A Springtime Tipple: Persephone’s Dream

Persephone's Dream

We’ve missed you, Boozers. As we finally stretch our limbs after our winter’s hibernation, we’re coated with a thin layer of pollen and immersed in the scents of wisteria on the vine. Dearest Persephone, it’s about time you came to call.

Spring was in full force last weekend in Raleigh, and the Carolinas could not have been more welcoming, cloaked in greenery, humidity, and sunshine, a glimpse of the summer ahead. A visit to the North Carolina State Farmers Market revealed a treasure trove of truly fresh spring produce we can still only dream of in more northern climes: asparagus, ramps, frost collards, and, best of all, spring strawberries.

The strawberries of springtime recall the bittersweet story of Persephone, who was forced to spend four months of each year in the underworld, dreaming of the world she’d left behind; spring could only arrive when she was able to return above ground to be reunited with her mother. Spring strawberries, like Persephone, return hesitantly but joyously to the garden each year, the lightly sweet cousins of their summertime counterparts, holding within them the promise of carefree days ahead.

Persephone’s Dream

Campari tends to be a summertime tipple, but there’s no reason not to enjoy it at any time, especially to provide a slightly bitter counterpoint to the sweetness of spring strawberries. We’ve added a floral note with a splash of creme de violette, but you can achieve a similar quality with elderflower, rose, or even maraschino liqueur — start with smaller quantities then add more to suit your own taste.

2 tablespoons fresh strawberry purée

1 ounce Creme Yvette (or any of the substitutions suggested above)

1/2 ounce Campari

2 ounces chilled seltzer water

Fresh lime twist

Make the purée by liquefying 1/2 cup fresh strawberries in a blender or food processor with 1 teaspoon of light agave syrup and 1 tablespoon of water.

To make the drink, put the first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker with an ice cube and shake well. Remove the lid, add the chilled seltzer and stir well, then strain into a coupe. Twist the lime over the top of the drink to release the essential oils then drop the twist into the drink. Enjoy immediately.

Advertisements

A Friday the 13th Tipple: Margarita Memory

margarita

The Ides of March is upon us, dear Boozers. Historically speaking, it marks the day that Caesar was assassinated — “Et tu, Brute?” — although the term “Ides” simply refers to either the 13th or the 15th day of the month, as the Romans couldn’t make anything simple. We like to use it as a time to lift a glass in memory of friends and loved ones — and as our dear ones all seem to have had a penchant for margaritas, that most communal of libations — we are celebrating today with a Margarita Memory.

A margarita is really a classic blend of sweet and sour, to which we like to add notes of spice — creating a perfect representation of a life well-lived. It can be made with a variety of citrus, from traditional lime to blood oranges, mandarins, and grapefruit, and its flavor can be subtly altered by the type of tequila you use — blanco, mixto, reposado, and so forth — or you could even substitute with an unaged whiskey (we’ve done this often with Catoctin Creek’s Mosby’s Spirit with excellent *hic* results) or even a smoky mezcal. Most importantly, to make a Margarita Memory really sing, choose ingredients that really reflect the person you are remembering — sweet, smooth, fresh, rich, perky, snarky, optimistic — and then savor every drop.

Margarita Memory

Our version today contains some muddled peach and a blend of lime and orange juice, because it reminds us of happy days drinking margaritas on the beach with special people. We added a peachy pink peppercorn syrup to pack a bit of punch  — because peaches are not in season now, we actually used the syrup from canned peaches as our base.

2 ounces silver tequila

1 ounce Cointreau

1/2 ounce Amaretto

2 ounces fresh lime and orange juice

Slice or two of peach (canned is fine if peaches are out of season)

1 tablespoon peachy pink peppercorn syrup, or to taste (recipe below)

dash of citrus bitters (such as Urban Moonshine or even Bitter Ends Thai Bitters)

Wedge of lime or other citrus for garnish

Muddle a couple of slices of peach in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add tequila, cointreau, citrus juices, syrup, and bitters; add a few ice cubes and shake vigorously. Strain into a margarita glass (salt optional) filled with ice and float a little Amaretto over the top. Garnish with lime and serve immediately.

