Category Archives: Booze

opuntia texan

Prickly Pear Margarita

(a guest post for the Wild Things Roundup)

Greetings, readers! Today we have a guest post, from the lovely Katelyn Bradwell in Dallas, Texas. We were chatting on Facebook and she mentioned that she was sipping a prickly pear margarita. Of course I was so excited that I demanded she write a guest post on the subject immediately. I figured it’d also be nice to get a perspective from somewhere other than Southern California for once. Which brings me to my next point: if you’d like to write a guest post about something wild and wonderful from your area, shoot me an email. I’d love to hear more about the flavours that mark your little corner of the world.  And now, here’s Katelyn:

Prickly Pear Margaritas

I was sipping a prickly pear margarita on the front porch, listening to the pouring rain beat out a quick rhythm on the roof. It was one of those evenings– suspended between the details of today, and the worries of tomorrow, and also suspended between Summer and Autumn, on the cusp of a few things at once. You could feel it. And you could tell the summer was ending. Here in Texas, with the onset of the monsoons, the tunas (the fruits of the prickly pear) begin growing. By the time the last ones ripen into that deep red and purple color, it is Fall.  Their ripening heralds the season change, and also my very favorite time of year– impromptu porch party time– when it is still warm, but cool enough to enjoy the evenings. When the plants return to life, springing from their summer dormancy with vigor and joy, and when new resident plants are welcomed into my garden. And also when the humans begin to step out of their air-conditioned hibernation to enjoy nature and neighbors once more. Friends show up unannounced and welcome, and I just happen to have enough margarita left over in my makeshift cocktail shaker to share. We stay up chatting, and laughing, and enjoying the perfect night, until way too late. Because where most of the Northern hemisphere is beginning to bunk down for a long winter, in Texas, Fall is our Spring; the rush of life is renewed. Plants grow, ripen, and set seed, in a chaotic rush before Winter arrives. The excitement is tangible, and these little exuberant fruits embody that completely.

You can’t help but notice prickly pear fruits. They beckon from locations as varied as the median of a massive highway in central Dallas, to front yards, parks and empty abandoned fields. Every time I slice one of the fruits open I’m struck by the depth of colour– it reminds me of stained glass windows in a cathedral. When cooking with tunas, I like to make things that highlight that color. And prickly pear infused margaritas do just that. They are also perfect for impromptu porch parties.  The flavor is light, and reminiscent of a floral, citrussy cucumber; combined with lime and tequila tunas are really at their best.

I always play a bit with proportions of this recipe at the end, adding a bit more of this or that, to taste. It is a fairly basic margarita; tequila, triple sec, lime juice, and simple syrup. I infuse the tunas into both the tequila and simple syrup to make sure the flavor really comes through.

A word of warning: try not to get so distracted by the splendor of the fruit that you are caught by the invisible glochid monster (the tiny, ever-present prickly and painful hairs on the skin of the fruit). Harvest with tongs and a knife, handle with tongs or gloves, and even after you think the glochids are gone, still handle with care. I personally have had too many run-ins with evil glochids already. They hurt and are annoyingly difficult to retrieve from your fingers. A plantain (plantago spp.) spit poultice can help if you do get stuck.

Prickly Pear Margarita

Adapted from Emeril Lagasse

2 ounces Prickly Pear Infused Tequila

2 ounces Prickly Pear Syrup

1 ½ ounces Fresh Lime Juice

½ ounce Triple Sec

Turbinado Sugar (for making the syrup and garnishing glasses)

 

To make the infused tequila:

Burn the glochids (invisible, evil, painful, tiny spine-like hairs of the prickly pear) off by holding the fruit over a flame on the stove-top, rotating to expose all sides to the flame. This doesn’t take long, and you can hear them sizzle and occasionally see one explode in a little mini-flash, which will keep you entertained during the process. Cut your tunas in quarters and fill a glass jar loosely (any size jar will do, depending on how much tequila you want), leaving a bit of space at the top, and then fill again with a fine tequila of your choosing (use 100% agave tequila). Infuse for 2-5 days, shaking occasionally. I find longer than that isn’t necessary: the fruit begins to fall apart and has lost most of it’s color by day 5.

If you need it quicker than that, no problem. Cut very ripe tunas in half lengthwise, and scoop the fruit out of the skin with a spoon or knife. Chop roughly. Fill your jar about 70% full with the chopped, skinned tunas, and then fill with tequila. Shake it up a bunch. Smash the fruit up with the spoon a bit a few times. Your tequila will be ready in 12-24 hours. Shake whenever you think of it.

