BIRTHDAY THE SEVENTH

This little piece of the internet turned seven today.  Kids, man, they grow up so fast!

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It’s so humbling for me to think about all of the things that have resulted from this blog, which I started at the urging of friends and family who thought it would be a great outlet for me as a writer; I was two years out of my MFA program and two years into teaching middle school English and I hadn’t been writing much beyond lesson plans.  That break was necessary in some ways, I think—it was also a period of mourning for my dad, who died in the middle of my two years of graduate school—but I don’t do very well when I’m not writing.  I don’t feel like myself.

This blog became a way for me to return to writing on my own terms, to puzzle out my voice and audience, and to wed myself to a regular writing commitment.  Little did I know that, through this outlet, I would also meet people who would become close friends in real life, connect with a whole community of amazing online readers, finish my first book, and start working on another.

Though this space has evolved over the last seven years in tone, approach, and even content, the core of it remains the same—an extension of me.  It’s changed as I’ve changed, and I feel so lucky that those of you out there reading have been willing to go along for the ride.

To celebrate, I’ve got a drink for you…I mean, have I got a drink for you.  My friend Greg introduced me to this one, a riff on a drink they serve at Lucy’s Fried Chicken in Austin.  The original calls for rum and Domaine de Canton; Greg used bourbon and homemade ginger liqueur instead—the results are ridiculously drinkable and so, so gingery.  I served these to Jill & our dear friend Courtney, who’s visiting us right now, and they both quickly asked for seconds.  As you can see, I subbed in whisky from South Carolina for the bourbon, since Courtney had just gifted us a bottle and this seemed like the perfect reason to open it!  Therefore, Courtney is also responsible for coming up with a name for this cocktail, stolen from what she claims “just might be the best Willie Nelson song ever.”

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THE RED HEADED STRANGER

Originally, I wasn’t planning to make my own homemade ginger liqueur, because that just sounds like something a crazy person does—sorry, Greg—but it turns out that the whole process only takes a few days, unlike other infusions, saves you a fair amount of money (as opposed to buying Canton outright), and yields an incredibly delicious end product that I plan to use in all kinds of drinks all summer.  In short, I recommend doing it, unless you already have a fancy bottle of Domaine de Canton on hand.

ingredients:

2 parts bourbon

2 parts ginger liqueur

1 part simple syrup*

1 part lime juice

ginger ale or ginger beer (we used the latter and it added extra ginger spiciness)

lime wheels, to garnish

Combine the above ingredients in a shaker over ice and shake vigorously, to cool everything down.  Pour into a pint glass or tall water glass (strain if you’re feeling fancy) and top with ginger ale/beer.  Garnish with a lime wheel and enjoy!

*I used the leftover orange syrup from this dessert, which really complemented the flavors of the ginger liqueur.

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POMEGRANATE RUM PUNCH

Everyone keeps talking about how “the holiday season is upon us,” but in my house, it’s been here for a few weeks already.


For Blog

We celebrated Diwali on November 7th, returning to an annual tradition that we skipped last year to focus on the weddings of dear friends. This year, we were able to celebrate our own marriage in conjunction with Diwali—something I never would have predicted at this time last year, but which dovetailed nicely with the holiday’s themes of light shining in the darkness and the promise that righteousness ultimately prevails.

Our house was packed—even more so than planned, thanks to the rain—babies were passed around, (catered!) food was consumed, toasts were made, and we were spoiled by the love and good wishes of friends and family, some of whom flew in from out of town for the occasion.

For Blog1

Yesterday was my birthday, and tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and were I to try and list all of the things for which I am grateful, I’d never get the rolls or the pie made! But one thing I can say is that I am thankful for these days that we set aside, these rituals that bind our years together, and the opportunity to be here right now, acknowledging what is all around me—leaving the planning and scheming and to-do lists for another day. I hope you have the chance to spend time doing the same; I am so grateful for your readership and your presence in my life.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

POMEGRANATE RUM PUNCH

recipe from Chowhound

Diwali 2015 | Blue Jean Gourmet

I served this punch at Diwali—it scaled up nicely—and may have been more excited about my very first ice ring than anything else!  I know, big nerd.  But the punch was a hit; it all disappeared by the end of the night. Punch is so great for a party or big gathering, because you can assemble all of the ingredients ahead of time, and because it always makes a festive occasion feel more festive.

