’tis the season

I tend to not have favorites. Favorite color? They’re all pretty in their own way. Favorite food? Don’t even make me begin tackling that one. But favorite season? That’s a no-brainer.

Spring.

IMG_0163

When I decided to go home for the months of March and April I was hit with a pang of sadness, regretful that I’d be missing those first green buds that pop out from wintry, wiry branches and the surprising pale pinks, electric lilacs, and soft yellows that burst from trees that laid dormant for months. But, much to the chagrin of my friends who endured a cold and rainy couple of months, Chicago decided to forestall spring a bit this year, . I’d like to think it was waiting for my return. All I can say is I am eternally grateful for the beautiful tulips, blossoms, and verdancy that envelop the city right now.

IMG_1577

In honor of spring, this weekend Kate and I cooked up a seasonal dinner. On the menu was an asparagus filled twist on pasta carbonara, carrot harissa salad, kale salad with pickled onion, pear, and radish, and to round it all out, a special cocktail. Inspired by a brunch cocktail I enjoyed a few months back at Nana, I set sprigs of rosemary aflame and dropped them into glasses of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, gin, and simple syrup.

IMG_1599

Although my diners and I were skeptical as rosemary smoke wafted over the stove, the cocktails turned out great. The rosemary added a subtle woodiness to to the otherwise sweet and bright drink. I’m already imagining igniting more herbs on fire and experimenting with fun drinks as spring continues to bloom. ‘Tis the season—my favorite season.

IMG_1597

Grapefruit Rosemary Cocktails

Serves 4

4 grapefruits

Gin (about a cup)

⅓ cup granualted sugar

⅓ cup water

Ice cubes

Boil ⅓ cup sugar and ⅓ cup water until sugar is dissolved. Set aside or place in the fridge to cool.

Squeeze juice from 4 grapefruits, discarding any seeds. Place juice in a large pitcher. Add gin. The ratio should be about 3:1 juice:gin. Add simple syrup and stir until combined. Place ice cubes into 4 glasses and divide drink evenly.

Using an open flame on a stove or grill, lightly torch sprigs of rosemary and drop one sprig into each glass.

Cheers!

Advertisements

things are about to get juicy…

Happy Labor Day from Iowa! I’m writing from my parents’ kitchen table in the little house in the big woods, hoping that all you readers are having as relaxing and as golden a holiday weekend as I.

I’ve written before about how much I love a good title, and today I got to thinking about the title of a fantastic book of short stories by Malie Meloy, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It. As a little kid I dreaded Labor Day because it signaled the end of summer, but now, as a quasi-grown up, I’ve come to love the holiday for the way that it lets us have it both ways. What could be better than watching my Iowa Hawkeye football team in their season opener and my St. Louis Cardinals chasing a Wild Card berth in the same day? Than reveling in the late summer’s bounty at the Des Moines Farmers’ Market  in the morning and back-to-school shopping in the afternoon? I don’t want summer to be over, but I can’t wait for fall and both ways is the only way I want it.

During my weekend at home I got to participate in my mom’s late summer ritual of canning tomatoes. Preserving whole tomatoes and tomato juice, making jam, and freezing sweet corn was such a regular activity in Mom’s and Grandma Kay’s kitchens that I didn’t always realize how special and unique these skills. I’m still an apprentice in all of these (though I probably have journeywoman status in pickling) and I jump at the chance to learn whatever I can from these masters of kitchen preservation.

I’m already scheming the perfect use for the 6 quarts of the best tomato juice in the world that I brought back to Chicago. In my opinion, a Bloody Mary is the perfect accompaniment for a late season baseball game or an NFL season opener or a random Sunday brunch on the back porch. I’m a late comer to the Bloody Mary party- I got used to seeing the drinks at all my favorite brunch spots around  and could never bring myself to shell out the cash for a cocktail at breakfast- but now that I’ve tasted Bloody Mary with homemade tomato juice, I think any commercial one will taste subpar. This recipe is a work in progress, but as long as Mom keeps me in the tomato juice and as long as I have one foot in summer and the other in fall, I’ll keep working on perfecting it.

Best Bloody Marys

(adapted from the Barefoot Contessa)

3 large stalks celery from the heart, with leaves, plus more for garnish

36 oz tomato juice

2 t prepared horseradish

1 t grated onion

1 lemon, juiced

1 t Worcestershire sauce

1/2 t Kosher salt (more to taste)

12 dashes hot sauce

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 1/2 c vodka

Cut the celery (leaves included) into large dice and process in a food processor until finely minced. In a large pitcher, combine all other ingredients except vodka. With the food processor running, pour 1/4 of the tomato juice mixture through the feed tube. Pour the contents of the food processor back into the pitcher with the rest of the tomato juice mixture and chill. Add vodka. Serve in tall glasses over ice with celery, pickles, and/or olives for garnish.

refreshments

This weekend I had the pleasure of accompanying Kate and her wonderful family, who was visiting Chicago for the weekend, to the Randolph Street Market Festival, a gargantuan crafts fair bearing everything from handmade earrings, to antique furniture, to whimsical paintings and sculptures, to my personal favorite, vintage cookware. I somehow managed to muster the restraint to not purchase a banana shaped paperweight, scallop-edged cake stand, or retro toaster (although I did devote ample mental energy trying to convince myself they would be necessary additions to my life). What I did walk away with something sweeter. After two hours of making our way through the myriad indoor and outdoor stalls in the sweltering summer heat, we were parched. To our delight, there was a Middle Eastern food stand stationed smack dab in the middle of the outdoor lot that beckoned us with a giant frosty pitcher of lemonade teeming with bright green mint leaves and thick yellow lemon slices. With just one sip, I proclaimed this lemonade to be one of the best I’d ever had. It had just the right balance of sweetness and tartness, and the mint added a coolness that refreshed me from the inside out. It was the perfect way to end a wonderful summer afternoon with the Adkins family.

I attempted to recreate this drink to share with friends at a potluck yesterday evening. It was simple to put together and served as a great accompaniment to cool down the delicious spice-packed food that my friends concocted. I have a feeling that this drink will be making its way into my glasses quite often this summer, and even when the summer fades and the cold sets in, I’m making a mental note to make a batch of this lemonade to refresh even the wintriest of days with a summer state of mind.

Mint Lemonade
1/2 cup sugar
3 1/2 cups water
7 lemons
1 cup mint leaves
Ice

To make simple syrup: In small saucepot, boil together 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water until sugar is dissolved (microwave method: microwave 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water for 2 minutes). Let it cool to room temperature. The simple syrup can also be made ahead and stored in the fridge.

Juice 6 lemons into a large pitcher or container, straining out the pulp and seeds. This should make a little more than 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Add 3 cups of cold water and mint leaves. Cut the remaining lemon into thin slices and add to the mixture. Add about 2 cups of ice cubes. Stir lemonade, cover, and store in fridge for at least 1 hour before serving. Serve with extra ice cubes.

To make Mint Arnold Palmers: Fill a glass half-full with mint lemonade and fill the remaining half with iced black tea.