To make peachy pink peppercorn syrup: Strain syrup from canned peaches into a small saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons of whole pink peppercorns and simmer over very low heat for about 30 minutes. Cool completely, then strain and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

The Friday Tipple: Fresh Strawberry Ale

Fresh Strawberry Ale

Summer breezes are blowing, Boozers. With Memorial Day just around the corner and farmers markets bursting at the seams with spring fruit, we’re flushed with that heady anticipation of early summer delights, before the humidity settles in to dampen our enthusiasm. “Grab it while it lasts” is our mantra.

For the next few months, we’ll be offering up a series of cocktail recipes we like to call Good Booze in the Garden, and today we’re giving you a bit of a preview. Strawberries are growing in our cocktail garden right now, sweet little morsels of sunshine beckoning to us with their insouciant freshness. Recently, we noticed an advertisement for a commercial brand of strawberry ale and thought how nice it would be if our own favorite local brews had a bit of a strawberry twist. It was only a tiny little leap for us to realize that we had everything we needed for our own Fresh Strawberry Ale — literally in our own backyard.

It’s embarrassingly simple, but let that be our little secret. Enjoy.

Fresh Strawberry Ale

You don’t have to grow your own strawberries to make this treat — pick them up at the farmers market, steal them from your neighbor’s garden, visit a pick-your-own farm, or just get them at the grocery store. However, we strongly advise that you procure locally-grown strawberries simply because they will have the sweetest and freshest flavor now that they are in season.

1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh strawberries

1 chilled 12-ounce beer of your choice (support your local brewer — we used DC Brau’s The Public, a citrusy pale ale which complements the strawberries nicely)

Yes, that’s it.

Place strawberries in the bottom of a cocktail shaker and muddle with a wooden spoon until the juice begins to run out — they shouldn’t be pulverized, but slightly mashed. Pour in the beer and stir gently. Let sit for a few minutes, then strain into a glass.

The Friday Tipple: Strawberry Rose Mojito

Strawberry Rose Mojito

Mom needs a drink, Boozers. You may be the apple of her eye, but you’ve also put her through years of unintentional stress. She stayed up half the night finishing your third grade science fair project while you snuggled up with Bunny in bed. She got up at 5:30 on Saturday mornings to shower and dress before dragging you out of bed for that early hockey practice. She hemmed your prom dress — by hand, mind you — because you suddenly decided you had to be part of the hi-lo trend. She listened to countless hours of whining about boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, jobs, children (she told you so), home repairs, car repairs, weight loss, and destructive puppies — and all without telling you to shut up and get over yourself. Face it, the woman is a saint.

So here’s what you do. Pick her up, bring her back to your perfectly tidy house (because of course you cleaned up before Mom came over), and present her with a beautiful home-cooked brunch and a special cocktail made just in her honor. Because moms like handmade. It may be easier for you to take her out to some faceless restaurant, but listen carefully: Moms Like Handmade. They don’t care if it’s gourmet, if there are fine linens and crystal, or if there’s a guy walking around with a basket of plastic-wrapped single roses for $3 a pop. There is no substitute for making it yourself, and it’s the least you can do. Happy Mother’s Day.

Strawberry Rose Mojito

It will seem loopy, but this is made with strawberry jam rather than fresh strawberries. Jam cocktails are really charming, because the jam gives a lovely silky mouthfeel to the drink. If you are feeling enterprising, you could whip up a really simple Freezer Strawberry Jam the day before — meaning you can also present Mom with a beribboned jar as a nice handmade gift — or you can use a really high-quality strawberry jam. We used a strawberry balsamic jam made by our local Wisteria Gardens, which added another depth of flavor to an already sublime cocktail.