This one is brightly colored, not too sweet, and dangerously drinkable! I will be making it again today for Friendsgiving, and at least once more between now and 2016—I highly recommend it for any holiday gatherings you may have planned.

For the ice ring:
Small bundt pan or saucepan
½ cup pomegranate seeds
1-2 limes, thinly sliced
Water, boiled & then cooled (this will keep the ice from being cloudy)

For the punch:
1 ½ cups pomegranate juice (I used Pom—be sure to get a brand with no added sugar)
1 ½ cups rum (you can go fancy with something aged, or keep it simple with a basic white rum)
¾ cup simple syrup
¾ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (don’t use the shelf-stable bottled stuff! Either juice your own or find some fresh juice in the refrigerated case at Whole Foods or an equivalent retailer)
1 tsp. orange bitters (I am lucky to have a homemade bottle gifted by a friend—if you don’t, or don’t want to buy one, you can skip this OR add some fresh orange juice/zest to mimic the flavor)
2 bottles brut Prosecco or other sparkling wine, chilled

At least one day beforehand, make the ice ring by layering the pomegranate seeds & lime slices in the bottom of the pan of your choice. Cover with cool water and place in the freezer until solid.
You can mix the punch base—juices, rum, simple syrup, & bitters—ahead of time and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve. When it’s time, remove the ice ring from the freezer, loosen it with a little warm water, and slip it into your punch bowl. Pour in your pre-mixed punch base, then top with chilled Prosecco. Serve to a happy crowd!

*All of the pictures in this post are courtesy Audrey & Lauren, my wonderful friends/students who served as photographers for the night!

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A REST FROM ONE’S LABOR

Some things you might do this weekend:

mesa mules: tequila, ginger beer, guava, jalapeno, & lime | Blue Jean Gourmet

You might read a poem: read it aloud.  Make it one by Seamus Heaney, who taught so many of us eager young writers how to love words, and to honor them.  He died today.  I rather like this one of his, “North.”

You might lie in the grass and look up and clouds.  Remember that?  It’s as fun as it was when we were kids, maybe even better.

You might eat ice cream from a waffle cone.  You might make the ice cream first, and the waffle cone, too, if you’re feeling ambitious.  You might sit in a chair or on a couch or in a bed and read: a novel, the paper, a board book that your child hands you, expectantly.

You might take a sun-streaming-in-behind-the-curtains nap in the middle of the afternoon.  You might wave at your neighbors from across the fence.  You might sit at a café with your best friend for hours.  You might drive a long way, with your arm hanging out the window.

You might turn off your phone.  You might participate in worship.  You might go to a museum or a concert or a play.  You might stay up very late, eating olives and talking about everything.

You might make art.  You might make love.  You might make these cocktails.  Personally, I plan to do all three.

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MESA MULES
barely adapted from Happyolks

These lovelies are a close relative of an old cocktail favorite of this blog, Lucky Dogs, so when I saw them, I knew I had to make them.  The jalapeño adds just the right amount of heat to the back of the throat and makes this cocktail a perfect pairing for Mexican or Indian food.  In fact, I think they would be killer with these goat tacos, and I intend to find this out for certain soon.

After our first round, I decided to add a smoked salt rim for round two and loved the way the salt played with the flavor of the tequila and tartness of the guava; you could use plain old Kosher salt, too.  Additionally, I think the smoked salt would play nicely with smoky mezcal, if you wanted to sub it in for the tequila.

ingredients (yields one cocktail):

2 oz tequila reposado (2 fluid ounces = one shot)
4 oz ginger beer
4 oz guava juice
1 oz fresh lime juice
4-6 round slivers of fresh jalapeño
ice

optional: coat the rims of your glasses with smoked or Kosher salt

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.  Add a few slices of jalapeño to the shaker, then add the liquids and shake for a good thirty seconds.  Strain into a glass filled with fresh ice, and garnish with more jalapeño slices.

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A SUMMER BOOK CLUB BRUNCH

Let’s talk about some of my favorite things: food, drink, and books.

strawberry basil ginger punch | Blue Jean Gourmet

I wanted to share a few of the recipes that were a big hit at the book club meeting I hosted last weekend.  Unfortunately, Jill was out of town, so the photographs are mine and thus not really up to par; you’ll have to take my word for it all tasted much better than it looks!

