Strawberry-Ginger Whiskey Sour

Summer and its bounty are finally here. Three weeks into CSA season, I am proud to report that I’m keeping up. My new consulting lifestyle means lots of breakfast salads and home-cooked, vegetable-laden lunches.

I was in New Orleans for work most of last week, but my cat sitters were good enough to pick up my weekly share. Mysteriously, they had not followed my instructions to demolish the strawberries, so there were two quarts waiting in the fridge when I got home. They weren’t quite as sweet as the last batch. But that’s no bother when you’ve got whiskey on hand.

Strawberry-Ginger Whiskey Sour

  • 8-12 strawberries, rinsed and sliced
  • 1-2 tablespoons ginger syrup (depending on how sweet your strawberries are and how sweet you like your drinks)
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1-2 ounces rye whiskey (depending on how rough a day it’s been)
  • a few dashes of rhubarb bitters
  • ice
  • seltzer (optional, perhaps best if it’s a hot day and cocktail hour is starting early)

Muddle the strawberries and ginger syrup in a cocktail shaker until the berries get nice and mushy. Add the lemon juice, bitters, and a few ice cubes. Give a vigorous shake and pour into a glass. Top with seltzer if you’re going easy.

Strawberry Ginger Whiskey Sour

This cocktail is just fine when batched and smuggled into an outdoor concert venue in a water bottle. Or so I’ve heard. Just pack a can of seltzer separately and assemble on-site.

Celebrate Brooklyn

Cheers!

The Lonely Thesis (A Cocktail)

It’s been almost a year since I’ve found fit to write something here. There are many reasons for this, some of which I imagine I’ll eventually unpack with a paid professional and a box of tissues.

I’ve been writing and I’ve been cooking, to be sure. In fact, I’ve been writing and cooking so much that someone decided that I should teach a course about just that. This past semester I taught a food writing workshop for undergraduates in NYU’s Department of Nutrition and Food Studies.

I also taught a graduate course on food manufacturing. In total, we visited 22 facilities, including Tortilleria Chinantla in Bushwick, where each day half a million tortillas make the four-minute journey from flour and water to bagged, boxed and ready to sell. We toured an artisanal chocolate maker just blocks from a large-scale industrial dumpling and noodle factory. We even got to see how the sausage gets made (literally!) at the Sabrett factory in the South Bronx, which produces a million hot dogs a day.

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But the single best class, at least in my mind, was the morning we toured breweries along the Gowanus Canal. Naturally, we sampled as we went.

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Stop 1: Travis Kauffman of Folksbier Brauerei serving up classic European-style beer 

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Stop 2: Joe Harer and Peter Salmond at Other Half Brewing, in the shadow of the BQE.

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Stop 3: Emily Elsen of Four and Twenty Blackbirds (A little pie to soak up that beer!)

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Stop 4: Jason Sahler of Strong Rope Brewery, a New York State licensed Farm Brewery

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Stop 5: The aftermath of the canning line at Threes Brewing

As you might have guessed, stop 6 for me was a nap.

The semester is winding to a close. I taught my last class on Tuesday. My graduate students presented their final papers last week and my undergraduates are probably procrastinating on theirs as I type this.

My graduate school journey is also coming to an end. After five years, the only thing that stands between me and the title Master is a heavily theoretical treatise on the place and potential of food in a museum setting. My dining table is piled high with books and articles and scraps of paper filled with cryptic notes. My limited social engagements inevitably devolve into me babbling about the ephemeral nature of food and the democratizing power of an immersive sensory experience. My dream life is simply a rehashing of the day’s research.

Naturally, I’ve been doing a little procrastinating of my own. Much of it has been in the form of ensuring that I am properly fed. For breakfast this morning, I whipped up chilaquiles verdes. Lunch brought Sichuan roasted king oyster mushroom and BBQ baked tofu summer rolls with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce.

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In a desperate bid to focus, I have logged out of my social media accounts. This means that, if I want to see what the rest of the world is up to, I am forced to stand up and walk across the room to retrieve my phone. Today’s feed is full of smiling people digging into plates piled high with nachos and exhortations to think about what Cinco de Mayo is actually about. (Hint: it doesn’t involve a margarita machine.) Me, I’m still in the sweatpants I put on when I got home last night.