When finished strain through a sieve or cheesecloth.

 

To make the simple syrup:

Cut 4 large tunas in half lengthwise and scoop the fruit from the skins with a spoon or knife. Cut each tuna into a few pieces. Then combine the fruits with 2 cups water and 1 cup turbinado sugar in a medium pan. Stir well and simmer over low-medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring regularly. Strain fruit through a sieve and press the fruit well through the screen, leaving seeds behind. I use more water than a traditional simple syrup calls for because the tunas are quite mucilaginous, and this thickens the syrup a bit, and also because too much sweetness can overpower the unique tart flavors that are the signature of this drink.

 

To make the margarita:

If you have a cocktail shaker, use it. I just toss it all in a clean mason jar, and shake away. Lightly dust a plate with turbinado sugar (with a pinch of cayenne, if you’re adventurous), and put some lime juice in a saucer. Dip the rim of your glass in the lime juice, and then the sugar. Add ice, and pour your margarita from the shaker to the glass. Garnish with a lime. And cheers to the fall-spring!

smoked hot chocolate

Crying over smoked milk

This post is being submitted to the Wild Things roundup over at Hunger and Thirst. If you [still] haven’t checked it out, please do!

Few things are as evocative as smoke. It’s primal. We humans have been using smoke since we started using fire. Which, if you think about it, was a long long time ago. It’s magic stuff– stuff that gets into your lungs and into your hair, and imparts its flavour to anything it touches. Smoke can be therapeutic (kills germies and such) or it can be magical (alters minds and such) or it can be comforting (hot fire on a cold day, and such). It can also fling you into memories, unawares, as if time exists so fluidly as to not really exist at all. One minute you can be standing in your kitchen attempting to light some branches on fire, and the next you are standing on a sea wall on the west coast of Scotland, with frozen fingers and a frozen red nose.

We’d spend our summers in a cottage in a little village called Craobh Haven. My days were spent scouring the rocky beaches (looking for treasure), and roaming the fields (looking for adventure). Such is the life of someone who grows up reading Enid Blyton books. On days when I didn’t get to roam, we’d go off on adventures, on boats to explore the Hebrides, out to see real live whirlpools, to explore old caves with stone formations that stretch all the way to Ireland. They were the best summers of my life. I’m sure at the time, in the way that kids do, I was jealous of those friends who got to go to Disney World, eat big hamburgers and get flourescent clothes to bring back to school. Florida was glamorous, where staying in rainy Scotland, well, wasn’t. However, until those comparisons arose (much like one can love ones outfit until one sees someone with a nicer outfit and then all of a sudden one begins to notice a frayed hem and a rubbed away elbow– as if for some reason we are built to compare), I was ecstatically happy. The first time I saw the Atlantic ocean was during one of those summers. We’d just emerged from a glass blowing workshop, and I had a little glass statue in the pocket of my wax jacket, flecked with pink and yellow, as if the artist had captured a nebula in a little glass ball. On the other side of the road was the Atlantic. I stood up on a wall with my fingers clenched tight around the cold metal railing, in the rain, trying to wrap my head around the vastness of it all. This might not feel abnormal to you if you are used to seeing ocean. But to a nine year old mind that had only ever sailed in a sea, this was an ineffable experience. One that shaped my life to such a degree that I still go to the ocean to get that feeling, even though its only 6 miles away now, and to this day my insides still dance with excitement at all that lies out there just beyond my reach.

After these long cold days, often roaming in the rain and cold (because lets face it, summer in Scotland doesn’t mean summer like it does in other places where the sun shines), we’d go back to the cottage and make hot chocolate. Mum often had a lively bunch of friends visiting. We’d light a fire, and the smell of smoke interlaced itself with the smell of sea and of happiness. The smell of smoke indoors, from a fire, on a cold day, is forever entangled with these memories. Not even like it happened yesterday, but like it’s happening simultaneously.

Of course the whole purpose for the smoke filled kitchen was hot chocolate. Smoky, sweet, evocative hot chocolate. With a hint of whiskey. And old leather. And tobacco. You smoke the milk, then pop the whole lot on the stove with chocolate and sugar and vanilla, then add a good splosh of whisky at the end. It’s perfect for these remaining cold wintery nights. A grown up, old fashioned, sexy hot chocolate. The kind of thing that you’d see served in Silverlake in a bar with fake old wood floors and waiters with heavy mustaches and waistcoats on. The kind of thing you’d pay $15 for and wonder how they made it, and wonder if you’re pretentious by osmosis for liking it. It’s a variation of a recipe that I saw on Tim Ferris’ site. His looked awfully labour intensive, and used a cigar. I don’t want cigar smoke hanging in my house for weeks on end, plus, I’m kinda fond of the smell of conifer. This, my friends, is crazy delicious– please give it a try.

