Lilac blooms don’t last long, at high elevations at least. A reminder of the fleeting nature of the seasons, the blossoms begin to brown and drop off barely week after the all buds on each stem have opened. It makes sense to snip a few to put in a vase or soak a couple of cups in syrup. Lilac syrup makes a subtle floral soda and pairs well with gin.
1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
2 cups of lilac blossoms, flowers only, not stems
You can make more syrup, but the ratio must be the same: 1:1 of water and sugar. Slowly boil the sugar and water together until the sugar has dissolved and let it simmer gently for on low for a minute until it’s syrupy. The thicker you want your syrup to be, the longer you should simmer it. Wait until the mixture has cooled a little: you don’t want to burn the flowers, but you want the mixture to be hot enough. Rinse the flowers in cold water and add them to the syrup. Stir the flowers gently into the liquid until they are soaked in syrup. Cover and steep overnight.
In the morning, strain the syrup a couple of times and bottle. Unless you preserve the syrup by canning or other means, it will last for a few months in the fridge.
Mix on ounce of syrup with six ounces of club soda and pour over ice.
Simple syrup season is here – the time where we have lilacs, forsythia and other blossoms to soak in sugar water to make floral or fruit sodas and cocktails.
My rhubarb/vodka cocktail is called a Catskills cocktail is because we have burgeoning rhubarb with very little effort on our mountaintop here in the Catskills. Alan White of Two Stones Farm told us years ago to grow what thrives in abundance on your property and swap with your neighbors. So we’ve been growing rhubarb as thick as broomsticks for years. Animals avoid the leaves because they’re poisonous and because the rhubarb itself is bitter, but the fruit provides useful nutrients and fibre. The tartness of the rhubarb pairs well with the vodka. I also like to add a sprig or two of rosemary when cooking the syrup as I think the flavors pair well. Just the soda alone – the rhubarb juice and the sparkling water together – is delicious and refreshing. You can also use the rhubarb syrup as you would a liqueur in Prosecco or Champagne. Continue reading →
Fire cider is a traditional, ancient folk remedy and winter tonic in which curative roots, herbs and spices are steeped in apple cider vinegar. The basic ingredients of fire cider are garlic, horseradish root, jalapeños, habaneros, ginger and onion. Chop these ingredients finely, put them in a mason jar and cover with apple cider vinegar. To this mix you can add extras like grapefruit, rosemary, garlic, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne pepper or really anything that takes your fancy, usually a root or herbs because they steep better than powders. Continue reading →
If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’ve been making natural sodas with forsythia and spruce tips. I’ve discovered that spruce tip syrup goes particularly well with whiskey, too, like the forsythia, which made a tasty Catskills Collins. I’m also working on rhubarb juice that makes a first-rate bitter addition to cocktails for people who find bitters too intense or overpowering for their taste. Here are a couple more refreshing cocktails for the summer.
Did someone yell Cocktail? I have all this forsythia syrup and didn’t preserve it, so I need to use it all up before it goes bad. What better way to put syrup to good use than a twist on a couple of classic whiskey cocktails: a John Collins and a New York Cocktail. The simple syrup is replaced in both cocktails by forsythia syrup, the earthy tones of which are compatible with a good Scotch and the lemon. Find my forsythia syrup recipe here.
This first is similar to a John Collins, but made with Scotch and missing the fruity garnishes. The second is a New York Cocktail without the grenadine.
All the things I love and consume regularly like caffeine, chocolate, alcohol and sugar all take a toll on the body; this is especially so if you’re obsessed with tea and have to drink it around the clock. I love a hot toddy or mulled port in the evening by the fire, but If you’re looking for a fragrant winter beverage that is healthful and tasty, try Golden Milk, which I discovered last week at an event at Spillian, where Liza Belle was simmering a pot of the milk on the stove while teaching a group how to make fire cider. This milk will provide a comforting winter warmer with some seriously beneficial ingredients, sweetened with maple syrup, which you can find at presently bustling sap houses all over the region.
2 cups of coconut milk, oat or almond milk
1 tablespoon of grated turmeric root
2 tablespoons of grated, fresh ginger root
I tablespoon of powdered turmeric
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon of maple syrup
1 pinch of ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
Mix together all the ingredients in a pan and gently bring to the boil while stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. Simmer gently on a low boil for about twenty minutes while stirring.
By all accounts, turmeric appears to be one of those miracle foods like Manuka honey or raw cranberry. I know a family member devoted to The People’s Pharmacy who swears by turmeric for burns. In fact, years ago she looked up a remedy for burns online and was instructed to put a popular brand of mustard on a severe burn and cover the area with a bandage. Hours later all traces of the burn were gone and it wasn’t until years later she discovered it was the turmeric used to color the mustard that worked the magic. I have a friend who is drinking turmeric beverages every morning and reports that her memory seems to be improving. A quick search of WebMD reveals that the spice is “believed to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and perhaps even anticancer properties” and “several studies suggest that it might ease symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, like pain and inflammation”. An ancient Indian recipe calls for turmeric and honey in warm milk for cold symptoms and that’s worked for me in the past.