But a girl’s gotta eat. Again. Having forbade myself from leaving the house until tomorrow’s sole outing (to the farmers market to drop off my compost and pick up more provisions), I’ve been winging it based on whatever I can find in the fridge. I just polished off a round of sausage, ramp and spinach tacos and a conciliatory cocktail. Imagine my surprise when I returned to this blog, ginger mezcal margarita in hand, and found that my last post, way back in July, was about…a ginger mezcal margarita.

And so, I offer you a variation on a theme.

The Lonely Thesis (a.k.a. Ginger Mezcal Margarita, again)

  1. Grab your retro fabulous 1970s shaker, the one your cocktail snob friends mock you for.
  2. Squeeze half a lemon into the shaker. If you want to be fancy about it, you could do this in a manner that strains the seeds, but I’m not even sure I brushed my teeth this morning. Fortunately, the cat has yet to complain.
  3. Dig out that exorbitantly priced ginger syrup you bought four years ago and, despite repeated and escalating attempts, haven’t been able to reopen since. Find some inappropriate kitchen tool with which you’re likely to injure yourself. Dig and squeeze until the cap explodes, sending black shards of plastic around your kitchen. Pour an ounce or so of the syrup into your shaker. Recap with some plastic wrap and a rubber band.
  4. Add a shot of mezcal. Add a little more.
  5. Fill the shaker with ice that’s taken on a funk that makes you suspect cleaning one’s freezer is a thing. Shake as best you can given the fact that you have yet to put on a bra today.
  6. Stack some more of that questionable ice into a highball and strain your cocktail into the glass. Top with some cheap bubbly left by a cat sitter, noting that it’s old enough to have lost some sparkle.
  7. Garnish with a lemon wheel and a liberal dose of existential dread.

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OK, back to the books. This thesis ain’t gonna write itself.

Ginger Mezcal Margarita

It’s been a while since The Drunken Fig published a cocktail recipe, which is not to say that I haven’t been living up to my moniker. The opening of an awesome beer bar a mere block from my apartment last year may have something to do with it. In any case, I’ve been feeling the bug this week. Last night brought a Watermelon Cucumber Margarita which, while just as pretty as could be, didn’t quite make the cut (though I did manage to guzzle it down).

Watermelon Cucumber Margarita

I’ll have to spend a little more time figuring that one out. I suspect it involves having the energy to dig out the immersion blender.

Tonight I turned my attention to that bottle of mezcal that’s been sitting on the shelf. Rooting through the fridge, I found some organic lemonade that I bought in a dehydration delirium at the tail end of Saturday’s very long and very hot walk to buy a bike. (My new wheels are on back order so, after a few glorious spins around the block on the floor model, I had to make my way back up the hill on foot.)

But I digress. There were limes left over from last night’s cocktail experiment. There was candied ginger from a recent bender at the Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights. There was extra spicy ginger beer because, somewhere along the line, I decided that it’s a pantry staple.

And so, I give you, the Ginger Mezcal Margarita, a drink worth repeating.

Ginger Mezcal Margarita

  • 2 ounces lemonade
  • 2 ounces mezcal
  • 2 ounces ginger beer – the spicier, the better
  • 1/2 lime plus 1 wedge
  • 1 piece candied ginger
  • salt and ice

Drop some ice into a cocktail shaker. Add the lemonade, mezcal, ginger beer, and juice from half a lime. Give it a few gentle shakes. Run the lime wedge around the edge of a highball glass and dip the glass into some salt. (If you have guests over, you could get fancy and do this on a saucer. I went for sticking it directly into the salt cellar. It’s that kind of week.) Plop a few more ice cubes in. Strain the cocktail into your glass and garnish with the lime and candied ginger.

I recommend pairing this with Let It Bleed, turned up loud. No dinner necessary.

Bulgur for Breakfast

I spent last weekend holed up in my apartment attempting to kick a cold. By Monday morning I was feeling well enough that I was able to maintain a smile throughout my 14-hour workday. By Tuesday evening I wasn’t feeling so hot. Somehow I made it through work and class on Wednesday, although the subway ride home from 125th Street was enough to convince me to cancel my meetings for the rest of the week.