Ponderosa smoked hot chocolate

serves 2

For the smoking: 

1 charcoal brickette

about 1/2 tsp conifer wood (preferably ponderosa pine, but anything delicious smelling will do), broken into little pieces

2 cups whole milk

1/4 cup heavy cream

tin foil

For the rest:  

3.5oz dark chocolate, chopped into small bits

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 tb nice whisky

To smoke the milk:

Place the milk, cream and sugar in a bowl, in a shallow dish of some kind. Place this shallow dish in a larger, deeper dish. Light the charcoal brickette, place it on a piece of tin foil, and set that alongside the shallow dish in the larger dish. Then place the bits of conifer atop the charcoal. It should start smoking. When it does, cover the whole thing with tin foil, tightly, and leave it for 20 minutes, checking periodically to see that the wood is still smoking (if not, re-light the charcoal or rearrange the wood).

Taste it. It should be smoky.

Put this milk mixture, plus the rest of the ingredients except the whisky in a saucepan over low heat. Heat gently until the chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat, stir in the whisky (more or less to your taste) and serve. Preferably with a good book and a fireplace and a cold winter’s evening.

 

eggnog

Eggnog. In a mug.

(on the warming magic & merits of cinnamon)

For a week we experimented with keeping the heating on all the time. It was nearing 40 degrees in Los Angeles and living in Southern California for any length of time does something to your temperature tolerance. That is, it destroys it. But having the heating on all the time didn’t work. Not one bit. We’d both wake up every morning with dry skin and sore throats and stuffy noses. So after that week, we went back to putting it on for a few hours in the morning. While the rest of the world is still asleep, I’ll wake up, and shiver my way downstairs to throw the heating on then run back upstairs and jump under the covers until the house is a little warmer. When it’s an acceptable temperature I’ll resume my morning activities which include hot drinks, fluffy blankets and cold doorsteps.

At times like these, spices comes in really handy. Because having something bubbling away on the stove sending the scent of cinnamon and spice and sweetness into the air is a really nice way to warm up a space without getting dried out. Not only that, but it makes it feel like winter when it’s sunny outside and doesn’t look like winter at all.

I was chatting on Skype with my teenage sister in law the other day. She was asking about cinnamon and what it does medicinally, as it’s her favorite smell. I told her about how cinnamon warms the body. How it helps with circulation issues like cold fingers and toes. How it helps with the ups and downs of too much caffeine and too much sugar. And how it’s astringent– it stops bleeding, stops leaking, balances out imbalance. She laughed and said that it sounded like exactly what she needed, and I pointed out that people often gravitate towards what they need…

Sometimes with cinnamon, I feel like having it in the air, it works this way on spaces too. Mulled wine bubbling away on the stove warms up the cold corners, and halts the cool breeze from sneaking in under the door. A dash of cinnamon in your coffee in the morning both helps you respond to the caffeine better, and also helps with the mucus-y feeling people often get from too much dairy. A sprinkle of cinnamon on your blueberries and cream help to balance out your blood sugar. Considering the big creamy lattes I like to drink and my nervy-body, I’m really grateful for cinnamon most mornings…

And in the evenings lately, I’ve been making a quick-nog. Admittedly, until about a week ago, I’d never had eggnog before. I didn’t know until a few days later that most people drink it cold. I can’t fathom the idea of drinking something creamy and iced when it’s so cold outside, so I carried on making mine warm. Eggnog, my friends, is my new favourite thing. Between the creaminess and the spices and that dash of rum, it feels like sipping on a thick milky delicious cloud. I said ‘dash’ of rum, because my alcohol tolerance is like that of a child, and I don’t like being drunk, I just like the taste of it. The first night I added what was more like a glug, and I woke up with a headache the next morning. Now, I remind myself that it might LOOK like a warm milkshake but it is an alcoholic drink and that if I keep drinking them with a glug every night people might start getting worried, especially if I end up on Facebook telling everyone how much I love them (this happens, pretty much every time).