2 ounces light rum (we used Chairman’s Reserve)

2 heaping teaspoons of strawberry jam

1/2 teaspoon Rose Water (available in many markets)

several clean basil leaves (mint is traditional, but basil is perfect with strawberries)

chilled club soda

fresh strawberry for garnish

Put basil leaves in the bottom of a tall glass and muddle until they are broken down into smaller pieces. Add rum, jam and rose water , and mix thoroughly. Put several ice cubes in the glass, fill with club soda and stir together. Garnish with strawberry and serve immediately.

 

The Friday Tipple: Ruby Rhubarb ‘Rita

Ruby Rhubarb 'Rita

Hola, Boozers. Here in the old U.S. of A, we’ll take any excuse to have a margarita, which explains why Cinco de Mayo is more popular here than in its country of origin, and why most of the people partaking in the celebrations have likely never even traveled south of the border (unless you count a visit to Pedro’s highway oasis) or can speak nary a soupçon of Spanish. Whatever. It’s a margarita. Bring it on.

The tart freshness of spring fruits lend themselves to margaritas that far surpass the standard variety made with overly sweet mixes. We went a little fancy this week by creating a base from ruby red grapefruit and rhubarb, but the result is well worth the small amount of effort it takes to make a more complex margarita. This is a drink not meant to be insulted with a bowl of Doritos and Cheez Whiz on the side, but would stand up perfectly to a fresh shrimp ceviche or an authentic pozole verde. Go ahead, put on that sombrero and live a little. Salud!

Ruby Rhubarb ‘Rita

Rhubarb is a fruit, or a vegetable, depending upon who you ask, with a texture and flavor often likened to tart celery. Our Ruby Rhubarb syrup is layered with flavors that simply cried out for a layering of liquors; sticking with tradition, we used a silver tequila and a splash of triple sec, but then floated a little white whiskey over the top, our American nod to a fiery aguardiente.

for the Ruby Rhubarb syrup:

1 cup  rhubarb stems, roughly chopped

1 cup ruby red grapefruit juice with pulp, freshly squeezed

1 cup water

1 cup turbinado sugar

4 or 5 pineapple sage leaves (you can substitute with basil leaves)

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for one hour, allowing the rhubarb to soften and break down. When the liquid has thickened slightly, remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Strain thoroughly through a fine-mesh sieve; can now be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Yield: about 1 cup.

to make the ‘Rita:

1 lime

2 – 3 tablespoons Ruby Rhubarb syrup (adjust to your taste)

2 ounces silver tequila (we’re loving the herbaceous Avión Tequila these days)

1/2 ounce triple sec

1/2 ounce white (unaged) whiskey (we used Catoctin Creek Mosby’s Spirits)

Fresh rhubarb, cut into a 4-inch stick for garnish (optional)

Cut the lime in half and squeeze all the juice into a cocktail shaker. Add the Ruby Rhubarb syrup, the tequila, the triple sec, and several ice cubes. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled martini glass rimmed with coarse salt. Top with the clear whiskey, garnish with fresh rhubarb, and drink up.

 

The Friday Tipple: La Primavera

La Primavera

We’re back on the spring bandwagon, Boozers. It keeps creeping ever closer, little by little, and we’re not about to argue. Flowers are blossoming, bees are buzzing, and the farmers markets are starting to feature fresh vegetables that did not grow under the ground — not that we don’t enjoy a good root vegetable as much as the next person. What we’re crushing on this week are those little darlings of spring, fresh sweet peas.

Before you recoil in horror, let us say that these are not cafeteria peas, cooked down to mush with a color that can only be described as, well, pea green. These are those charmingly cherubic spheres that are the brightest hue of spring green, like a new blade of grass and just as sweet. And, yes, they make a lovely cocktail. We know it’s hard to fathom, but open your minds, just like you are opening your windows to a soft spring breeze — if you must drink your vegetables, then this is surely the way to do it.