The hits of the day were a carrot-avocado salad, pickled shrimp, & strawberry-ginger punch.  I also served my trusty deviled eggs and tried this yogurt panna cotta (it tasted great, but I think I badly measured my gelatin, as the texture was off.)  Since a few of our book club members are gluten-free, so I ordered a dozen GF cupcakes from a local baker and put together a cheese plate with GF crackers & olives; had I not ordered the cupcakes, I would have made these almond orange tea cakes—my friend and blog reader Christie shared with me that they easily adapt to be GF.

Now onto books—there are few things I love more than an overly ambitious summer reading list!  I just put together mine for this year, and I can’t wait to get started.  Side note: almost all of these were recommended by friends or students.  I’ve divided them into categories and linked to their Amazon listings.  For more book ideas, I recently updated my Reading Lists for adults & young adults!

Classics I Ought To Have Read By Now:

A Separate Peace (John Knowles)
A Suitable Boy (Vikram Seth)
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (James Agee)

Historical Fiction:

The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco)
Under the Volcano (Malcolm Lowry)

Just for Fun:

One Writer’s Beginnings (Eudora Welty)
The Dud Avocado (Elaine Dundy)
The End of Your Life Book Club (Will Schwalbe)
The Woman Upstairs (Claire Messud)

Non-Fiction:

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers (Katherine Boo)
Mornings on Horseback (David McCullough)
Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil (John Berendt)
Mountains Beyond Mountains (Tracy Kidder)

Poetry/Plays:

Red Doc> (Anne Carson)
Time Stands Still (Donald Marguilles)

Professional Development (as teacher & mom):

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character (Paul Tough)
The Art of Description: Word Into World (Mark Doty)

Young Adult Novels:

Beautiful Creatures (Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl)
The Future of Us (Jay Asher & Caroline Mackler)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente)
Winger (Andrew Smith)
Zoe’s Tale (John Scalzi)

What’s on your reading list this summer?  Please share in the comments!

roasted carrots & citrus salad | Blue Jean Gourmet

CARROT-AVOCADO SALAD
via Food52

I’d had my eye on this recipe for a while, because the ingredients are mostly ones we keep on hand, but with a very different method than I usually use.  Also, we have recently become converted to cooking carrots on the grill, so I figured that roasting them would also be delicious—and it was.

In an attempt to keep this fairly simple (as opposed to running out for lots of extra ingredients), I made a few adjustment to the original recipe: swapping the citrus, using grapefruit & lime instead of orange & lemon, and leaving out the crème fraîche.  The resulting salad got raves anyway, but I can see how including the crème fraîche would add a restaurant-level lushness to the dish.

oven: 450°

ingredients:

2 lb carrots (if small, just peel, but if large, peel, quarter, & cut into 3-inch pieces)
1 grapefruit
1 lime
2 cloves garlic
1 T fresh thyme
1 T sugar
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup sprouts
¼ cup cilantro, torn
1 avocado, cut into wedges
2 T toasted sunflower seeds
2 tsp. sesame seeds

While the oven is preheating, place the carrots in a saucepan and cover them with cold water.  Salt the water, turn the stove to high heat, and bring to a simmer.  Reduce to medium and continue to simmer until carrots are tender, 5-8 minutes.

As the carrots cook, cut the grapefruit & lime in half, juicing one half of each and reserving the other halves.  Reserve half of the fresh juice for later, and combine the other half with the garlic, cumin, thyme, red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, and 2 T olive oil; process in the blender until smooth.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Once the carrots have cooked, drain them and toss them in the marinade.  Spread the carrots and unjuiced citrus halves on a baking sheet and roast until the carrots are reduced in size and with a few brown spots, approximately 20 minutes.  Allow the carrots to cool to room temperature.

While the carrots are cool, make the salad dressing.  Squeeze the juice from the roasted citrus halves and combine that juice with the reserved fresh juice.  Whisk together with sugar, remaining olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Combine the carrots and avocado slices on a platter.  Top with the sprouts, and sprinkle with the seeds.  Drizzle the dressing over the whole thing and serve immediately.