And so I am once again holed up in my apartment. I alternate between furiously cranking out emails and dozing on the couch. You can guess which one of these activities Oona favors.

Oona Dozing

Ordinarily I try to lay in supplies when I feel an illness coming on, but this time around I have been making do with what I have on hand–which led me to the revelation that bulgur makes for a tasty breakfast porridge, particularly when combined with pears from last week’s CSA share and young ginger from the farmers’ market.

Ginger Pear Breakfast Bulgur

  • 1/2 cup bulgur
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • pinch salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 small knob ginger, peeled and minced (candied ginger or even ground ginger would also work)
  • 2 small pears, cored and chopped
  • maple syrup

Add the bulgur, water, milk, salt, spices and fresh ginger to a small pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and toss in the pears. Continue simmering, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or so until you’ve achieved your preferred porridge consistency. (Don’t be afraid to add more water.) Scoop into a bowl and drizzle with a little maple syrup. 

Bulgur for Breakfast

Ordinarily I’m a savory breakfast fan, but this piping hot porridge full of spicy ginger did a nice job of clearing my head, at least momentarily.

Planes, Trains, Bourbon & Brisket

I am supposed to be in Wisconsin right now.

Three years ago, I spent Rosh Hashanah with Juliet, Phil and their son. It was a lovely visit that ended with promises to do it again next year. Alas, life and a brand new job got in the way, so the past two years’ celebrations have consisted of an apple dipped in honey at my kitchen counter.

Two months ago I purchased a plane ticket. On Friday I awoke early to pack. I hauled a suitcase, an overstuffed purse, and a backpack full of schoolwork (plus some work work) through morning rush hour. The B train was mysteriously out of commission, necessitating two transfers and a whole lot of stairs to get to my meeting near Columbus Circle. I cut out half an hour early and flagged down a taxi to LaGuardia.

Two hours, $100, and a fair amount of screaming later, I found myself at Delta’s Special Services desk shaking with a mixture of frustration, rage, and a very full bladder. There was no way I was making my flight to Madison, though they could get me into Milwaukee for a mere $1,000 change fee. I appealed to the agent’s sense of rationality, explaining that the Grand Central Parkway had been shut down and that my driver refused to listen to my directions. Nothing. I played the damsel in distress. Nada. I pulled a diva trip. This man was a brick wall. Then I did the only other thing I could think of. I hauled my bags to a corner, sat on the floor, and commenced crying. Nobody even noticed.

Half an hour and a couple of weepy phone calls later, I had a plan. I would head upstate for a night or two with Beth and her boys.

It’s a straight shot on the M60 bus to Metro North’s Harlem-125th Street Station. Under normal circumstances, the trip takes about 25 minutes. But, as even the casual reader must know by now, this was no ordinary day. I couldn’t even squeeze onto the first bus that arrived. I boarded at the back of the next bus, which filled up quickly. We inched our way to Manhattan. At each stop, more people clambered aboard. Tensions were high. More than one person screamed obscenities. A fist fight very nearly broke out. The trip lasted 90 minutes.

I managed to squeeze myself and my bags–which seemed to get heavier and heavier–off of the bus when we hit Second Avenue and found the nearest liquor store. I was going to need a little something to take the edge off during the next leg of my journey. I hauled my bags up what I thought would be the final flight of stairs and boarded the 6:22 to Poughkeepsie.

As we pulled out of the station, the conductor announced that the train was an express and that the first stop would be Beacon–the stop after my intended destination. At this point, I decided to skip the plastic cup and swig my wine straight from the bottle.

Jasmine and the Bottle

Seventy minutes later, I lugged my bags up one staircase and down another before tossing them into the back of a taxi that, naturally, had to drop two other people off before delivering me. I arrived at Beth’s doorstep just before 8:30pm. In the time it takes to fly to London, I had managed to make it 55 miles from my starting point.

By 8:45 I was halfway through a Negroni. By two in the morning we’d polished off our second bottle of Prosecco and were headed to bed.