La Primavera

We created this recipe for Don Ciccio & Figli, an absolutely wonderful distiller of seriously hand-made Italian liqueurs in Washington, DC. Each flavor is like a jewel-toned work of art; this particular drink features limoncello, and a good limoncello should be a clear lemon-yellow color (not day-glo yellow, which likely means artificial colors have been added) and you should be overwhelmed with the scent of fresh lemons when you open the bottle — if it smells like Country Time Lemonade, then something has gone seriously wrong.

1 ounce fresh pea juice
2 ounces limoncello
1 ounce gin (we always use Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin; please support your local distiller)
chilled club soda (optional — see below)

Make the fresh pea juice: take 1/2 cup clean peas (you can use frozen peas if fresh are not available, just defrost them first) and put them in a blender with 1/2 cup water. Purée thoroughly, then strain completely so that you have just a clear green liquid. Can be refrigerated for up to two days.

Place first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake thoroughly. At this point, you have two options: strain into a cosmopolitan glass and drink it as is, or pour into a tall glass filled with ice and top with chilled club soda. It’s preferable to garnish with early spring strawberries, sweet cherry tomatoes, or a few fresh pea shoots, but a lemon wedge will do just as well.

 

The Friday Tipple: The Good Friday

The Good Friday

TGIF, Boozers. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, an emphatic TGIF. For many people across the globe, this week also represents the observation of Passover and Easter, a time for reflection upon and appreciation of all that is both bitter and sweet.

We always find Fridays, in general, to be bittersweet, as we struggle to stay focused on the work necessary to pay the bills while already lamenting the scant few hours ahead that allow us to escape the daily grind. We find ourselves easily distracted, rushing headlong into the weekend and the joys of sleeping in because we sat up in the wee hours watching infomercials while munching on microwave pizza in bed.

For this particular Friday, it feels right to come home to a special cocktail that we’re calling, appropriately enough, The Good Friday. By turns bitter, sweet, celebratory, and slightly numbing, it could set the tone for your two days of respite – or simply give you a few moments of blissful ignorance.

The Good Friday

Most people think of Campari only in connection with club soda and a wedge of lime, but Campari adds a silky bittersweet note to many cocktails and is particularly nice when paired with flavors that are sweet, fruity, and botanical.

1 ounce silver tequila (we like Avion, which is rather herbaceous and gin-like with a bite)

1 ounce Campari

1/2 large fresh orange

chilled Prosecco or sparkling wine

Place tequila and Campari in a cocktail shaker and squeeze the orange into it thoroughly, including some pulp. Add an ice cube, stir briskly, and strain into a chilled coupe. Top with an ounce or so of Prosecco and enjoy.

 

The Friday Tipple: La Violette

La Violette

Spring has sprung, Boozers. Bees are buzzing, flowers are blooming, and all appears to be right with the world. At least until summer humidity arrives.

Standard garden-variety flowers make lovely cocktails, if only you know what to do with them. It’s simple enough: grab a handful of petals — after determining, of course, that they are not poisonous — and then throw them into a simple syrup or use them to infuse some vodka, gin, or white wine. For us, the essence of spring is the precious little violet, peeping shyly from the new green grass in exotic hues of purple and yellow; its flavor is soft and slightly woodsy, giving a fresh essence to a spring cocktail, along with a delicate violet color. Vive le printemps.

La Violette

Infused simple syrups are, of course, wildly easy to make, and our Violet Simple Syrup is no exception. The color will be a deep green, but, when added to liquid, it will become a charming shade of pale violet. There is the barest soupçon of Chartreuse in this recipe, but you can skip it entirely if you don’t have a bottle at home, or feel free to substitute a few drops of St. Germain if you have a bottle of that on hand.

