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Small Pleasures (Interlude)

There are days that cry out for solace. Taking care in the ceremony of small things can grant measures of comfort and joy, like brilliant little diamond splinters shining in the palm of your hand. Take the time and attention to make a small effort at satisfaction. What form it takes might differ for each of you.

But for example, there is something sublime in filling your favorite glass, solid and versatile, with a quick and no-fuss cocktail, like a Negroni, and serving yourself this aperitif along with some smoked salted almonds, perhaps even mesquite-smoked almonds, if a friend was kind of enough to take you along to Trader Joe’s some snowy weekend night. Note that you should present these almonds to yourself in a nice little glass bowl or the like. Something fine that you might use for company. Because you are your own best company and should treat yourself as such.

And if you can top off the entire experience with an episode of Archer, so much the better.

P.S. As I did not have an orange peel for my Negroni, I used some orange bitters instead.

Pairings

It’s not just wine you can pair with your dinner. In seat-of-the-pants cooking, we award bonus points for incorporating into one meal the entirety of an ingredient that would otherwise be left partially unused. And cocktails count, as long as they are served with the dish. This cocktail and pasta pairing is bound together by the lemon that was overstaying its visit to my kitchen.

Lemony Spaghetti and the Applecar

Note: The ingredients here are based on a dinner for one, and a very spur of the moment style of cooking. Measurements vary and should be adjusted to your taste.

While your spaghetti (wondering how best to measure your portion of dry spaghetti? Try this method.) is cooking to al dente consistency, crack one egg into a small bowl. Add a pinch of dried Herb de Provence (or other herbs you might like), some salt and pepper, and the zest of one small lemon. Whisk for a minute or so to mix it all together and get the egg frothy. Keep the lemon around for the cocktail. Once the spaghetti is cooked, drain, and dump back in the pot. It’s ok if some of the pasta water from the sieve sticks around. You can also reserve a small amount before draining the pasta, and add it back to the pot with the noodles. Add a healthy pat of butter, and the egg. Turn off the heat, or, at least leave it at the lowest setting – you do not want the egg to turn solid. The residual heat from the stove and the pot, as well as the spaghetti, should be enough to cook the egg. Keep tossing everything around in the pot for a few minutes, to make sure all the spaghetti strands are coated with the egg sauce. Add in some capers for a salty snap – as few or many as you like. A silky, creamy sauce should have formed, but if you’re worried about the egg, you can turn the heat back on for a little bit. You don’t need it though. Serve with the Apple Car, and let the lemon make a bridge between the food and the cocktail.

For the Applecar cocktail, take equal parts fresh lemon juice, Triple Sec (I used Cointreau), and Applejack, shake with ice, and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Simple, fast, delicious. And in this specific instance, the drink’s slight lemon tartness nicely reflects the lemon zest in the pasta dish, making for a great and bright pairing.

Restoratives

Some days just take all the starch out of you. On such a day, many people might say, why bother with dinner, let’s just have a drink. I say, why not have both?

In the cocktail department, you might try the Cheery Herring – the bourbon certainly makes it appropriate for fall. Why search for a “herring cocktail” in the first place? That’s a whole other story. Just know that this cocktail has grapefruit juice, so you can tell yourself it supplies necessary vitamins while you imbibe. It’s a bit muddy looking but tasty, and I don’t think you need the Swedish fish garnish (I didn’t have any on hand).

Dinner, on the other hand, offers something truly nourishing: Turnip Greens Colcannon (i.e. mashed potatoes with greens) – a home-made remedy to replenish what the day may have knocked out of you, plus nutrients. Also known as comfort in a bowl. Continue reading

Existential Cooking

Getting existential is all in the details. For example, take a rainy summer evening and let the soft patter of raindrops be the comforting backdrop that cocoons you in your kitchen.

Step 2, use your remaining fresh mint to make a mint julep. Apart from the using fresh mint (obviously), the key here is crushing your own ice. There is nothing quite like whacking away at ice cubes in a thick linen bag with a mini baseball bat (i.e. muddler). Next, add a relaxing but focusing activity, say, improvised cooking.  In this case, turning assorted odds and ends veggies – onions, peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes – into a big pan of vegetable medley. Then, pick something to listen to while you keep your hands busy in the kitchen. Say, a podcast that pairs with your drink, like WTF with Marc Maron, and specifically episode #278 Craig Ferguson.

Now, chop, stir, taste, and keep sipping that mint julep while you listen to Maron and Ferguson discuss the charge of doing standup, alcoholism, and other important matters. Feel the existential mood take over; life is profound and good. This is mostly due to the mint julep, but give the podcast some credit as well. Don’t forget to turn off the stove before you settle down to enjoy your next drink and whatever you produced for dinner.

Tonic Upgrade

If there’s a food and drink trend, I tend to trail it. So while various food- and drink-oriented sources have been recommending a move beyond the grocery store tonic waters to something more handcrafted for ages now, I kept making my gin and tonics, including my pink G&T, with the classic Schweppes Tonic. Until I finally happened upon a source for the fancier stuff, and a bargain to boot. My new expert directed me toward two choices of top-shelf tonic water – Fever Tree and Q Tonic.  Since one of them was on special sale, I of course walked out with both versions. Continue reading

Rhubarb Variation – Pink G and T

As an alternative to the Basil-Lime Gimlet, celebrate spring by turning your gin and tonic a delicate hue of pink. Inspired by my love of rhubarb, which had me looking at ways to incorporate it into my kitchen that go beyond pie and compote, I took a look at what other cocktail-oriented websites had to say about combining gin and rhubarb.

I found a post on rhubarb gin, two ways that discussed both hot and cold infusion. Starting from those ideas, I opted to toss my rhubarb pieces with some brown sugar and then warm them in the microwave for a bit before adding them to a bottle of Beefeater’s. Over a week, the gin turned a nice reddish color and took on a definite rhubarb aroma.

After straining out the rhubarb and letting the gin get cold in the fridge, I followed the gin and tonic proportions recommended by Billy’s blog: 1 part gin, 3 parts tonic, 1/2 part simple syrup. Instead of simple syrup, I used my own basil simple syrup (to echo a lovely rhubarb-basil cocktail I had last spring). The end result was a well-balanced gin and tonic with a delicate pink blush that was very refreshing. Lightly sweet with just a hint of sour from the rhubarb and tonic, this is an excellent way to toast spring.

Herald Spring

To celebrate one of the first truly sunny and warm days that herald spring after long weeks of cool, gray, wet days, make a Basil-Lime Gimlet. Of course, it helps to have a CSA that has basil this early in the season. You need fresh basil for this, but your reward is a lovely pale green drink. Perfect for Spring, Summer or Easter. I recommend eating the basil leaf garnish when you have just a small sip of the drink left. The leaf is green and spicy and just a tad boozy. A refreshing wake-me-up that’s less tart than the drink it adorns.

Personal twist: instead of simple syrup use basil-infused simple syrup to heighten the basil-ness of your cocktail.