Month: April 2014

Pit stop.


Timeout for refueling with a chocolate-filled crepe north of the border.

Be back soon.


Thirsty Thursday: At the Pawnshop

“Maraschino and mezcal? Yeah, OK. I want to know what that tastes like.”

And that is how At the Pawnshop made it into our cocktail rotation and a bottle of mezcal graced our bar. I know next to nothing about agave spirits – so we haven’t collected the array of bottles like we have for gin, whiskey and rum. I don’t know what I like or how to use it.

This I can handle. I love this drink. It has the same basic structure as an Old-Fashioned. But it’s smoky, unexpected and a little bit shady. Like a pawnshop.

Recipe here. I make it the same way except I just use the Appleton rum we have on hand instead of the Plantation they recommend.


Grand Granny Square

Knitting is my sport. I’m  not much of a crocheter (crochetess? crochetrina?). But the one thing I can do with a crochet hook and yarn is make a granny square. So when I finished my mother-in-law’s blanket, I started in with what remained of the yarn on one huge granny square to make a new throw for the living room.

I finished it last week. Took it for a test drive one night when Dan’s snoring drove me out of bed. A couple of my roommates helped me try it out.

I didn’t start it with any kind of plan – I just sort of picked a color and then picked whatever looked good for the next color when I ran out of one. It ate up a lot of yarn and it’s actually quite warm.

It reminds me of the afghans we used to have in our living room growing up.

Thirsty Thursday: Martinez

Inexplicably, some people hate gin. I am not one of them. At last count, we had 8 bottles of it on the bar (5 from local distillers). One is a recent acquisition.

Dan took me to dinner at Parson’s last week (the butter beans are my favorite, and you’d do yourself a favor to order a Negroni slushie, too) and then down the street to Scofflaw for a drink. Despite its proximity to our home, I haven’t been to Scofflaw since shortly after it opened. But I’ve been wanting to go and taste their gin ever since I found out they’d made an Old Tom with one of my favorite distillers over a year ago.

We tasted. It’s fantastic. Sweet. Lots of juniper and citrus and spice, a little bit floral.

So, we bought a bottle and brought it home and when it came time for a cocktail, I naturally thought of the Martinez. Forerunner of the Martini. It’s a drink I had for the first time while lingering around a table after a dinner party. The host – a chef – asked if I’d ever had one and proceeded to mix up a delightful Martinez that I sipped while we chatted with a few remaining guests.

I added a bottle of Ransom Old Tom to the bar after that.

As much as I love the drink with the Ransom, I have to say I might prefer it with the Scofflaw Old Tom. Sadly, unless you live in Chicago, you are out of luck – it’s so far only available for purchase at Scofflaw. But it’s a great souvenir to take home with you if you’re ever traveling through.

Proportions vary recipe to recipe, but this is what I’m liking these days:

  • 1.5 oz Old Tom gin
  • .75 oz sweet vermouth
  • .25 maraschino liqueur
  • 2 dashes of Boker’s bitters*

Combine in a mixing glass with ice & stir to chill. Strain into a glass & garnish with an orange peel.

*I think most recipes call for orange bitters – I assume since Boker’s was put out of business by Prohibition. But another maker reconstructed the recipe & is producing a new version of Boker’sThe PDT Cocktail Book calls for Boker’s which I thought was interesting, so I tried it out. Sold.

Thirsty Thursday: Grandberry

A few years ago, Dan and I started “Cocktail of the Month”: we never seemed to have the ingredients for a cocktail picked out of a book on a whim, so we thought this would be a fun way to learn how to make different cocktails, try new ones and always have ingredients for one good cocktail on hand. Old-Fashioneds, Sidecars, Collinses (Collinsi?), Torontos, Brown Derbys … I learned a lot about making drinks.

We slowly built our bar this way for a year and a half, and eventually we had a bar well-stocked enough to make a cocktail picked out of a book on a whim, and Cocktail of the Month slowly petered out.