Powdered herbs and spices will keep for a while, but if you want to keep the actual roots of ginger and turmeric but don’t use them that often, you can store them in the freezer and grate them directly into the recipe while you’re preparing a dish. The grated root will thaw immediately once in a warm soup, sauce or drink but won’t be overcooked.
Wayside Cider is opening their new cidery and tap room opening in Andes this month. The tap room is based in a barn on Redden Lane, beautifully restored, with as much attention to detail paid to it as was to the cider, which is as light as a breeze. There is a courtyard with a firepit. Future plans for the adjacent carriage house include a banquet hall and store. They anticipate a soft opening on October 22nd.
The Delaware Phoenix Distillery in Walton makes its own absinthe, the legendary botanical spirit, here in the Catskills.
Absinthe is seen as “other” in the world of booze; its consumption is exotic, ritualistic and accompanied by accessories but it began life as a medicinal tonic revered by ancient philosophers, doctors and scholars. The absinthe that we now drink for recreation is unlike the 2,000 year-old remedy that was chiefly wormwood, a preparation that was administered for labor, menstrual pain, rheumatism and a host of other ailments. The two main herbs in the modern-day absinthe are Grande Wormwood and Green Anise. The spirit gets its green color from chlorophyll.
We’ve taken one of the last batches of our 2015 organic blueberry and golden raspberry crops out of the freezer, have thawed them out, and now soaking them in Union Grove Distillery’s local Vly Creek Vodka to make a fruity, alcoholic mixer. See you in six weeks.
After copious testing of Union Grove Distillery’s Vly Creek Vodka on Friday night, yours truly is happy to say that the vodka packs a punch. Tried frozen and neat, it’s as fresh and clean as the local creek after which it’s named. Upstate Dispatch decided to team it with the other famous product, Vly Creek Maple Farm maple syrup from Ronald Morse and make a local cocktail that’s as refreshing and invigorating as today’s 2F Catskills breeze.
It’s no secret that your humble correspondent is a big fan of both vodka and shopping locally. After much anticipation, Union Grove Distillery in Arkville, New York is up and running, producing vodka made from apple cider and wheat. Apples for the vodka were bought in Schoharie Valley at Terrace Mountain Orchards in Middleburgh. Vodka is, by definition in the United States, a spirit (made from a grain, fruit or any source) that has been distilled to 190 proof until it’s been thoroughly purified of all the remnants of the fermentation process. Distilled water is then added back in to dilute the liquid to a lower alcohol volume.
If you eaten too much stuffing, overloaded on turkey or you’re seeking need a tonic to dissolve the Christmas pudding, try these refreshing cocktails as an antidote to all the stodge. According to their website, St. Germain is made in France from freshly picked elderflower blossoms in a “slow, charmingly inefficient way”. Medicinal benefits of extract of elderflower include influenza, coughs, colds, sinusitis, constipation, inflammation and rheumatism.
The taste is “neither passion fruit nor pear, neither grapefruit nor lemon; the sublime taste of St. Germain is a flavor as subtle and delicate as it is captivating”.
Lemon St. Germain & Prosecco
2 ounce of St. Germain
12 ounces of Prosecco
1 ounce of Fleischmanns gin
2 ounces of fresh, still lemonade
1 tablespoon of maple syrup
2 ounce of soda or sparkling mineral water
Combine ingredients in a mason jar. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze into the mixture and throw in. Stir slowly and gently and pour into glasses. Serves two.
Classic Prosecco & St Germain
16 ounces of Prosecco
12 ounces of sparkling water
8 ounces of St. Germain
2 ounces of fresh, still lemonade
Pour ingredients into a jug. Mix slowly for a minute and serve. Serves four.
You can still enjoy a warming port or wine cocktail even if it’s 70F on Christmas Day. Port has an illustrious history: both sweet and warming. Sherry and Port were a staple in the households of British Christmas drinkers when I was growing up and here is a tangy variation on the theme that employs sweet cherry juice. Merry Christmas!
Mulled Spiced Citrus Port
750ml Tawny Port
100ml cherry juice
10 whole cloves
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
2 cinnamon sticks
1 drop of vanilla essence
Slice off the peel (including pith) of both the orange and lemon until you have the raw fruit and about eight slices of fruit peel. Put the peel to one side and muddle the raw orange and lemon fruit together with the port and cherry juice. Add the remaining ingredients, including the fruit peel, into the muddled mixture. Steep the mixture for a few hours. Add a cup of water to dilute to taste. Pour into a saucepan and heat gently until warm. Remove the fruit waste – but not the peel – once the port has warmed sufficiently to serve.