 

PICKLED SHRIMP
slightly adapted from Saveur

If you’ve never had pickled shrimp before, you are in for a treat!  These were so easy and so good that I’m planning to make them again this weekend as a pre-dinner appetizer (re-using some of the original brining liquid).  I’ll admit, 12 bay leaves seemed a little excessive to me, but they did not at all dominate the flavor, so don’t be frightened by the quantity!

pickled shrimp | Blue Jean Gourmet

ingredients:

~1 lb. medium shrimp (26-30 count), peeled & deveined
2 T Old Bay
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (more if needed)
12 dried bay leaves
half of a yellow onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 T kosher salt
½ tsp. crushed red chile flakes
½ tsp. celery seeds
¼ tsp. ground allspice

First, prepare a bowl of ice water and place a colander in the sink.  Bring eight cups of water to a boil along with the Old Bay.  Add the shrimp, turn heat to low, and cook until the shrimp are pink, just about two minutes.  Drain the shrimp and cool in the ice water, then drain again.

In a 1-quart glass jar, layer the shrimp, onions, and bay leaves.  Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl with a pour spout or Pyrex measuring cup, and pour into the jar, adding more oil if necessary to submerge the shrimp.  Cover with the lid, and chill at least overnight before serving.  Will keep for up to a week as long as the shrimp are completely covered with oil.

 

STRAWBERRY-GINGER PUNCH
slightly adapted from Bon Appetit

The original recipe called for brandy, which I did not have on hand, so I subbed in vodka; I also think this recipe would work nicely with gin and/or St. Germain in a kind of a play on a Pimm’s Cup.

I recommend making the simple syrup ahead of time (up to a week) for easy assembly on the day you are planning to serve the punch.

strawberry ginger punch | Blue Jean Gourmet

for the simple syrup:

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
½ cup hulled & quartered strawberries
¼ cup peeled & sliced fresh ginger

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Reduce heat and simmer until the berries have softened.  Remove from heat and let cool before straining into a jar.

for the punch:

24-oz. club soda (keep cold)
2 ½ cups strawberries, hulled & quartered, divided
1 ½ cups vodka or other spirit of your choice
½ cup basil leaves, divided
¼ cup peeled & sliced fresh ginger
¼ cup fresh lime juice

At least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours before you plan to serve the punch, muddle 2 cups strawberries, ¼ cup basil, and ginger in a large jar or pitcher. Add vodka, lime juice, & simple syrup, and stir.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Strain the muddled mixture into a punch bowl or glass jar, pressing down on the fruit & herbs to release all the flavor.  Add the club soda and reserved strawberries and basil—I also threw in a few wheels of fresh lime so it would look even prettier.

Pour and enjoy!

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BLOG BIRTHDAY #4

It’s May and summer’s knocking at the door.  Let’s welcome her in and offer her a drink, shall we?

Hound Dog | bourbon, peach puree, ginger syrup, lemon, & mint - Blue Jean Gourmet

This one is simple and strong—a little on the sweet side, and perfect for sipping on a warm night.  Make a Hound Dog (the awesome name is a bonus) this weekend; I think it would work equally well as a Derby Day or Cinco de Mayo accompaniment.

Me, I’ll be celebrating the four-year (!) anniversary of this blog.  Hard to believe it’s been so long, and hard to imagine my life without this little piece of the internet—and all of you—in it.

It’s fascinating and so entertaining to look back over past blog entries, kind of in the same way that it’s fascinating and so entertaining to read back over old journals.  I decided to pull some favorite posts and list them here, a kind of “Greatest Hits,” if you will, of things I’ve said and foods I’ve made:

MOJITO POPSICLES—Apparently what the people want is boozy popsicles, because this is my most popular post of all time.

DUTCH BABY—Because what’s not to love about a giant pancake?

MY LIFE IN OKRA—A fantastic guest post from Jill in which she shares her killer family recipes for fried & pickled okra.

CHEESE GRITS—They’re just so damn good, and will heal what ails you.

SHAKSHUKA—Fun to say, delicious and dead-simple to make, this has become a house favorite breakfast/brunch/lazy dinner.

STEAMED MUSSELS IN TOMATO BROTH—A dish that represents the kitchen risks I’ve learned to take and ways I’ve grown since starting this blog.

