Tag Archives: tea

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!


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.


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

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.

Peas and Prayer Flags

My mom’s and my biennial garden tea party took place last weekend. My momma would like me to post recipes here for everything that we produced for said party, and that might happen gradually over time. There will certainly be a post on the clotted cream when the next attempt happens in a few weeks. We did a lot of baking and preparing, samovar and tea set borrowing, hat selecting, etc., and ladies came and got to wear neglected accessories and sip tea (or gin) from tea cups and chatter the afternoon away, and said ladies were also given tours of the garden upon request and had photos taken under the rose arbor at my mother’s insistence.

I got my photo taken on party day, but my personal garden tour came a day later, when my mother was no longer wearing a frilly dress and Carmen Miranda hat, and I was moved by the extent to which my momma’s garden is an extension of the very best parts of her. I have always thought of her as a gardener, but I was struck more by the particular ins and outs of her garden this time, probably for a few reasons: 1.) I am more interested in gardening and covetous of the space to garden than I have been in the past. 2.) My mom always grew flowers in abundance outside our various houses, but her veggies were mostly out in a community plot when I was growing up. Over the last few years, the veggie garden has migrated to her house, and the integration of food and flowers that I love so much has reached new levels in recent years. And lastly, 3.) Though I thought of adults as somewhat static when I was a little kid, I realized pretty quickly that the best ones are more dynamic, still growing and changing with time. There’s no cut off for that, no grown up age where the growing is done. As my mother continues to learn and soften and expand into an evermore wonderful lady, so, too has her garden evolved. Volunteer plants are encouraged more than ever. Potatoes are allowed to pop up in the broccoli patch, and they are loved and nurtured there. A mix of Chinese greens “does their thing” by the runner beans, and she picks whatever parts are tender enough to eat.

I know that hours upon hours of careful thought have gone into that garden, that winter months are spent devouring seed catalogues, that plants are rotated year to year to keep the soil healthy, that there is much planning and order in the place. But there is a looseness, too, in my mom’s garden. Plants are permitted to reseed themselves in unlikely spots. A decision has been made to let nature do its thing some of the time. I love being in the garden and seeing my mom loosening up those reins and striking a balance of control with her beloved plants, because I love the herbs and potatoes and prayer flags of course, but moreso because I love my momma. I love being in the garden, because her great big heart is there, on full display. Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves. Momma lets hers run loose among catmint and foxgloves and amaranth.


Momma giving me the tour, weeding as she went.
Momma giving me the tour, weeding as she went.
During the garden party, my mother bustled around with a trowel and small pots, digging up plants to bestow upon her guests during tours. Here she is with a handful of weeds, doing a little light tending.
The left side of the house
The left side of the house

A few years ago, this was all lawn and a small herb garden. The herb garden expanded. Then came berry bushes and runner beans, and the border with the neighbor’s lawn is now marked by blueberries and dramatically named Love Lies Bleeding amaranth plants, by potatoes and asparagus and any number of other treasures. The lawn is history.

Garlic scapes and Chinese greens
Garlic scapes and Chinese greens

 Those are the greens doing their thing at the front of the house. Garlic scapes are tasty, and I love their graceful curlicues.

Peas and Prayer Flags
Peas and Prayer Flags

There were so many peas ripe for the picking, bright green beneath prayer flags flapping and tattering away, carrying blessings away on the breeze.