1.5 ounces gin or vodka (we prefer Boyd & Blair Vodka or Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin)

3 drops Chartreuse or St. Germain (optional, but definitely no more than 3 drops)

Chilled club soda

large teaspoon Violet Simple Syrup

Violet for garnish (try dipping it briefly in simple syrup then let it air dry)

small wedge of fresh lemon

Fill a glass with ice and add the gin or vodka and a few drops of the Chartreuse or St. Germain. Top with the chilled club soda and the Violet Simple Syrup and stir well. Garnish with the candied or fresh violet and add a tiny squeeze of fresh lemon juice just before serving (discard the lemon, do not serve with the cocktail itself).

 

 

 

The Friday Tipple: Tequila Kiss

Tequila Kiss

Life can be complicated, Boozers. While we missed you dreadfully when we were on vacation last week, it felt good to strip away our responsibilities for a scant few days and dig our toes into the sand. Our new mantra since returning to the grownup world of deadlines, bills, and dirty dishes: Keep It Simple, Stupid, a.k.a. KISS.

While we trailed our fingers in the warm waters surrounding a drifting kayak, we sipped on tequila. There is something about tequila that just says “Let it all go”, and we were only too happy to comply. It didn’t hurt that we’d just recently read that tequila would help us lose weight, meaning that we could indulge in that extra slice of chocolate-raspberry cheesecake with mango coulis. No matter if we didn’t exactly return from vacation noticeably thinner, albeit much more relaxed.

As you dear Boozers know, we like a drink that is not overdone, especially at the end of a long week, so we made this drink simple and to the point — because sometimes we overlook the simplest solutions to life’s complexities. Enjoy.

Tequila Kiss

There are a lot of tequilas out there and a recent visit to New Mexico proved to us that there is a wide range of subtle flavors in the Tequila Canon. Use a clean silver tequila for this cocktail; we used Avión today because it has a light herbaceous quality with a citrusy undertone that suits our spring fever.

2 ounces silver or blanco tequila

3 ounces chilled club soda

1 fresh lime, halved

1 teaspoon light agave nectar

We weren’t joking when we said this was simple. Fill a glass with ice and pour in tequila and squeeze half of the lime into the bottom of the glass. Add club soda and agave nectar and stir briskly, then squeeze other lime half over the top. That’s it.

The Friday Tipple: Bananarama

Bananarama

We’re beach-bound, Boozers. Shimmering waves and soft breezes are calling to us seductively, but we still have 24 hours of packing and planning to go. Vacation-itis has hit us hard, and we find ourselves daydreaming of breakfast in bed and leisurely hours spent gamboling along the shoreline. We roundly curse the last-minute projects dumped on our desks.

Which is why it’s time for a daiquiri. Screw the projects. The vacation starts now.

Rum is a must-have in vacation cocktails. It reminds us of devil-may-care pirates sucking down grog with gay abandon as they swing on ropes across the bow of a schooner bedecked in the skull-and-crossbones.  It signals reckless freedom in the fierce sunshine of a tropical spring. Wherever you are and whatever the weather, rum transports us to the Caribbean of our souls. Revel in it.

Bananarama

Some people use up overly ripe bananas in muffins or quick bread. We prefer a daiquiri. This is not the frosty variety that you might find on a cruise ship, topped with a mound of whipped cream, but a more subtle version that slips softly down the gullet. We like to use Gosling’s Gold or Mount Gay rum, which truly taste of the tropics, but a good quality Puerto Rican white rum like Don Q Cristal will also do the trick. Because we like the flavor of coffee with banana, we added a dusting of powdered coffee mixed with a little sugar (this is a great way to use up those packets of Starbucks VIA instant coffee).

1 very ripe banana

2 ounces chilled coconut water

1.5 ounces rum (we recommend a gold or white rum)

1 teaspoon light agave nectar

juice of half a lime

1/4 teaspoon instant coffee mixed with a little granulated sugar(optional)

Put first 5 ingredients in a blender and blend on high until smooth. Pour into a margarita glass and dust the top with instant coffee. Yo ho ho!