But we recently decided to start working on our cocktail recipe skills (I have pretty close to zero). So now, Cocktail of the Month begins with 1 ingredient, and each of us tries to come up with a cocktail using that ingredient. April is our inaugural month, and we chose elderberry jelly as our ingredient.

Image accompanies an elderberry jelly recipe from the internet – not my mother-in-law’s recipe (at least not as far as I know). Click the pic to see it.

My cocktail involved rum, elderberry syrup, peaches and allspice dram. It’s OK, but pretty forgettable. I chose Dan’s as the better of the two. So did he. So did our neighbor in a blind taste test.

So I asked Dan to write a guest post about his cocktail creation for this week’s Thirsty Thursday. I’m a sarcastic control-freak so I’ve added commentary in parentheses. And shortened it because he is kind of a wordy fella. And I’m a control-freak.

* * *

… Once upon a time my dad happened across an elderberry bush, thought it should be made into something, and brought it home. With the job done, he handed it over to my mom to actually think of something to do with it.  Thus, the tradition of my mom making massive amounts of elderberry jelly is born. (this habit of doing something on a whim and leaving the mess for someone else to clean up unfortunately did not skip a generation)

So. The thing about elderberry – if you were to happen upon a bush like my father did, and threw [an elderberry] into your mouth, I’m sure you would recoil in horror as there is *no* sugar in these berries. You’d think this was some horrible joke pulled on you by mother nature. (maybe it is?)  I’ve done this – the last time was probably about 30 years ago and I still remember the awful, muddy, but berry-ish taste.  If you can imagine a blackberry that tastes awful and bitter… that’s an elderberry.

Turns out, if you add tons of sugar to this thing – it actually tastes not just good…. but interesting.   Elderberry has an earthier, plum-ier, darker, denser sort of taste.

My mom has made many, many jars of elderberry jelly.  Supply has outstripped demand and she has handed this out to myself and others. (I found 3 jars in our cabinets.) Making a *lot* of something is about the same amount of work as making a little bit and sharing is the way to show love.  I accept this love.  However, it’s not frequently that I toast up some bread and smear jelly on it – of any kind.  It’s just not something that’s become a habit… and it’s a shame, because my mom’s elderberry jelly is top-notch. (Truth.)

To me, elderberry jelly is basically love itself.  It comes directly from my mother… it has shamefully sat on a shelf for months (years actually; one jar is labeled 2011 … it’s stared accusingly at me every time I opened the cabinet for 3 years), but is delicious, unique, and amazing.  So, the first step is to turn elderberry jelly into something that can be poured for a cocktail.  (I didn’t make a great cocktail, but I did make the syrup)

  • 1 c. elderberry jelly
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 c. frozen peach slices (or fresh would be better probably, but they’re not in season here)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • a few allspice berries and/or peppercorns
Simmer together until the jelly melts. Mash the peach slices a little. Cover & let it steep as it cools for an hour. Strain into a clean bottle & store in the fridge for a week or two.

With elderberry syrup in hand… I decided I needed to balance the sweetness.  Since I had been making Gristmills (using a recipe Amy got from a bartender at the Whistler), I had become rather enamored with Amaro Montenegro (Dan has certain things that if you put them in cocktails he will order it, no matter what else is in it; Amaro Montenegro & allspice dram are at the top of the list).

I tried this drink with bourbon… maybe rye.. I dunno – I was probably drunk.

I do know that if you take 2 parts bourbon, 1 part Amaro Montenegro, and 1 part elderberry syrup… you’ll get my first attempt at an elderberry drink that just tastes like mud. There was a lot going on, but it just didn’t taste good. It was sweet enough, it was bitter enough… but the flavors were just… muddy. It didn’t taste like there was any joy going on here.A spicy rye was just not what was going to make this drink work.  The elderberry has enough going on all by itself and just need something to bring out the sweetness. So, brandy it is.

