The Hedonista," and fasting is about as anti-hedonist as it gets, but I'm all about exploration.

I did a little more research, and the arguments in favor of the occasional fast seemed compelling. It’s a process our ancient ancestors probably underwent with some frequency, initially due to shortages and later, due to religious motivations, so it seems likely that human bodies could be well adapted to experiencing both feast and famine periods.

Fasting practitioners claim that fasts provide all kinds of benefits from a body detox and an increase in energy and clear-headedness to an improvement in the workings of the body’s elimination systems (health fasters seem to be big on the elimination thing). More than that, voluntary fasting is inexpensive, practiced worldwide and often tied to reasons of religious and spiritual focus. I figured I’d also gain even more appreciation for the flavors of food once I started eating again.

One of the pieces I read mentioned that fasts are often undertaken in the spring and fall to emphasize moments of inner cleansing and renewal (And you'll note that Lent, Ramadan and Yom Kippur each take place in the spring or fall).

Having just rolled past the spring equinox, I was already jonesing to wash the floors, scrub the tub, lubricate my bike chain and prune the stack of magazines clogging the coffee table, so why not try an internal spring cleaning as well?

I decided on the juice fast, which seemed like a low-impact route. Juice fasters are supposed to reap the benefits of fasting without many risks, so it seemed like a wise move for my first foray. I figured three days would do the trick: I’d be a little hungry on the first and second days and then I’d achieve physical and mental clarity and enlightenment on the third. Whee!

I found a recipe for a special potion you’re supposed to sip. It’s supposedly detoxifying (you'll note this is a big buzzword in fasting circles), and it's extremely simple to make.
The detox beverage
2-3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
2 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper

Mix and combine with 8 oz fresh water. Sip throughout the day.
Inexplicably, everyone from my coworkers to my roomie already knew about this stuff (I’ll refer to it as LMC), so I took that as a good sign. Also, when working at the garde manger station at the restaurant, we happened to always have fresh lime juice, maple syrup and water on hand, so I ignorantly used to mix a variation of this magic potion and sip it while I worked. It wasn’t fantastic, but it was cold and refreshing and kind of reminded me of limeade or homespun Gatorade.

Lacking a home juicer, I bought a bunch of easy-to-squeeze limes, 100% tomato juice, 100% carrot juice, 100% fresh orange juice and whole ginger, along with some herbal detox tea, laxative tea and a few chicken backs that I could simmer into a chicken-veggie stock (the chicken stock at the store was full of crazy additives, and I didn’t really think modified food starch and “seasonings” were appropriate for my spring cleaning).

I chopped up the ginger and simmered it in water, put up three quarts of chicken-veggie stock, had a big, green salad for dinner and drank a cup of the laxative tea before bed (which, in retrospect, was perhaps my first mistake).

The next morning I awoke, hungry, but having successfully completed the first ten hours of the three-day adventure. I sipped a blend of orange, carrot and ginger juice.

It was Friday. A lighter day. I’d be a little hungry, then I'd keep busy cleaning the apartment on Saturday and I'd finish up the fasting on Sunday.

Cue the doom song. You can probably imagine how the rest goes, but here’s the diary I kept:

7:30 a.m. I resist the urge to make a smoothie. It's a strong urge.
8:00 a.m. I sip a carrot-orange-ginger juice while I juice limes. Juicing limes is good for the biceps. The COG juice seems thick with a nice balance of sweet, sour and spice. I savor it and wonder whether I should pack a thermos for work. No... the Lime-Maple-Cayenne drink will sustain me, right?
8:45 a.m. I bike to work without incident. I don't think I'm supposed to bike. I'm supposed to sit quietly and meditate or something.
9:00 a.m. I begin drinking my detox tea and sipping a 32 oz portion of the LMC concoction. It's revolting. Might be better over ice. The next batch will definitely have less cayenne in it.
9:15 a.m. My intestines feel queasy.
9:30 a.m. Bathroom dash.
10:00 a.m. First meeting. I leave the LMC at my desk. It looks weird. The tea doesn't look suspicious. I resist the open-topped, beckoning box of Jewel Dates near purchasing as I walk to my meeting.
10:45 a.m. There's those dates again on the way back to my desk. I continue my incredible program of resistence.
11:00 a.m. I'm supposed to be proofreading the ad copy. I'm doing a hack job of it. I can't focus. This sucks.
11:45 a.m. I can't concentrate. My hand keeps floating toward the desk drawer that contains my dried fruits and nuts. My mind is wandering loose around the room. Someone just brought by a plate bearing chunks of freshly baked maple-glazed ham. I salivate and resist. I drink another swig of LMC.
11:55 a.m. I'm a floaty cloud. I'm a floaty cloud that needs go find the bathroom again.
11:57 a.m. Passing Merchandising, there's those dates again. I resist. Passing Purchasing... Oh, no. It's the ham. I am weak.
11:58 a.m. Who knew maple-glazed ham went so well with dates?


I didn’t even make it to noon. Fifteen hours total. Fastest fast ever.