One more thing. It’s very nutritious. If this information will ruin it for you, stop reading here and just go make it (or wait till 5pm and make it?). But between the milk and cream, the egg yolks and the spices, you’ve got yourself a nutritional powerhouse, made from superfoods that you don’t need to import from Brazil or a small Pacific Island. Considering how worn out, stressed and exhausted most of us are at this time of year, I’d even go so far as to say that it’s medicinal :). So go and take your medicine please, and then get on Facebook and tell me how much you love it.

Eggnog. 

Serves 1. Multiply quantities for more.

1 egg yolk

1 cup milk

1/2 cup cream

1/4 tsp of grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp cinnamon and cardamom combined

1 tb sugar (I use sucanat- it adds more flavour I think, but you can use regular sugar in a pinch)

2 tb spiced rum (if you’re like me make it 1-2 tsp)- see below, or just buy it

Warm the milk and cream on the stove. Don’t bring it to a boil or anything, just very hot. Remove from the stove, add the spices, the sugar and the booze. With a whisk, whipping it steadily, add the egg yolk, then put it back on low heat until it thickens just a tiny bit.

Serve in a big mug with a fluffy blanket and maybe even an elf hat.

 

Make your own spiced rum: 

1 bottle of golden rum

1 cinnamon stick

2 vanilla beans

1 tsp black pepper corns

2 tsp cardamom

peel of 1/2 orange

Throw the lot together in a jar of some kind. Leave it for 2-5 days, shaking when you remember. Strain. Easy peasy!!!

 

IMG_2084

Traditions

When I started to write this post, I was sitting in Butter’s kitchen, with the smell of wild plums and sugar infusing the air. I was visiting her as part of a road trip that led me through New Mexico, to the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, then up to Northern Colorado for some mountain and foraging time, then back across the mountains and the desert to Los Angeles. 2355 miles in ten days or so. A zillion plants. Some of the most wonderful people I’ve had the opportunity to meet.

Driving through the Southwest is no great chore to me. I remember, a few years ago, when a Costa Rican friend came to visit and we went to Joshua Tree national park, and she was horrified. She said that everything looked so dead. That life, to her, is green and brightly coloured, and that the starkness of the desert made her feel funny. And quite honestly, after doing the drive from Utah to Vegas in late summer, I’d be inclined to agree if I didn’t have such a love of all places stark and craggy. I think about putting myself in the jungle and it makes me crazy. Like Rochester when he got to the Caribbean*. All that green, all that moisture, all that colour. I start slapping my arms imagining ghost insects and (not to be melodramatic or anything) I am pretty sure I’d die of some kind of exotic fever if I weren’t allowed to leave.

The conference was at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. A state described as the ‘Land of Enchantment’. It’s a good name for it. The second you cross the border from Arizona the scenery starts to change. Big dramatic mesas intersected by moody rivers rise up into startling blue skies. Then the late summer storms cut in, and what was bright blue five minutes before can be heaving with pent up energy. I drove through one storm that scared the crap out of me. The rain was coming down so hard, and the lightning striking so often that if I hadn’t been on a freeway with lots of other moving cars I’d have stopped right where I was to wait it out. But I couldn’t see the shoulder and couldn’t be sure that nobody would hit me (because they couldn’t see either) so I kept my eyes focused on the barest outline of the white stripe to my left and kept going.

I passed the continental divide. Which kind of blew my mind a little bit. Things like that often do. I stood there staring at the sign for a minute trying to figure out why there are no waterways that start East of there that flow to the Pacific but it was all too much for me so I ate some chocolate instead**.

I got to Ghost Ranch after dark. Made the mistake of trying to read for five minutes (*cough* I’m reading the Twilight series. This is embarrassing. What is more embarrassing is that I stomped around the house yesterday in a bad mood because Edward had the audacity to leave Bella and kept glaring at Jam like he’d done something seriously wrong.), finished my book, and then slept for 12 hours.

Ghost Ranch is stunningly beautiful. Crazy beautiful. Even more stunning than the scenery are the herb conference attendees. There’s something really nice about being surrounded by people who think absolutely nothing of you stopping to look at every shrub or munch things as you pick them off trees. About being around a group of people who, for better or worse, are following their calling (because, let’s face it, nobody gets into herbalism for the money). Some people are trying to make the world a better place, some are trying to help people, and some are (as Matt Wood so eloquently put it last year) ‘just in it for the plants’. It’s a non-pretentious group too. I can’t imagine many big conferences of any profession where the bigshot presenters are just as humble as the newbie learner. I think some of that has to do with the way it’s organised- Kiva and Wolf (the directors) made a choice to not let anyone put any letters after their names. They aren’t even allowed to use powerpoint. Not to devalue their experience, but to show that experience is what counts, not letters, or degrees or social status. And that’s the thing I like the most about it. Some of the teachers are licenced in some form or another, and some are proudly unlicensed. Some have been practicing for 30 odd years with no license at all. Taking away all the extraneous stuff makes the lectures more about experience and information, and it’s, in my opinion, a really great idea.

