Category Archives: Drink

My First Workshop: Booze Infusion Blowout!!

 

Inspired by last winter’s soup swap, my friend Elena asked a little while back if we could do a booze swap, tasting and trading homemade infusions. It sounded like a great plan (what could be better than sharing creativity in cocktail form?), but there was a minor glitch. Some of the people who wanted most to participate had not infused liqueurs before and weren’t quite sure how to go about it.  And so, a plan was born: a two-part party with infusion taking place in Part I, an exchange of boozy goodness in Part II.

Part I, the workshop portion, took place yesterday. Infusions were made, drinks were drunk, good times were had. My house still smells like ginger, zesty and fresh.

I highly recommend throwing your own infusion party! Here is how to do it:

Step 1: Roll Out the Beverages.


I had some previously made infusions on hand. Most of them were on the sweeter side — rhubarb, hibiscus, ginger-peach, and earl grey. These I set out with a pitcher of OJ, a pitcher of lemonade, and some seltzer. Nothing too fancy, just some general mixers to cut the drinks a bit so we weren’t just slugging back multiple tastings of uncut liquor. I had a more savory concoction, too: a caraway-dill vodka with a hint of garlic. This I mixed with the meager drop of vermouth I had on hand and a dash of olive juice for a strong and pickly dirty martini. One guest claimed that the caraway-dill vodka was great with orange juice, but I’m not sure I believe him.

Step 2: I Love Jars. Get Some Jars.


We asked participants to bring a bottle of booze and some flavors they would like to work with, and we provided jars to make things a little easier.

Step 3: Permission to Wing It.


Because I was in a period of transition (AKA post-school, pre-state-licensing floundering) when the booze party plan was hatched, we decided to call this shindig a workshop. I was super psyched to take on a leadership role and teach some things, and I typed up some official sounding language in the invite about how we would discuss infusion and sample some past projects before assembling our concoctions. It all sounded very orderly. In fact, it was not very orderly at all, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I vaguely pointed to the line-up of infusions and mixers, and people poured drinks and rolled up sleeves and started slicing and dicing fruits and veggies and spices on the kitchen island, tumbling pretty colors and smells into jars.

I offered a little bit of advice as things trucked along: the zest of citrus fruits is the best part to infuse. When using super crazy hot peppers, taste your infusion hourly to make sure it’s not getting out of hand. Fruits and veggies should be ready to strain in a couple of weeks. Teas will only take a day or so. But mostly, we all just winged it, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at each other’s colorful combinations, lining up shiny jars.

In a few weeks, we will strain our drinks, add some sugar as appropriate, reconvene for swapping and sharing, maybe tie some ribbons on bottles for holiday gifts, resume our kitchen-creative chatter. I look forward to tasting some of these blends next month — I’m eying the vanilla-pear, various gingery concoctions, all of them, really, in all their improvised glory. I can’t wait to taste how they turn out!

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Return of Rhubarb = My Favorite Beverage, Round 2

Rhubarb is more striking-looking with its leaves, but don't eat them. They are poisonous.

Since getting engaged a few months back, I’ve talked several times about making gallons of rhubarb liqueur for my wedding next year. As we have not set a date, I reasoned, I’d better make it now in case we run into crunch time next spring. I think some people might have thought I was joking, but, if there’s one thing I’m serious about, it’s gin. If there’s another, I suppose it’s local produce. And so I am here to restate my commitment to the rhubarb booze, to making as much of it as possible for signature cocktails for Shawn’s and my special day. Now to find a date and a venue that will allow said cocktails…minor details…

I am also here to provide better photos than I did in my last post on this topic.

Once again, ladies and gentlemen, How to Make Rhubarb Liqueur:

Step 1: Chop Rhubarb, however much you have on hand, and put it in a great, big jar. Here we see four large stalks of rhubarb, courtesy of our CSA. That is a gallon jar.

Step 2: Add a little sugar and the zest of one lemon. Give it a shake. It will look shimmery and juicy all at once. You will be pleased.

Step 3: Add gin. The first time I made this, I used vodka, noting that gin would probably be tasty. I then made another batch with gin and confirmed that this yielded a vastly superior beverage. Here I have used a handle (that’s a legitimate unit of measurement, right?) of meh-quality gin. It’s not really worth it to use the good stuff. It will all mellow out in the end.