The lessons: Clearly, working at a food company is not an asset to fasters. People who need to carefully concentrate on important tasks should think twice before fasting on work days. Laxative teas deserve respect. Also: quitting both a hefty caffeine habit and a well-established food routine on the same day… probably not a recipe for fasting success.

Post-fast, I'm sure those who eat a lot of packaged foods and fast food could experience effects in mood and energy by cutting out these foods in favor of fresh fruit and vegetable juices, but I now wonder how beneficial fasting can be if a person already eats a varied diet of mostly fruit, nuts, whole grains and veggies.

I may try fasting again, but if I do, it’ll be a project undertaken after kicking the caffeine monkey. I’d start on a day when I don’t need my brain for anything, and I’d definitely remove myself from contact with food.

I now know that even if my will starts strong, I can never again underestimate the empty belly’s weakness in the presence of a maple-glazed ham.

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3.24.2007

Podunk: a nook for tea and decorum

Tea at Podunk
Cream Tea (scones, fresh whipped cream, berries, strawberry jam, apple butter, cream and sugar) at Podunk

When we walked into Podunk, a tiny tea shop on a strangely quiet block of 5th Street, J and I were desperate for cardamom cake.

The proprietress seemed tickled that such a craving might force people to canvass the city. She asked if we'd found her shop via Google. Indeed, we had, but more precisely, we found her shop through Halldór Laxness, an Icelandic writer (and Nobel Laureate) with a talent for food description that drove us drooling mad with cardamom-infused daydreams.

The Citysearch reviews for Podunk were puzzling. A flood of gushing praise (cute decor! lovely owner! amazing cakes!) peppered with venomous tales of a witchy woman who flies into rages and throws customers out into the street.

Our experience had been so thoroughly positive (and the cardamom cake so unequivocally delicious), that we left puzzled. That sweet lady in the apron and disheveled bun was obnoxious? A mad woman? It seemed improbable.

On another occasion, strolling past 5th Street, we were taken by a sudden whim for tea cakes. We stopped by and found Espeth (the afore-mentioned tea mistress) brandishing the last piece of her apple chai tea cake — a surprisingly spicy confection layered with chunks of fresh apples. We talked about that day's sudden autumnal yen for apples and spice. Though the piece was much too large to offer as a single slice, and slightly too small to divide, she gave us the whole grand thing for the price of a single. Rude service, indeed!

On our third visit, we arrived for the tea. Nestling into chairs, we reviewed the menu, ordered the cream tea, and looked through a few of her vast array of children's books. The tea service arrived lush and beautiful. Her strawberry jam packed a peppery whollop in the back of the throat. The scones were airy, crisp and tender. The whipped cream was freshly whipped and begging for juicy berries.

As we sipped, a woman burst through the front door, fresh off her cellphone with that unmistakable air of patented New York impatience. We looked up from our steaming cups.

"Can I get a coffee to go?" she asked.

"No," said our tea mistress, "We don't have to-go cups. There's a Starbucks around the corner."

And that's when I resolved the Jekyll and Hyde mystery. Podunk is a reflection of what one brings to it. You don't walk in with self-importance, irritability and an enormous ego yearning to break free.

Tea is a civil occasion. It's a quiet nook in the day for sipping, nibbling and practicing good behavior. Present yourself as well-mannered, warm and friendly. You'll be greeted in kind... and discover some really fantastic tea and cakes in the process.

But honestly, whether there's cakes in the bargain or not, isn't that simply a nicer way to approach your fellow man?



Podunk
Podunk on Urbanspoon
231 East 5th St (Btwn 2nd & Bowery)
New York, NY 10003
212.677.7722

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12.28.2006

A sweet moment in airport security

Okay... raise your tiny fist if you've had something taken from you at the airport gate.

Yeah, me too. My water bottles, tweezers and little red Swiss Army Knives have all made it into the TSA refuse pile.

Fellow foodies returning from far-flung feasts (the recent AAA estimate put this year's holiday travel number at 37.2 million Americans traveling 50 or more miles from home) should appreciate this delicious moment relayed from the rim of the shiny silver TSA arch.

Forwarded-From: Ted
Subject: Sweet moment in airport security

Last week I went through security at Newark. I had just put my carry-on, pocket stuff, laptop and shoes on the belt and was standing in stocking feet waiting to go through the metal detection arch. A dozen people were in line for the arch ahead of me.

I looked down. There was a bin full of discarded bottles. Most, but not all, were plastic.

I espied a long, thin bottle of dark fluid. "Tawny Port," it said, "20 years old." Unopened.

I picked it up. Nobody cared.

I opened the plastic. Nobody cared.

I uncorked it. Nobody cared.

I took a fine, heady draught of very very nice port.

Other passengers were curious but declined to share it with me.

Regretfully I put it back in the bin and strode through the arch, feeling for once that I had not been violated, but elevated, by the Security Experience.

Cheers, T

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11.26.2006

A jar. On the fire escape. Steeping.