My favourite lecture turned out to be by Paul Bergner, on Herbs for the Spiritual Heart. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to like it. I hate the word ‘spiritual’ and any reference to it. But in talking about formulas to enlighten the heart, to protect it, to centre it, Paul passed around formulas that we all tried. And I tell ya, looking at the 50-odd people in that classroom change a bit after taking each formula made me want to cry a little bit. I left that class feeling like I loved everyone and everything. Luckily it only lasted an hour.

Other great classes that I attended were 7song teaching how to put together a good formula. CoreyPine Shane on herbs for pain (GREAT class!). Ryan Drum went over some case studies from his 30 odd years as the sole healthcare practitioner on his little island. Case studies make me happy; they’re never boring and there’s always something interesting and new to learn from another person’s experience.

But there were so many other classes I wish I’d gone to. Kiva Rose taught on Southwest folk herbalism. Lisa Ganora taught on plant constituents. Linda Garcia did first aid courses for herbalists. Sean Donahue taught on asthma. Todd Caldecott (who has an excellent new book out) taught on ayurveda. I’d list them all but I fear I already lost most of you about four paragraphs ago so let it suffice to say that if you’re remotely interested in herbalism- not just as a clinical herbalist but as a person with a kitchen who wants to be able to help out friends and family when they come down with something- check out the TWHC website***.

I left with a heavy heart. It didn’t help that (I can’t believe I didn’t know this) one half of Colorado is flat, and that’s the half I was driving up. Did I ever mention that flat places scare me? They do. They make me panic right in the middle of my belly, it’s horrible. Take away the big craggy rocks and mountains and my palms start to itch and sweat and I keep looking for an exit that isn’t there. Anyway, going to stay with Butter was a really nice way to wind down. We spent every day out foraging. Picking wild plums and apples and black walnuts and more herbs than I can list in one paragraph. We went to Rocky National Park and listened to the elks bugle while a storm rolled in. We ate at one of the restaurants that she forages for and were treated like royalty. We had a cheesy picnic up on top of a mountain in what quickly became a snow storm. The rockies are stunning. Heartbreakingly so. And they smell of clean air and ponderosa pine.

And we made wine. Wild plums grow everywhere around where Butter lives, and we had gathered enough to fill a couple of boxes. I’ve been really into making boozy things lately- from liqueurs to beers (complete failure), but had never tried wine. But plum wine sounded good. And really, it’s not complicated. It sounds complicated because thinking of wine people with their bouquets and fancy meters reading levels of things and all kinds of chemical processes are just scary. But wine for home consumption isn’t scary at all.

Plum Wine: 

1 quart plums

1 1/2 cups sugar

yeast (if the plums aren’t covered in that white wild yeasty stuff)

water

 

Put the plums in a big bowl, and using your hands, start to squish the hell out of them. Think nice thoughts. When making boozes you can’t ever go wrong with fermenting nice thoughts. When thoroughly squished, add the sugar, then pour the lot into a jar that would be left half empty. Fill up the other half with filtered water.

Cover with a cloth and rubber band and allow to ferment in a dark corner for 22 days. Then strain, bottle, and leave it for a year, after which it’ll be ready to drink.
By the way, if you’ve made it this far, do you guys get like that about places? Some places that you love and feel great in and some places repel you like two magnets held the wrong way? I’m curious- what kind of places do you love? 

 

ps. I put more photos on facebook

*Have you read Wide Sargasso Sea? Jean Rhys wrote it in response to Jane Eyre- it’s a fascinating character study and makes you see a whole lot more about Bertha than originally meets the eye. And I much prefer it to gothic romance :).

**Really, I don’t get it. Does this go all the way to the equator? South of the equator to Tierra Del Fuego? Is this why the waves down there are so scary to sail in? Is there not a single stream that goes the other way? If I pour a big bucket of water down at the divide will half of it go one way and half another (I should’ve tried that)?

***I didn’t even mention the music: 3 fantastic bands. We danced all night on Saturday. See, it’s a weight loss conference too.