It’s hot toddy season for whiskey drinkers, but if you use the freshest, most healthful ingredients, eat the honey separately. Raw, natural honey from a pesticide-free apiary is precious amber nectar and you shouldn’t ruin it in hot water. I felt sniffles and a sore throat coming last week, so I got hold of some of New York’s finest raw honeycomb and its propolis. I took a large teaspoon and savored it well, making sure it touched every part of my throat before swallowing. I sweetened my hot toddy with maple syrup and I’m glad to say this combination worked.
Classic Hot Toddy for Two
2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 ounces of single malt scotch
8 ounces of warm water
2 teaspoons of maple syrup
A new favourite tea to add to the list of delicious tea available here in the Catskills: Coffee Lover’s Tea from Tay Tea in Andes. It took me a long time to realize that I was not suited to coffee after adopting it as a breakfast beverage when I first moved to New York City in my twenties. Back in England, I had been raised in a tea family and the familiar refrain: “put the kettle on” still rings in my ears because English people drink tea continually all day. The kettle is always on and whoever gets up first, from couch or desk, must boil the next batch of water. The nice thing about tea is that it doesn’t make you suffer like coffee does. I’ve never ever said the words: I’ve drunk too much tea. It just doesn’t happen, whereas I’ve had fraught conversations and business meetings wherein I’m pretty sure the most anxious people in the room have drunk far too much coffee. I may have the odd cup of coffee when I need a jolt of energy, but for the most part, I’ve returned to my first love, tea. Preparing a pot of tea is a peacefully meditative ritual, and sharing a pot of tea is like breaking bread. At Tay Tea this past weekend, I interviewed owner Nini Ordoubadi, tried a range of tea and some stellar tea-infused biscuits, but came away feeling invigorated and refreshed. And I now know much more about tea.
Regular readers already know about my love of tea and my obsession with Earl in Paris from Organic Traveler’s Tea, which makes a delicious cold brew that I take on the road. Yes, I travel with the Traveler’s, which is an organic tea that’s blended and sold locally. Now that the weather’s good for hiking, I’ve found tea that’s perfect to take up a mountain: Trekker’s Reprieve. You can cold brew it or take bags up a mountain and make sun tea with it while you eat your lunch. It’s gunpowder green with orange peel, spearmint, cinnamon and blue vervain. Blue vervain is a native plant from the mint family that grows all over the American prairies, meadows and plains and allegedly revered as a herb of great healing powers by the ancient Greeks. According to the USDA, it’s used internally to treat depression, fevers, coughs, cramps, jaundice, and headaches. So it’s healing for the hiker, tasty and refreshing. The citrus element serves to repel insects although nothing will stop the flies from dive-bombing your eyeballs.
If the most excellent Phoenicia Diner gets any hotter it will start sizzling such is the expanse of its popularity, having been featured everywhere recently in publications like Conde Nast Traveler, Vogue, Elle and my country’s Daily Mail and Telegraph. I told Mike Cioffi, the Diner’s owner, that he could put ten diners up and down Route 28 and they would still be full to bursting every weekend. I’m sad to say that I’m severely behind in my New Year’s Resolution of eating my way through the outstanding menu and am usually banging my head against the desk on Mondays when I look at my watch and realize it has closed until Thursday.
Co-incidentally, neither can I imagine a better way to kick off Memorial Day weekend than with a cold beer and a Pixies concert under the stars on the back lawn of Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, New York. Buy tickets here.
To continue the British punk theme for the remainder of the weekend and into Monday. The DIY ethos of the punk movement merged with my British obsession with tea, (made from Organic Traveler’s Tea) ready for The Economy of Punk on WIOX FM Radio tomorrow morning at 9am. Making my own cold tea while choosing content for the show.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a lovely brew from Organic Traveler’s Tea: rooibos (red African herbs), honeybush, roses, fair trade vanilla, hibiscus, ginger, cardamom and vegan chocolate from Girl & Bee. Earthy and warm, delicately subtly spicy.
Christmas is approaching. There’ll be caroling, midnight mass in unheated churches, parties in which you’ll not find the whisky to which you’ve become accustomed and bars wherein they’ll charge you $15 for a thimble-full of Scotland’s finest.
You’ll need a hip flask. Should you find yourself with an empty hip flask but no funnel this season, use a wooden chopstick. You’ll find one stuck between the center console of your car and the passenger seat.
Put the chopstick into the flask pointed side down. Hold the top of the (alcohol) bottle at the flat end of the chopstick and begin by gently soaking the top of the chopstick, then slowly follow this action through, tipping the bottle gently and pouring slowly.
Ensure that the chopstick doesn’t touch the inside of the flask rim when you’re pouring or the booze will spill over the side of the flask. In order to achieve this you can fix the chopstick, without having to hold it between your fingers, by trapping it in a horizontal position between the rim of the bottle and the bottom of the flask. You’re basically using the weight of the bottle to hold the chopstick in place while you pour. It’s easier to do this before you start drinking. A worthy flask should have its capacity stamped on the bottom in ounces or millliletres (see the third image on this post below) but if it doesn’t, a glass measuring jug or smaller bottle containing the flask’s capacity will also do the job.