Somehow Beth wrangled the boys and made it to soccer by 9:00am, which is about the time I opened my eyes. I stumbled down the stairs feeling a little worse for the wear. A cup of coffee and two large glasses of water gave me the strength to make breakfast: scrambled eggs, toast, and a glorious orange tomato from Fishkill Farms, where Beth gets her CSA share.

Then I threw on some clothes, grabbed a bag, and headed up the road to the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market. I was eager to see what the Hudson Valley had to offer–and hopeful that I might stumble on a brisket to take the sting out of the previous day’s travel debacle. I picked up purple potatoes, fennel salami, parsley, and canoodling carrots.

Kale Potatoes Carrots

I was about to give up on my brisket plan when I spotted Full Moon Farm‘s stand. Three pounds of grass-fed beef and my backpack was about as heavy as I could conceive given the 30-minute walk back to town. But first, I took a quick stroll through the grounds at Boscobel to admire the view of the Hudson Highlands.

Hudson Highlands

Beth and the boys arrived home a little after me. We spent the early afternoon hydrating and threatening to nap while the brisket defrosted in a bowl of water. Around 2:00 I set to work.

Braised Brisket, More or Less

  1. Get a good piece of meat. Make sure it’s defrosted. Sprinkle with a generous dose of salt and pepper.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 325.
  3. Bring a large dutch oven up to medium heat with some vegetable oil. Sear the brisket until you get some nice color on it. (Depending on the size of your pot and the size of your brisket, this may require some finagling.)
  4. Remove the meat and add a couple of chopped onions. Cook until soft and starting to color. Add a few cloves of chopped garlic and cook for a couple more minutes.
  5. Ransack the spice cabinet and add whatever strikes your fancy. I went with ginger, fennel, brown mustard seeds, thyme and some other stuff I can’t recall. Allow the spices to toast in the fat for a few minutes.
  6. Add a small can of tomato paste and whatever leftover booze you can dig up. A Stella Artois worked just fine for this brisket, but you could do something darker. Red wine is always nice.
  7. Got some chili paste in the fridge? Go for it. Just about any condiment you’re looking to use up will do here. Dried fruit is also awesome.
  8. Bring the pot up to a boil, pop a lid on, and stick it in the oven. Ideally, the meat will be submerged in the liquid, but not to worry if the ends are sticking out.
  9. Now would be a good time for a nap. Or maybe a shower.
  10. After a couple of hours, give the sauce a taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and perhaps a pinch of sugar. Flip the meat and return to the oven. Repeat in another hour or so. 
  11. Some people like to pull the meat out while it is still firm, slice it against the grain, layer it into a pan, cover with the sauce, and continue to cook. This is handy if you’re serving a large crowd or are aiming for something a little more photogenic. Personally, I like to leave the meat whole and continue to simmer until it is pull-apart tender. (Go past this point and you basically have the best beef stew you’ve ever experienced.) A little fresh flat leaf parsley is a nice touch at the end.

Braised Brisket

Cocktail time!

The End of Summer

Add a few cubes of ice to a rocks glass. Slosh in a stiff pour of bourbon. Top with ginger ale. Using a microplane, grate a little fresh ginger in. Garnish with a wheel of lemon. Toast to the end of summer and spend the next couple of rounds reminiscing about sandy sheets and outdoor showers.

Bourbon Ginger Cocktail

Thomas and his two kids joined us for dinner. Dylan and Benjamin concocted an elaborate fantasy involving costumes and camping gear while the older boys disappeared upstairs.

Around 6:00 we sat down to the brisket, accompanied by grilled potatoes and carrots and a kale and pear salad with a maple dijon vinaigrette.

Grilled Carrots and Potatoes

Kale and Pear Salad

In truth, most of the kids had plain tomatoes and hot dogs. But Benjamin, always the iconoclast, embraced this new meat swimming in its mysterious and murky sauce. He ate heartily and then quietly disappeared from the table. A couple of minutes later, he reclaimed his seat and passed me this missive.

I Love Brisket

It was an unconventional Rosh Hashanah, to be sure. But it was also a lovely one. Next year in Madison!