CARDAMOM SHORTBREAD COOKIES—If I were a cookie, this is the kind I would be.  Pairs well with a cup of chai.

TOMATO-CORN PIE—Still one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth.

FIVE-INGREDIENT STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM—Keep it simple, stupid.

SAAG PANEER—Everyone’s favorite Indian dish, and a post that’s about more than just food.

Thank you all for four years of encouragement, readership, and support; I look forward to many more adventures to come!  xx—Nishta

HOUND DOG
recipe courtesy Grub Street

A few weeks ago, I clicked through the fantastic slideshow “Cocktail Country: Outstanding Drinks from All 50 States,” which featured beautifully styled drinks and many, many enticing recipes.

Naturally, I was pleased to see that the featured Tennessee cocktail was from Memphis restaurant Alchemy!  I knew I had to try it, and the Hound Dog did not disappoint.

Hound Dog cocktail - recipe from Alchemy restaurant in Memphis

ingredients:

1 ½ oz. bourbon
1 oz. peach puree*
¾ oz. ginger syrup**
¼ oz. lemon juice
4 springs of mint
ice

Combine the bourbon, peach puree, ginger syrup, lemon juice, and 3 springs of mint in a shaker filled with ice.  Shake and strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice, and garnish with the remaining sprig of mint.

*I can’t wait to make this when peaches are ripe and glorious, but for now, I just used frozen peaches instead.  I thawed a few slices and pureed them with a little bit of water; leftover puree was blended with a few strawberries and plain yogurt and became a baby smoothie for Shiv.

**The original recipe’s instructions are to sleep slices of fresh ginger in warm simple syrup to create the ginger syrup.  I already had a jar of ginger syrup on hand, leftover from the process of crystallizing ginger a few months ago, so I just used that.

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CIDER SIDECARS

I know it’s arbitrary, but I am glad to welcome a new month.  October was a tough one for me; I am ready to leave it behind.


I feel ready to start a new decade, too; my birthday is this month—the big 3-0.  As I approach that milestone, I have been thinking a lot about what I have built or acquired over these last (nearly) three decades, what I’ve seen and where I’ve been, what I’m proud of having accomplished and created.  What I keep coming back to are my friends.

A recent Newsweek article I read quotes a study out of the University of Chicago about human development; according to the findings, we choose most of our adult friendships between the ages of 22 and 28.  The relationships we establish in that time period end up being our most solid, dependable, and joyful ones, and much of the important “work” of our twenties is figuring out how to manage, negotiate, and commit to those relationships.

Isn’t that the truth?  I had never thought about it in exactly those terms, but there is something really affirming about reading about this work as a necessary and right stage of our development.  I remember so distinctly those years that my friends and I were trying to figure out what it meant to live on our own terms, as adults, and trying to determine what our friendships meant outside of the context of high school or college or graduate school.

Some of this work was really difficult.  I had to come to terms with some of the nastier parts of myself: my tendency to judge, my defensiveness, my habit of acting like everything was fine, even when it wasn’t.  I had to be really honest and really vulnerable and trust my friends enough to let it all hang out (and admit that I had been previously holding back) and I’ll be damned if that wasn’t scary as hell at the time.

But oh how grateful I am for that work, and for the people who were generous enough to do it with me.   There is nothing I am more proud of than my relationships; they are my true accomplishments from this life so far.

Of course, it’s not as if I’m all done and closed for business just because I’m about to turn thirty; I know there will be plenty of other work ahead, and it will be just as important to be open and honest and willing to work on my relationships as it’s ever been.  But I do feel, especially in this past month that has been rough around the edges, how blessed I am to have a solid foundation of friends with no shortage of empathy, humor, and generosity.  They offer me advice, bring me back to myself, make me laugh, feed me dinner, send me home with good books, push me, and mock me lovingly.  I’m biased, but I think they’re superstars.

 

BOURBON-LEMON-HONEY-CIDER COCKTAIL RECIPE
adapted from Garden & Gun

Friends are especially great when they come with a lemon tree.  We visited our friends Vicky and Lois (whom I was lucky to “inherit” from Jill) on their farm this past weekend and they sent us home with these beauties, which taste and smell like a variety close to Meyer.  Since I sliced open the first one, I have been hoarding them for only the highest uses—of which a bourbon cocktail surely is one.