Then – it needed to be brightened up… a nice acid punch to make it salute on the tip of your tongue.  Turned into a winner.

Then a name.  Elder reminds me of my Grandfather. So Grand replaces Elder, and so I’ve dubbed this the “Grandberry”.  All of the flavors just work to accentuate the elderberry.  It’s bright, unique, and the special ingredient really shines. It makes me happy.

It will make you happy.

for 2 drinks:

  • 3 oz. brandy
  • 1.5 oz. Amaro Montenegro
  • 1.5 oz. elderberry syrup
  • .75 oz. lemon juice

(Dan also serves these in the sherbet glasses he inherited from his grandparents.)

I wanna take you to the YarnCon! YarnCon! YarnCon!

Once upon a time, Dan and I ad libbed new lyrics to Electric Six’s “Gay Bar” (the video, if you’re curious – unless you work at a gay bar, it’s probably pretty NSFW) and made it “Yarn Store” … it’s funny. Um … to us.

Let’s knit a scarf
Knit a really warm scarf
At the yarn store, yarn store, yarn store – WOOOOW!

You get it. Anyway … I have fallen off the knitting wagon the last year or two. I started a sweater early last year which remains unfinished. I knit a cowl on the plane on the way to Utah that’s just sitting around and waiting for me to weave the ends in. My mother-in-law’s blanket is the only project I’ve started and completed in the last year.

I used to knit several projects  a month, have multiple projects going at once, and I met up with a knitting group a couple times a month. Yesterday was the first time I’d seen my knitting group in a very long time and I felt a little sad that I’d let so much time go by.

Every year in Chicago for the last … 6? 7? … years, there is YarnCon, “Chicago’s indie fiber fair.”

Hand-dyers, spinners, makers, artists … they display, they buy, they sell, they demonstrate, they teach, they learn … all gathering for the love of yarn. I hadn’t been in a few years, but I got the reminder email earlier this week and this seemed like a good year to return to my tribe. And I did. With enthusiasm.

Usually when I go to YarnCon, I take a few laps through all the booths (the first lap involves adjusting to the sensory overload and touching everything) and then I select the one special skein that will go home with me.

This year I went hog wild and bought 3 skeins. Two hand-dyed from near my old Wisconsin stomping grounds. One hand-dyed handspun created a few towns over from where I grew up.

two hand-dyed skeins from Hearthside Fibers. one hand-dyed handspun from Esther’s Place

If you’re in Chicago and you want to check out some yarn, YarnCon is going on today, too.

I wanna spend all your money … at the YarnCon, YarnCon, YarnCon!

Thirsty Thursday: High West Campfire

There are some whiskeys that make me clap my hands together and giggle like a schoolgirl. And there are some whiskeys that just make me pause, smile, sigh and sit back like I’m in a whiskey commercial (but not the ones with Mila Kunis being all “I’m just like the dudes and I wear a jumpsuit and have a brand with my name on it so I can claim my own barrel and shit” because seriously, ladies: we can drink better whiskey than that).

I giggle like a schoolgirl when I find High West Campfire on a shelf and do my whiskey commercial shtick when I drink it. It has all the things I like in one whiskey: whiskey, whiskey and whisky. Or, more specifically: bourbon, rye and scotch. Bourbon. Rye. Scotch. Yes, yes and yes.

You get a nice gentle whiff of fruit and smoke when you inhale; and when you sip, a little bit of peaty chewiness (rather than the intense wallop you get from scotch on its own), some nice vanilla & butterscotch flavors from the bourbon and a little snap and spice from the rye.

It’s all the things I like about each one but kinder, gentler and TOGETHER. It’s balanced very nicely so you aren’t overwhelmed by any type of whiskey’s character but still taste all of them. Which is why I like it prepared very simply in a hot toddy or – even better – just pouring a two fingers in a (wee robot) glass.

Nuanced reviews here and here.