Steps 4-5: Not pictured. Step 4 is straining. Through a coffee filter is best, but a fine sieve will do if you are feeling impatient (the coffee filter straining takes, approximately, forever). Step 5 is adding simple syrup to taste and pouring it all into a bottle.

Here we see my second batch of the season sitting next to batch #1, strained and bottled earlier this week.

Last year, the first batch of the season was a pale pink due to the pale green stalks of rhubarb that were available early in the season. The second batch looked more like Hawaiian Punch™ due to brighter, rosier stalks. Re-visiting my second batch of liqueur after a mere one day of infusion reveals that this is going to be the case again. Look at the color on this stuff!

OK, so maybe they don’t look that different now, but trust me: the color will deepen in the next week or two. I will give the jar a good shake every couple of days, then strain it, add simple syrup, and let my liqueur join its paler friend waiting for next year. That is, if I can resist the temptation to serve this up at every cocktail party between now and then. It’s spring in a cup, people! Irresistible!

Resolutions

Time is whipping by. I am in school now, and finals are suddenly upon me. I have a birthday next Saturday and was planning on cooking all day, grounding myself in the kitchen where my feet feel most rooted, laying out platters on the kitchen island and cocktails, too, filling up friends with food and drink, filling up my heart in so doing. It is the best side of me, I think. What better way to enter a new decade?

But the menu has not yet taken shape, and undone dishes lurk in the kitchen, surely trying to  intimidate me. There is a murky financial situation to deal with. There are the aforementioned finals. There are Christmas presents to make or maybe, in a pinch, purchase. And yet, in between trying to make sense of and find time for these things, I find my mind drifting, daydreaming about more and more projects I would like to take on. Why does this happen, this unstoppable brainstorming when I am most overwhelmed? Actually, let’s not look too deeply into that. I’m guessing it smacks of escapism. Maybe let’s just run with it anyway.

I have a birthday coming, which, for me, means reflection and resolution. Most of that is private jibber jabber, appropriate only in my  journal,  but some of it, the scheming, brainstorming, creative part, is quite relevant to this blog. And so, some resolutions.

In the next week, I will clean, sew, make some cheese, read some recipes, cook some food, mix some drinks, do some homework, start some finals. I will enter my first food contest. I will finish my birthday present for my 2-year-old niece. Not necessarily in that order. These are the commitments I have already made. In the next 2 weeks, I will get through the finals, be in a wedding, find appropriate tokens of affection for my loved ones for the holidays, make what I can make, buy what I can buy, travel and come home, and then I will take a deep breath, stop cramming, look forward.

And so. Looking forward.

In the coming year, I would like to do more crafty things. I would like to have something to show for it (not to keep, you understand, but just to put out into the world). Here are some things I would like to complete in the coming year, not the most pressing, necessarily, but the things that are on my wandering mind this week:

  • bottled bitters all in a row, imagined uses for all of them
  • this crazy deliciousness and other boozy concoctions
  • homemade tonic syrup
  • more shiny jars filled with jam and fruit butter than I managed to fill this year
  • hard cheeses (this one requires equipment that might not come into reach, but let’s keep it on the list while we’re in the scheming stage)
  • kefir, yogurt, various other fermentables
  • a finished quilt: pieced, basted, quilted, bound
  • new pillows to cheer up my slightly haggard sofa
  • the imperial IPA Shawn has wanted to brew for ages
  • the secret-ingredient tripel I dreamed up months ago
  • some dresses, some skirts, some things to wear
  • soap from scratch — lye and fats, the whole shebang
  • combs, clips, fascinators (it makes my mom excessively happy to see me put things on my head — this is really a service I provide, like putting on the Talking Heads when I visit, a little spot of sunshine I can bring)

I have this little book, a gift from a friend, that reminds me to write ideas down.  

The list is sure to expand. The book will fill up bit by bit. Surely I will have time when the crunch of December passes to breathe, to look the list over and see what makes sense at any given time, to get things done. I look forward to the new year,  to some kitchen and craft-room creation (and by craft-room, I think I mean livingroom). These are some ideas that I have. These are thoughts that keep me happy. So bring on the birthday. Bring on the new decade. Bring on finishing school, new career, continued exploring, expanded breath, the time to make things, and the lists to remind me to get things made.

