Monthly Archives: May 2009

Rhubarb Booze!

Rhubarb liqueur is the reason this blog exists. A couple of weeks ago, I trotted off to the farmer’s market at Grand Army Plaza with the express purpose of picking up my first rhubarb of the season to make booze and the strawberry-rhubarb slop that goes on ice cream and tastes like early summer perfection. There was a nice lady there buying rhubarb herself, and she and I struck up a conversation about the making of liqueurs. She made some with rhubarb last year. She was psyched. She encouraged me to make and have a cupboard full of bitters (which I hope to get going in the next couple of months — adorable market lady, if you ever read this, you’re super influential). She asked if I had a blog. I made one happen in a rather abstract, removed response. That’s how it went down.

After an excellent day of veggie buying, car borrowing, homebrew shopping, and Long-Island-diner-dining, I got going on the rhubarb goodness. We made the gooey ice cream topping (many thanks to the dinner guest who left strawberries in my fridge that week), and I chopped a whole bunch more rhubarb and plopped it into my trusty gallon jar.

Step one: Chopped rhubarb in jar

That’s a little over a quart of rhubarb. I added lemon zest for good measure, and some sugar, too. In general, I am in favor of leaving the sugar out and adding simple syrup once your infusables have infused. That way, you have more control and can taste for sweetness and tweak to your liking. If you add the sugar at the start, you run the risk of winding up with something sweeter than you’d like. That said, rhubarb is notoriously tart, so I didn’t think there was much risk of oversweetening, and I really wanted to shake it around with a little sugar and watch the juices start to seep out, so that is just what I did. Simple pleasures.


rhubarb shaken with sugar and a little zest
rhubarb shaken with sugar and a little zest


I added 1.75 litres of vodka, gave it a good swirl to make sure all juices and sugar crystals were submerged, and tucked it away in a dark and cozy spot.


Ready to infuse!
Ready to infuse!


By the next day, the rhubarb had all floated to the top of the jar, and the vodka had turned a very pale and pretty shade of pink. I let it sit for just shy of two weeks, pinkening and flavoring up, me giving it a shake whenever I thought of it (probably averaged out to every other day). And here it is all infused. I decided it was done when most of the color had leached out of the rhubarb and into the vodka, as it seemed unlikely that the rhubarb was going to give up any more flavor.


Ready to strain...
Ready to strain…


Because there was some sediment in the bottle (lemon zest and, presumably, fibers that had come out of the rhubarb), I strained it through a coffee filter. I added some simple syrup and poured it into a glass jug. Shawn proclaimed it spring in a bottle.It was coming up on bedtime when all of the vodka had finally dripped through the filter, so we didn’t do much with it that night. I made one simple drink for Shawn and me to share: Rhubarb liqueur with a squeeze of lemon, topped up with plain old seltzer. It tasted bright and only slightly sweet and most refreshing. It would be excellent with some muddled strawberries (of course) and a little bit of fresh mint or maybe even basil. Given my natural affinities, I thought it would also be great with a little splash of gin. Maybe I will skip the vodka middle man and make rhubarb gin next time around…Either way, cocktail possibilities abound, and I highly recommend this easy, pleasing way of bottling spring.


Spring in a bottle: Rhubarb boozy goodness
Spring in a bottle: Rhubarb boozy goodness
In Sum: The Recipe
What goes in:
4-5 cups chopped fresh rhubarb
zest of half lemon (or to taste)
1/4 cup sugar
1.75 litres vodka
simple syrup of 3/4 cups sugar (roughly 2:1 ratio of sugar to water)
How to do it:
1) Shake chopped rhubarb with lemon zest and sugar in large glass jar
2) Add vodka and store in dark place for approximately two weeks, shaking every couple of days
3) Strain, add simple syrup, bottle up and drink!


OK, so I like a bad pun now and then.

But not anywhere near as much as I like brewing beer with Shawn.

I am a lifelong kitchen tinkerer. I gain immense satisfaction from cooking a good meal. My momma raised me to be an improvisational cook, creative in the kitchen,  and there is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment that comes from combining flavors successfully. Well, there are probably plenty of creative processes that produce a very similar feeling of accomplishment. But cooking is arguably what I am best at, and the pleased-with-myself feeling that comes from making something good, paired with the ability to use that something to bring nourishment and pleasure to those around me is one of my favorite things in life.

My boyfriend is a great lover of food (a quality not to be taken for granted), but not much of a cook. He is also a great lover of beer. For his birthday a couple of years back, I got him a basic homebrew kit — bucket and carboy and hoses, the little thing to read original gravity, etc., along with an ingredients kit to make his very own IPA. A friend got him a book about homebrewing, and he read it cover to cover, returning to relevant chapters as brewing plans came together, much the way I pore over new cookbooks. The homebrew kit did exactly what I’d hoped: Shawn got excited about this great kitchen craft. He started dreaming about varieties of hops the way I dream about summer produce, started scheming about malts, yeast packets, spices. It does my heart good to see him making one of his favorite things, and I love playing assistant, stirring malt-goo in a big pot, four inches of foam breaking just before it spills over the edge, sinking down. Perhaps more importantly, I like beer. From where I’m sitting, it’s a win-win-win: I get to see my wonderful boyfriend engaging in a process strikingly similar to one of my all-time favorite pastimes, we get to be in the kitchen together, which I treasure beyond words, and we get like five gallons of beer out of every batch.