Mangoes & Curry Leaves
The beautiful, enviable, luscious Mangoes & Curry Leaves

Oh, to have a deck... Or a patio... Or an accessible fire escape.

Gasping apartment-dwellers (myself included) tend to pine particularly pathetically during heat waves such as this.

That's why, as I paged through stacks of cookbooks in search of Thanksgiving recipes today (yes, even in the midst of triple-digit days, we industry types are already planning for the big bird), I was especially smitten with the cool, restorative look of Tamarind-Mint Tea in the latest Jeffrey Alford/Naomi Duguid foodpornfest, Mangoes & Curry Leaves. (And if I could find a big green mango in my pierogi-lovin' nabe, I'd be all over the Green Mango Cooler sitting next to it.)

Mmmm... astringent, tangy, spicy and sour. To my mind, that's a quickening combination that beats the pants off a cloying cherry-red slushy any day of the week.

For your sipping pleasure:
Tamarind-Mint Tea from Mangoes & Curry Leaves
Makes about 8 cups; Serves 4 to 8

2 cups loosely packed mint leaves
1/4 cup tamarind pulp, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon honey or sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 cups boiling water

Wash out a 1-gallon glass jar with hot water to heat it, then place all the ingredients in the jar. Use a long spoon to break up the tamarind and help it blend with the water. Stir well and let it sit for at least 1 hour.

Mix the tea again well, then strain it through a sieve or strainer. Serve hot or cold, as you like.

This can also be made as sun tea, starting with cold water. Simply mix all the ingredients in the gallon glass jar and then put the jar into the sun for a few hours to brew. Easy and fun. Serve over ice.

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8.02.2006

I (heart) Hot Chocolate


Zucco dishes it up schnazzy.

I realize this is one of those far-from-controversial opinions.

Proclaiming a passion for hot chocolate falls in along the lines of revealing a long-held affection for large-eyed puppies.

That said... wouldn't you agree that it's still about the best thing winter has to offer?

Ice Skating and Hot Chocolate
Courtesy of this week's Manhattan User's Guide:

Skate: Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers
Hot Chocolate: Le Gamin, 183 9th [21st] 212.243.8864

Skate: The Pond at Bryant Park
Hot Chocolate: The Pond Snack Bar

Skate: Rock Center Rink
Hot Chocolate: Cafe SFA at Saks.

Skate: Wollman Rink
Hot Chocolate: Serendipity

Skate: Lasker Rink
Hot Chocolate: Hungarian Pastry Shop, 1030 Amst [110th/111th]

Skate: Riverbank State Park
Hot Chocolate: You’ll have to fill your thermos for this one – Jacques Torres perhaps...350 Hudson [King] 212.414.2462

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12.01.2005

Mi Horchata = Cold Comfort

Our cool, damp spring screeches to a sudden halt with a day so muggy it's like walking around in someone's mouth.

And of course the air conditioner's out at work. Can't think. Can't focus. So sweaty and gritty I want to peel my skin off. A cool, white, liquid beacon hovers in my mind like a shimmering promise of sweet refreshment. Horchata.

Horchata

In Mexico, horchata is a creamy, lightly sweetened rice milk blended with flavors of cinnamon and almond. The drink was brought to Mexico from Spain, and was probably brought to Spain by the Moors, who made it with the chufa — a root pod also known as the “tigernut.”

I’m told that chufa horchata is liquid ambrosia, but since my corner market doesn’t sell a lot of chufa, I can’t corroborate that rumor. The sad fact of the matter is, I can’t even find a rice-based horchata ‘round my pierogi-rich ‘hood. What’s an overheated girl to do?

Luckily, horchata is extremely simple to make, and since there’s so many variations out there, it seems nearly impossible go wrong.

Some recipes use a little milk or coconut milk. Some add in a bit of lime zest or a squeeze of juice. Some use a little vanilla. Some instructions recommend grinding the dry rice to a powder before adding water. Others tell you to cook the rice nice and soft first, then blend it to a smooth consistency. (You could, of course, skip the rice preparation altogether and just use a commercial rice milk like Rice Dream.)
Mi Horchata (Makes enough for 4-6 folks)

White rice (1 cup per roughly 8-10 cups of water)
Whole raw almonds (maybe a cup)
Cinnamon (1-2 sticks)
Sugar (1/2 cup or more, to your taste)

1. In a heavy-bottomed stockpot, simmer the rice, almonds, cinnamon and water until very tender (about 30 minutes).
2. Remove the cinnamon stick.
3. If a thicker version is desired, blend the mixture smooth in batches in a blender or food processor.
4. Strain through layered cheesecloth or a fine sieve. Chill well. Pour in an ice-filled glass and revel in the cool, creamy (non-dairy!) goodness.

Some folks like theirs with chewy rice at the bottom, something like the tapioca pearls in bubble tea.

Personally, I find that it's lovely blended, strained and poured over crushed ice like a cocktail. Throw in a touch of rum or tequila if the mood strikes you. Oh, what's that? The heat index is up over 100? Bring it on.

Miss Ginsu

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6.09.2004