Bath Salts and Cayenne Tea: How to kick a cold

I have not posted for a while. First there was vacation: wedding in Boston, then visiting a friend who just moved to the midwest, patriotism stirring in my breast as I wandered alongside fields and fields of corn and soy, marveling at their vastness, wishing I didn’t find their beauty a bit deceptive in light of what I know about industrial food. But there is no questioning the fertility of the land, the ability to feed and nurture, and my oh my was it beautiful out there.

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Then there was the start of school and the onset of Craft Beer Week. Having visited several establishments in the midwest where my food options as a vegetarian consisted entirely of fried things (even the salads were loaded with meat, but who needs salad when there are fried pickles?), I was feeling eager to dive into my CSA head first and get back on a healthy track. After Craft Beer Week.

I love craft beer, and I loved beer week last year, and I was psyched to participate in the Second Annual NYC celebration of craft breweries, many of them local, some of them a bit farther afield. I wanted to patronize establishments that have chosen to support the small breweries that really drive innovation in the beer world, that appreciate all the wonderful things that beer can be. Mostly, I wanted to drink some old favorites at a discount, revel in the opportunity to drink beers on cask that are not usually available that way, and try new beers and new bars that serve up the good stuff.

 Alas, my body had other plans. We had a great first weekend of Beer Week, really. We visited two of the cask festival venues, had great conversations with strangers, tried some new beers. Then Shawn got a stomach bug. I managed to keep it at bay by living on toast and yogurt and miso soup, and Shawn recovered just fine by midweek, in time for us to squeeze in a Wednesday trip to Bar Great Harry. Then, about an hour before leaving class on Thursday, I got that feeling. You know: that sticky feeling in the back of the throat that says, “I am a cold, and I am coming to get you.” Were it not Craft Beer Week, and had I not made plans to meet some friends who are moving away all too soon, and had said friends not whipped up an incredible feast for us to share, I quite likely would have crawled home, slinked into the bath tub, passed out, and worked on nipping it in the bud.

But these friends are moving away, and we had to help them not waste their CSA goodies, and I wasn’t sick yet, and there were craft beer-serving bars in their neighborhood. So I made an enjoyable social decision, but a poor health decision.

In examining how to kick a cold, let’s start with how not to: Do not insist on drinking beers, sitting outside in the cool autumn air. Do not depend on the acidity in your friend’s delicious home-pickled beets to singlehandedly eradicate any bug that may be creeping into your system. Do not proclaim raisin mead delicious and have a second glass that is slightly larger than the first because your friends need to clean out their liquor cabinet before the move. Do not stay out until past your bedtime and then cross your fingers, hoping the raw garlic you down at past-bedtime will work magic overnight (I am pro-raw garlic for colds, but it was too little too late). No regrets, but it’s no way to kick a cold.

Needless to say, I felt bad the next day. That sticky-throated feeling does not lie. Fortunately, I am the most self-indulgent sick person on the planet, so I did what I always do when I get a cold: sleep, use neti pot, drink honey-lemon-cayenne, watch bad TV, bathe, repeat. If there’s a way to clear out a cold in just one day, I have yet to find it, but I swear by this method for kicking colds sooner rather than later and for generally treating yourself right. There’s also garlic chopped and soup consumed and various other tricks, but here are the main components in greater detail:

Sleep: Self-explanatory. Get as comfy as possible. I recommend an eye mask to block the light. If you nap all day and have a hard time bedding down at night, sip a toddy and get under the covers immediately, while you’re still warm and woozy.

Use neti pot: This is helpful when sick, but I highly recommend using this daily for allergies and keeping bugs at bay. I cannot remember the last cold I caught when using the neti pot consistently. Did I mention that I skipped three days last week? My bad.

Drink honey-lemon-cayenne:Any hot tea will do in a pinch. Ginger is an old favorite, regular honey-lemon is great, but I cannot recommend the honey-lemon-cayenne highly enough. The honey is soothing, the lemon astringent and vitamin-packed, and the sprinkle of cayenne provides heat that starts moving nasties out of your system right away.

Watch bad TV: Also self-explanatory. I need not reveal exactly what garbage I have been taking in. That won’t help anyone.