If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy this cocktail as-written.  If you’re like Jill, you’ll want to add a good bit more lemon juice for it to suit your taste.

I know there’s a good potential name for this drink out there, but I couldn’t manage to come up with one.  Any ideas?

ingredients:

1 oz. bourbon
1 oz. fresh apple cider
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. honey syrup*

optional but highly recommended: pinch of ground cardamom
purely ornamental garnish: apple slice

Pour the bourbon, apple cider, lemon juice, and honey syrup into a shaker, over ice, and shake.  Strain into a glass filled with fresh ice and garnish with cardamom and/or apple slice.

*For the honey syrup, combine equal parts honey and water in a small saucepan. Heat and stir until the honey has dissolved.  Remove from heat and cool.

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CHAMPAGNE COCKTAILS

So much to celebrate this week!

Yesterday was my dear friend Megan’s birthday—she is the baby of our college group (I’m the oldest), so we marked her twenty-ninth year with drinks and an Italian dinner.  Saturday is my best friend Rebecca’s wedding, in which Megan and I will be bridesmaids and joyful attendants.  There will be a gorgeous lace dress, a ceremony in a gazebo, dinner, drinks, dancing, and little mini key lime pies and turtle cheesecakes made by yours truly.  I have a pretty blue dress with pockets and I cannot wait to celebrate my friend and the wonderful couple that she and her soon-to-be-husband make.

Megan, Rebecca, and I have been friends since our freshman year of college, which adds up to over a decade now.   That means I’ve spent a third of my life in friendship with these two, and I could not be more grateful.  They have seen me at my worst and best, have cheered me through the highs, loved me fiercely through the lows, given me advice, made me laugh, gotten me safely into bed after crazy nights, made me think, inspired me, and listened without judgment even when it seemed impossible for anyone to do so.  (The fact that anyone could still love me after the jackass I was at nineteen never ceases to amaze me.)

It’s nothing short of extraordinary—to know where each other has been, to appreciate the person each of us has become, to show up and be family for one another, to inside joke and tease and swell with pride over and love love love the stuffing out of each other—I know I hit the jackpot with these two.   And that is worth celebrating, not just this week but again and again and again.

CHAMPAGNE COCKTAILS OF ALL SORTS

I decided to make a handful of different cocktails on a Friday afternoon, and Jill and I endured the hardship of taste-testing them all for you.  I focused on easy champagne cocktails that called for extra ingredients that were inexpensive, likely to already be part of your bar, or both.  There are many more serious drink-makers out there, with far-better stocked bars than I.

But for summer and/or entertaining, a simple champagne cocktail can’t be beat—book club brunch, backyard happy hour with friends, celebratory dinner, etc. To see other drinks I’m itching to try, check out my Pinterest “for the bar” board.  What cocktails are you stirring up this summer?

Classic Champagne Cocktail

This one is Jill’s favorite—a little something special, but not too sweet, and it yields a lovely color.  Also, it couldn’t be simpler.

1 sugar cube (equivalent to 1 tsp.)
bitters
Champagne

In the bottom of a Champagne flute, douse the sugar in bitters.  After a few minutes, top with Champagne.  Enjoy.

Blueberry-Basil Champagne Cocktail

The original idea called for muddling a few fresh blueberries and a few fresh basil leaves in the bottle of a Champagne glass before topping; that was nice, but didn’t yield a ton of flavor.

If I were going to make these again, I’d do this—make a basil simple syrup*, then puree some fresh blueberries with a little basil simple syrup, then pour 1-2 oz. of that mixture into a Champagne flute, then top with Champagne.

Should you try this, do report back.

**To make, combine one cup of water with one cup of sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Stir to dissolve the sugar, then remove from heat and toss in a handful of fresh basil leaves.  Let the syrup cool, then remove the basil (the longer you leave it in, the stronger basil flavor the syrup will have.)

Lemon-Mint Champagne Cocktail

This idea from Fresh 365 has become a repeat performer in our house, simply because the container of Haagen Dazs lemon sorbet has not yet been used up, and half of our backyard patio has been taken over by mint.  This drink is more like a champagne slushy, at once very playful and very grownup.