Despite our shared love of beer and brewing, Shawn and I have somewhat different tastes. I love trippels, cream ales, ambers. He loves crazy, dank IPAs, the hoppier the better. We brewed a cocoa nib and vanilla porter a few weeks ago that is currently in its second ferment and that we will surely both love in the fall and winter when the air is cool again and the beer has had time to mellow. To accomodate our different tastes, Shawn has obtained a couple of extra carboys over the last few months so that we can overlap our brewing. We have yet to do any all grain beers or even to cobble together our own scratch recipes. We’re still working from kits, but experimentings with additions (like the cocoa nibs and vanilla). Tonight, we are working on one of my brews: A cream ale with ginger and cardamom, which should be ready in about four weeks. We’re hopeful that the spices will be refreshing additions to our take on a summer beer.

For those interested in brewing, we used the Brewer’s Best American Cream Ale kit, adding 1/4 cup fresh sliced ginger and about a teaspoon of cardamom seeds out of their pods to the boil at 15 minutes. I’ll report back on whether these quantities are too spare, overly cloying, or just right. Fingers crossed for the latter.

Anyone interested in swapping homebrews, give a holler. For nonbrewing friends, consider earning yourself a sixpack or two by schlepping over here and bottling it yourself.

Why I love the Greenmarket

I moved to New York nearly six years ago, leaving my family and a fledgling relationship with a boy I loved and an easy drift of days behind. I moved to a fifth floor walk up in East Harlem that did not have much in the way of heat in the winter, but did have black mold and pestilence issues and an extremely unresponsive management company. I moved to New York to grow myself up. I’d moved home after college, held a string of temp jobs, and found myself adoring the lack of responsibility. I went to the gym. I went out at night. I cooked good dinners with my momma, ate breakfast with my brother, then a six-year-old with a buzz cut and missing teeth who would lean sideways to give me a one-armed hug when I sat down next to him. In early summer, I’d wander outside and eat peas off the vine, sun-warmed and sweet. In late summer, baby golden tomatoes popped out, and eggplants long and purple or fat and white and round. It was an amazing life. I could see myself living it indefinitely, and I had the distinct and sinking feeling that maybe I should do something more. I moved to New York, to a crappy apartment I shared with very dear friends, largely for the challenge. New York, I reasoned, is always good for a kick in the pants.

That fall was good. I was in love, and the boy and I were making a go of it despite the distance. I tried to get a job. I saw all the friends I thought I would see when I moved to the city and took long walks and scouted out bargains and trotted off to temp jobs in button down shirts and eyeliner. And then winter hit. We didn’t have heat most of the time. Nestled under blankets in my bedroom, I noted that I could see my breath and that that was not good. Things ended beyond badly with the boy back home, though I gather now that these things do not end well as a general rule. Spring rolled around. To this day, I swear there was something going on with the planets or the universe that late winter and early spring.  Surely some hippie wisdom can explain why all of my friends were in the gutter at the same time? Really. I had a broken heart. My nearest and dearest two at the time lost their mom. Two good friends learned they had cancer. I got tearful phone calls about rocky relationships on a just about daily basis. It seemed like no one around me had a real job or a stable love or a sense of calm. Spring of 2004 was a real shit show, my friends.

This is a lot of digression, I realize, in the tale of why I love the Greenmarket. The truth is that I have always loved the Greenmarket for reasons aesthetic, political and spiritual, some of which I can easily articulate and some of which I cannot. What I can say easily is that, in the early days of that wretched spring, I got a job that was close enough to Union Square for me to visit the big market there every day that it was on. I slumped down there after work one day when it was still cold, ground frozen, not a lot of green to be seen. But the honey man was there, and he bantered and cajoled and let me taste all the honeys, talked about bees and buckwheat until I felt a little weight ease off in my chest. And a farmer was there selling house plants from his greenhouse, and he had a shelf of slightly battered begonias with a sign that said they were $1. I told him I didn’t think you could get anything for a dollar these days, and I bought one. A tiny pot with delicate pink flowers for a mere dollar, and, after being in flux for over six months and feeling so very down for weeks and weeks, that was the exact moment that my heart began to feel OK.

The people around me who were hurting most five years ago are all A-OK today, and I’m very, very grateful for the fact that those who were ill then are thriving now. There will always be joblessness and relationship turmoil and chasms left by the loss of loved ones, and it’s a balm to know that there will also be a honey man, that asparagus season will roll around and then rhubarb, then peas, then all the rest. It helps enormously to have flowers to visit, bright crisp radishes, stored up apples and cabbages, crazy mushrooms and varieties of small potatoes promising a world of culinary possibilities, setting me to kitchen-scheming, putting my heart at ease.