Bathe: Here is where the artistry comes in. I love nothing more than a hot bath when I am sick. The body’s natural response to many sicknesses is to raise its temperature with a fever. If you have a fever, a hot bath is most likely ill-advised (your body is already doing the heating, and you don’t want to get cooked). If, however, you do not have a fever, there’s nothing like getting toasty in the bath, breathing in some essential oils, sweating out some toxins, and savoring those quiet moments with ears underwater, listening to your own heart to provide relief and make you feel like you’re conquering that pesky cold. I have spent years perfecting my cold season bath salts. It is a work in progress, but here is the basic recipe for the latest incarnation:

 Bath Salts for Sickos:

  • 2 cups epsom salts
  • 1 tsp – 2 tbsp. ground dried mustard, however much you want (start low, go higher if you want)
  • 2 tbsp. ground ginger (or make a tea from fresh ginger and add directly to the bath water)
  • Essential oils. These days, I like a combination of lemon, eucalyptus and thyme for a cold, but there are many combinations that work wonders. Just remember that lots and lots of plants go into these essential oils, and they are powerful. Most of them are too potent to be applied directly on the skin, and you should go easy in your bath, too. I usually use 5-8 drops in the tub, and I wouldn’t go higher than that.

Put these things in a tupperware container or jar, put the lid on and shake until everything is combined. Sprinkle into a hot tub and get in. The mustard and ginger will help get you sweating, so skip these ingredients if you’re planning on, say, leaving the house or engaging in any kind of social activity immediately following your bath. If you have time to lie down in jammies or sweats, cozy and out of sight, throw them in.

Either way, take lots of baths, sip your fluids, get lots of sleep, and good luck kicking any colds that come your way.

Cream Tea Take Two: Tea-Based Cocktails and Clotted Cream

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I mentioned in an earlier post that my mother and I attempted to make clotted cream for our biennial tea party last month. Finding a legitimate yet manageable recipe for clotted cream can be tricky. Most have you heating cream slowly in a wide, shallow pan, often over a double boiler, until a crust forms on top, then chilling. Some have you starting with raw, unhomogenized milk. Some involve whipping cream with mascarpone and sometimes even sugar, but Momma and I were either too snobby or too ambitious to go in for such whipped up imitations. The real deal versions, the ones that contain only rich, tasty cream, take a long time, what with the gentle heating and the chilling and setting. We did not have a long time, with me arriving the afternoon before the tea party (with much to do), nor did we have access to the raw, full-fat, cream-on-top Jersey cow milk that I am sometimes lucky enough to get my  hands on. My mom and I heated regular heavy cream gently until she needed the stove for other tea-related endeavours, and we tried to let it set, and, when that did not work, tried straining through coffee filters (Alton Brown’s suggestion), but again ran out of time. Ultimately, I scooped out the thickened parts, whipped the rest of it, and folded it all together. It tasted good, and there were no upturned noses at our offer of thick cream on scones, but my Gran would have been apalled to hear it called clotted cream. I vowed to try again and to get it right before the next tea party.

This time around, I came much closer. Not close enough that I don’t need to try again, but closer. For those unfamiliar with clotted cream, it is also known as Devonshire cream (to girls like me, that is, with roots in Devon — the Cornish make it, too, and claim it for their own), and it is thick and smooth and barely golden, and it is wonderful with scones and jam. You can buy it in gourmet stores in the U.S. for six bucks or so for a tiny jar, and the texture is nice, but it’s surely been pasteurized to all hell, and it’s just not the same. Purists may tell you that proper clotted cream cannot be replicated here under any circumstances, because the milk in the U.S. is not the same. That’s all fine and good, but, while mass-produced dairy here is definitely nowhere near what it is across the pond, and while our cows have not been eating good, vitamin-rich English grass, we’ve got some pretty good grass here in the states, and there are some awesome farmers out there feeding it to some healthy cows who then produce some fantastic milk. Nay-saying purists me damned — I think we can make clotted cream stateside. I am happy to keep trying, and I am always happy to host a tea party.

I decided to keep things manageable for myself this time and only provide cream tea fare: scones, clotted cream, and jam.  I also offered up tea-based cocktails. I told guests that they should not bring anything unless there was something they were itching to make, and I was amazed at the lavender shortbreads, adorable open-faced tea sandwiches, brownies, fresh dark cherries and lime blossom tea that appeared on my counter. It was a far better spread than I would have dared dream.