Spring of fresh mint plus a few extra leaves
1 oz. gin or vodka
1 cup lemon sorbet
Champagne or sparkling wine, to top

Muddle the mint leaves in the bottom of a wide glass.  Pour in the liquor, then add the lemon sorbet and give it a little stir.  Fill the glass with Champagne and garnish with the spring of mint.

The Moonwalk

According to Saveur, this cocktail is so named because it was the first drink that astronauts Buzz Aldrin & Neil Armstrong had upon returning to Earth; I love stories like that.

This cocktails is kind of like a more nuanced mimosa; I think you could cheat a little in order to make a pitcher of them by mixing and refrigerating the grapefruit juice & orange liqueur ahead of time.  When ready to serve, pour into individual glasses, add a few drops of rose water to each, and top with Champagne.

The rose water really does add a little something to this cocktail—you can easily find an inexpensive bottle of rose water at any Indian or Middle Eastern grocery store.

1 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
1 oz. orange liqueur
2-3 drops rose water
Champagne or other sparkling wine, to top

Shake the grapefruit juice, orange liqueur, and rosewater in an ice-filled cocktail shaker.  Strain into champagne flute and top with bubbles.

Rosemary Gin Fizz

We don’t have pictures of these because I made them for Rebecca’s bachelorette weekend lunch and they disappeared very quickly!  A great drink for a crowd: refreshing & went well with our salad-and-homemade-pizza lunch.  (recipe via A Cup of Jo)

Make the rosemary simple syrup ahead of time, and be sure to add extra slices of lemon and springs of fresh rosemary to the pitcher when serving.

1 cup rosemary simple syrup*
1 cup gin (you could also use vodka)
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 bottle of Champagne or Prosecco

Combine ingredients in a punch bowl or pitcher—stir very briefly, then serve.

*To make, combine one cup of water with one cup of sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Stir to dissolve the sugar, then remove from heat and toss in a few fresh rosemary springs.  Let the syrup cool, then remove the rosemary (the longer you leave it in, the stronger rosemary flavor the syrup will have.)

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HOMEMADE IRISH CREAM

Have a cup of cheer.

Arbitrary as our notions of time are, I can’t help but relish the excuse that the season running from Thanksgiving to New Year’s brings when it comes to indulging in good stuff.  We know that January will bring a time of austerity, reflection, and prioritization, and I for one enjoy having these ritualized practices set in the calendar.

Looking back on this particular year, Jill and I have a great deal to celebrate.  This time last year, she had a cancerous tumor in her chest; now she doesn’t.  We fought hard, were championed and bolstered by our incredible community of friends and family (including all of you out there), and pulled together, finding intimacy and joy in the most unpredictable of places.

We know how lucky we are; this could have easily been a much longer and rougher road for us.  And though the cancer is gone, I find myself wishing quite earnestly that the clear-eyed perspective that came with it, will stick around.  What you spend your time on, what you spend your money on, whom you spend your time with—these choices are made quite plain when life is being lived against such a sharp backdrop.

Cancer (or fill-in-the-blank here with another grief, sickness, emergency, accident, etc.) reminds us that we are, in fact, not in control.  Of everything.  Of anything,  I make plans as if I will most assuredly be able to see them through, as if life is going to go the way I imagine it will.  But it almost never does, in both the most difficult and the most wonderful of ways.

As someone for whom planning is almost like breathing, I have to say that it’s pretty liberating to realize that planning, in a lot of instances, is totally overrated and a waste of my time.  Will I still plan things?  Of course.  When it comes to lessons, menus, schedules, etc., planning certainly has value.  But as I look ahead to 2012, I’ve got to admit that I don’t know exactly what the year will bring, and I am, for once, okay with that.

 

HOMEMADE IRISH CREAM RECIPE

(via Serious Eats)

Irish cream is a delightfully sweet and boozy concoction that makes a wonderful mixer for winter cocktails and is also right at home in your (decadent) morning cup of coffee.  We are planning to set our bottle of it out for guests who will be visiting on New Year’s Day, since the cream is one part celebration and another part hair-of-the-dog.