Miso-Spinach Matzo Balls

On Sunday I hosted a potluck dinner for some of the amazing women I met/got to know a whole lot better during last summer’s two-week Paris study trip.

As expected, the menu was eclectic, seasonal and delicious. We had deviled eggs, cucumber salad, carrots and radicchio roasted with raisins and balsamic vinegar, a soba noodle salad, roasted fennel, and an array of not-kosher-for-Passover bread products. Camille, who came straight from her job at Threes Brewing, contributed to the chametz situation with a nice growler of IPA.

I’m still working my way through the potatoes from my winter CSA share, so I whipped up a batch of caramelized leek and cheddar potato skins. And, despite my indulgence in all manners of leavened grains, I felt compelled to make up for not having attended a seder this year by making matzo ball soup–albeit a vegetarian and Asian-inspired version.

Miso-Spinach Matzo Balls 

  • 1 large bunch spinach
  • 6 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons red miso paste
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups matzo meal
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 leek, minced
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons salt
  • pepper
  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and quickly blanch the spinach. Strain into a sieve, pressing hard with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. (Squeezing the spinach into a tight ball with your fist is also an effective strategy.) Chop finely.
  2. Melt the coconut oil and miso in a small pan, stirring with a fork to combine.
  3. Whisk the eggs in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in the matzo meal, water, miso oil, leek, parsley, a couple of teaspoons of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes.
  4. Bring a large pot of water plus 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil. Wet your hands and form the matzo mixture into smooth balls about the size of a large gumball, dropping them into the water as you go. You’ll need to rinse your hands every so often when they get too gummy.This recipe should yield around 40 matzo balls. If you’re a patient person, you might do these in two batches. Alternately, you could just cram them in like I did. Maintain a vigorous simmer for 25 minutes or so, during which time the matzo balls will twirl and plump. Miso-Spinach Matzo Balls
  5. OK, that was shockingly easy. Now one last step, courtesy of my mom, who swears by this technique. Scoop the matzo balls into a container, cover with the salted water, and store overnight in the fridge.

I worried that the soak would lead to a container of starchy mush. But these matzo balls hold beautifully, requiring nothing but a quick simmer in the broth of your choosing the next day. I went with a hot and sour tom yum-style vegetable broth with lots of fresh ginger and lemongrass, garnished with shiitake mushrooms and cilantro. The resulting dish was complex in flavor yet familiar enough in texture to evoke memories of the Maxwell House Haggadah and Manischewitz. Fortunately, Sari brought better wine.

Spinach-Miso Matzo Balls

Blood Orange & Miso-Glazed Salmon

Every once in a while, generally in the dead of winter, I get an unbearable craving for salmon. Today was one of those days. Despite working late, I was determined to cook myself a nice piece of fish. Were it not for the brown rice that accompanied it, this meal could have been ready in about 30 minutes.

Blood Orange & Miso-Glazed Salmon

  • 1 blood orange, zest and juice
  • 1 tablespoon red miso
  • 1 large marble-sized knob of ginger, grated
  • 1/2 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha 
  • black pepper
  • 1 12-ounce salmon filet (or two smaller pieces)

Preheat the over to 325. Combine the first six ingredients in a small bowl. Lay a piece of parchment paper in a baking dish,being sure to trim the sides if the piece is too big. (Trust me on this one; my dinner nearly went up in flames!) Rinse the salmon, pat dry and place skin side down on the parchment paper. Drizzle with half the glaze, letting it ooze over the sides, and pop it in the oven. After 10 minutes (less if it’s a thin filet), remove the pan, layer the salmon with the remaining glaze and pop it under the broiler. (Hint: you’ll know a few minutes in whether you did a good job of trimming the parchment.) Broil for 4-5 minutes until the glaze starts to caramelize but the fish is still very tender. 

This pairs beautifully with sautéed shiitake mushrooms, purple kale and swiss chard. Add sliced garlic, slivered ginger and chopped scallions for the last few minutes of cooking and then drizzle with soy sauce and sesame oil just before serving.

Blood Orange and Miso-Glazed Salmon