To make the clotted cream, I poured raw, unhomogenized milk into the ceramic pot that sits in my slow cooker. I let it sit in the fridge overnight so the cream could separate, and I supplemented with a little bit of heavy cream. Then I took it out and heated it for a couple of hours on the “warm” setting. To my great delight, the nubbly golden crust typical of real clotted cream formed on the top. The cream got a little thick. I skimmed it off the top, put it in a baking pan to cool, and popped it in the fridge. The now-skimmed milk went back into its bottle for drinking and general milk use. I checked on the cream before bed, and I was happy to note that it clung to the edges of the pan and appeared thick and just about right for clotted cream. Alas, I checked it again in the morning and found the thick parts thick and perfect, the thin parts still thin. Again, I turned to coffee filters. Again, it took forever to strain and was still runny by tea party time. Rather than whipping the runny parts of the cream, I decided to pour it into a jar and shake it, hoping that the thicker, crustier parts would maintain their shape and texture. Here is the weird part: I shook it up in two batches. One thickened up to a consistency similar to that of very thick whipped cream. The other batch separated, after very little shaking, into a runny white liquid and a ball of thick yellow cream. I gather this is how butter is made, with the runny leftover liquid being traditional buttermilk, but the more solid part was far more creamy than buttery, and, when folded into the other batch of cream, it was lovely. The final product had a pale gold color and clotted creamy texture and was very close to what I’d hoped for. Next time around, I will try to cut out the extra steps of straining and shaking by using fresh cream. Still raw, still from Jersey cows. We will see how that goes. I will post a recipe then, or whenever I have a more reasonable number of steps and a less whipped final result.

The cocktails, on the other hand, worked out great this time around. I made an herbal tea sangria with licorice-mint and red zinger tea, a little hibiscus liqueur that I made a few months ago, and white wine. The more popular drink, arguably the better of the two, was an Earl Grey based drink that I called the Grey Lady. Make a pitcher for your next afternoon cocktail party, or serve anytime if you’re not an insomniac who shies away from caffeine in the evening hours.

Recipe: The Grey Lady

You will need:

  • 6 Earl Grey tea bags
  • 1/4 to 1 cup sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 pink grapefruit
  • rhubarb infused gin
  • gin
  • water

Steep tea bags and zest of grapefruit and lemon in 4 cups boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove tea bags, add sugar to taste, pour into pitcher, and let cool. Juice the lemon and grapefruit and add to cooled tea. I added a good bit of rhubarb gin, well over a cup, and then added regular gin until it tasted right. If you have rhubarb booze on hand, gin-based or otherwise, I suggest you use it. If you do not, regular gin will suffice, though you may want to increase your citrus a bit. I wound up using roughly 1.5 parts rhubarb gin and 1 part regular gin to 4 parts tea, and it went over well. Mix it up and serve over ice.

Return of the CSA meal plan

Things have been a little scatty for the last few weeks with various travel plans and failing to share our CSA delivery a couple of times. All veggies have been consumed or preserved in some way, except those that are still fresh and viable in the fridge, and discovering and cooking up new veggies has been great. The planning, however, has fallen by the wayside a bit.

So here I am, attempting to get back on track. This week’s delivery was particularly exciting, with 2 very fragrant bunches of herbs and no bok choy in sight. (Sorry, bok choy. I still love you, and you have provided me with terrific opportunities to get in touch with my creative side, but I need a little breather.)

We got:

1 Head Napa Cabbage
1 bunch Green Scallions
1 bunch Red Kale
1 bunch Cilantro
1 bunch Basil
1 bunch Chinese Broccoli Guy Lon
1 Boston Lettuce
1/2 pound Adorable Baby Zucchini
1 Cucumber
1 Green Romaine
1 bunch French Radishes
1 Red Oak Leaf Lettuce

We biked the kale, red oak lettuce, most of the radishes, a little cilantro, and half of the scallions and baby zucchini over to our share sharers this evening, and I resumed contemplating vegetables. Here is what I came up with this time around:

  • Cabbage and potato gratin (I am addicted)
  • Rice sticks with sesame-almond sauce, chinese broccoli, scallions, and cilantro (there’s a chance some pickly bok choy will make its way into this dish)
  • Zucchini frittata with basil
  • Salad! Salad! Salad!