Disclaimer: The eggs are included as an emulsifier, to make the cream more unctuous and viscous.  For this type of preparation, I personally feel more comfortable using fresh farm eggs versus store-bought, factory farm eggs, but if you feel uncomfortable consuming raw eggs period, you can certainly leave them out.

ingredients:
1 ¼ cups Irish whiskey (I used Jameson’s)
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
4 raw eggs
½ cup heavy cream
2 T honey
1 T each: instant espresso powder, unsweetened cocoa powder, vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract

Blend the eggs and heavy cream together until the eggs are fully incorporated.  Add the honey, cocoa and espresso powders, & almond and vanilla extracts and blend again.  Finally, add the cream and whiskey and mix until the mixture is uniformly colored and frothy.

Funnel into the jar or bottle of your choice and refrigerate for at least two hours before consuming (this is the hard part!).  Be sure to shake the bottle well before serving.  The cream will keep, under refrigeration, for one month.

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FRUIT-INFUSED TEQUILA

No time to waste on paragraphs.  Here’s a list of reasons you should make this:

1)    Tequila drinks are delicious.
2)    This tequila drink is delicious even when you use relatively cheap tequila (like I did).
3)    It’s amazingly simple to make.
4)    You can easily make it for a crowd.
5)    If you prep it today, it will be ready to drink on Monday.

Convinced?  Okay then.  Labor Day weekend–go!

FRUIT-INFUSED TEQUILA
adapted from Bon Appetit

The original recipe calls for the use of watermelon, which I don’t find I enjoy in cocktail form, so I substituted pineapple.  I also used crystallized ginger instead of regular, because that’s what I had on hand, but I will repeat that choice when I make this in the future.  Without the added sugar, I think the straight tequila would be a bit much.

ingredients:

1 small to medium bottle tequila (approximately 4-4 ½  cups)
half a ripe pineapple
2 mangoes
3 peaches or other stone fruit
4 limes
¼ cup crystallized ginger

optional: homemade grenadine

Peel & dice the pineapple, then place it into the bottom of a pitcher fitted with a lid.  Squeeze any juice from the pineapple rind into the pitcher as well.  Peel & dice the mangoes, discarding the pit.  Add to the pitcher.

No need to peel the stone fruit; just slice & toss it in.  Chop the crystallized ginger roughly, then add it to the pitcher as well.  Squeeze in the lime juice, then pour in the tequila.  Use the back of a large spoon or potato masher (it works!) to press down on the fruit, extracting all juices.

Store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.  When ready to serve, strain the tequila and discard the fruit (or serve it to the brave).  Pour over crushed ice, drizzle with grenadine (if using), & serve with lime.

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SUMMER REFRESHMENT, REVISITED

It’s really freaking hot, therefore refreshments are in order.

I’m revisiting two favorites from blogs past, both of which are easy to make and have become my essentials for summer survival.  Something about homemade iced coffee feels like a treat to myself, one I don’t have to feel very guilty about, and I am kind of obsessed with guava nectar.  And ginger beer.  And gin.  Opa!

If you’re interested in other summer staples, you can scroll through last year’s Summer Classics Series, with recipes for standards like coleslaw & potato salad, plus popular desserts like key lime pie & gingersnap-mascarpone tart.  It may feel like summer’s going to last forever, but when you start flipping through those calendar pages, fall isn’t so far away.

LUCKY DOGS

Guava is a little bit sweet, a little bit puckery, and pairs beautifully with spicy Mexican or Indian food.  You can read the story of how these cocktails got their strange name here.

1 can guava nectar
1 bottle Reed’s or other strong ginger beer
3 oz. gin or vodka
juice of one lime

Combine all ingredients, then pour into two glasses over ice.  Garnish with extra lime wedges.  You can easily double or triple the ingredients to make a pitcher.

COLD-BREW ICED COFFEE

This cold brewed iced coffee recipe was adapted from one I found in the New York Times.

4 cups bottled or filtered water
2/3 cup ground coffee, medium to coarse grind*

In a large liquid measuring cup or bowl with a pour spout, combine the two ingredients and stir.  Cover the mixture and let it sit at least overnight or up to 24 hours.

To remove the grounds from the concentrate, you can use a French press or pour the mixture through a wide-mouthed jar fitted with a coffee filter.  Store the concentrate in the fridge.

To make iced coffee, fill a glass with ice, then half or two-thirds of the way full with coffee concentrate.  Add milk, soymilk, or sweetened condensed milk to taste.

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