It doesn’t look like much typed up there, but most of those things are good for at least a couple of meals for Shawn and me, and there will be a LOT of salad. I will also make a big batch of pesto to freeze up for colder days when fresh herbs are harder to come by. I learned this trick from my mother, whose pesto is legendary among our family friends. The quintessential summer meal, in my mind, consists of sweet corn, juicy sliced tomatoes sprinkled with salt and pepper and basil, and a pile of my mother’s pesto pasta. Pesto in the wintertime is not only delicious, but has the added bonus of summoning up memories of the long table at Colleen’s house, kids and parents and good friends piled around with lake-wet hair. Definitely a thing worth preserving.

My mom freezes hers in batches big enough to feed a rather large family. As I live with just one other person, I freeze my (less legendary) pesto in ice cube trays to add to soups and frittatas, etc., or to sauce up pasta or sandwiches for the two of us. I freeze it in trays, then toss it all in a freezer bag for the winter. I pulled out the last cube a few weeks ago, and we’ve been eating fresh herb sauces ever since, so it seems like as good a time as any to start building the winter stash.

As for those cucumbers, there’s salad, of course, but also many cocktail applications to explore. I recently muddled some cucumbers and lemon for rhubarby cocktails, which were delicious. And surely something delicious can be done with cucumbers and cilantro, maybe a splash of lime? And there’s always Pim’s, of course, for these breezy evenings, and cucumber is always welcome there…does dreaming about cocktails count as assembling a meal plan? I like to think yes, that I am not digressing too much.

The zucchini basil frittata has been tucked into, and I am off to get started on the rice sticks dish for a picnic tomorrow to celebrate the start of one of my favorite free things to do in Brooklyn with CSA bounty (ours and our friends’) and homebrew. Life is good.

Ginger Cardamom Cream Ale

Shawn and I finally got around to bottling our cream ale last week, and the bottling itself was actually less of a production than I remembered. Granted, we had washed the bottles and scrubbed labels already, and Shawn was in charge of sanitizing everything and kicking off the siphoning. I simply helped fill bottles and capped them all.

 

Filling the bottles.
Filling the bottles.

 

There’s me with the special bottle filling hose that releases liquid when pressed. Pressing the tip of the hose into the bottom of the bottle lets the beer in. It is fantastically easy. Some relatives of Shawn’s left these soft-sided coolers at our place a couple of years ago, and they make a good home for bottle conditioning beer. They’re easy to clean in the case of spills, boxy and soft at the same time, making them both stackable and somewhat protective, and the lid zips on firmly. We have never had any problems with exploding bottles, but it’s nice to have them zipped up and contained, just in case.

I don’t have any pictures of the bottle capper in action, but it’s fun to use. It takes a little while to get the hang of it, though, and I always feel like I’m going to snap the neck off of the first few bottles I do. This has never happened. The worst I’ve done is mangled a few bottle caps, but I like to think those ones were defective anyway.

Call me crazy, but warm, flat beer usually doesn’t do it for me. We tasted the beer before it was bottle conditioned anyway, and I’m happy to say that this one was actually pretty good. Obviously not as good as when bubbly and a little colder, but pretty decent. We let it bottle condition for just about a week before we tried it again, and we loved it. The ginger makes it crisp and spicy, and the cardamom gives it a subtle, almost fruity taste. Overall, it is light and refreshing and a good summer beer. The spices are not overly cloying, in part because the beer is not particularly sweet.

 

Final gravity reading.
Final gravity reading.

 

Look at those champagney little bubbles! The alcohol content is pretty low — I believe under 5% — making it ideal for those summer afternoons when you’d like to have a beer with friends, but don’t particularly want to get hammered. I am looking forward to sharing this beer with loved ones and to bottling up our next batch!

For those looking to spice up their own brews, we used a cream ale kit, adding 1/4 cup fresh sliced ginger and 1 tsp cardamom (removed from pods, but not ground) to the boil for the last 15 minutes. You might want to increase the cardamom a bit if you’re making a hoppier beer, but I highly recommend sticking with a cream ale or something else that’s subtle on hops with this spice combination, and I definitely recommend these quantities.