Babies and Brandy.

brandied tart cherries
brandied tart cherries.

More than two weeks have floated by, after the birth of my second son.  He was born swiftly and smoothly on a beautiful Summer evening, 7 years to the day after his older brother.  To say that you can fall head over heels in love with another human being so quickly is an understatement of epic proportion.  He fits into our family in a way I couldn't have anticipated, and the darling boy even let me bake bread the day after I arrived home.

Physically, I feel like I can do anything.  Recovery time has also been fast, much faster than with my first son - and I feel like I have all of the energy I need to make up for lost time in the kitchen.  Grains have been sprouted, ferments set to bubbling, farmer's markets attended, and the only area I feel lacking in is actual meal planning.  Sporadic baby interruptions just before the dinner hour have slowed me up a little, and "piece catch" meals hit the table in great thanks to my freezer, garden basil, and last minute imagination.  When I was first married and working full time, I recall I used to actually plan meals in a little notebook... and I'm thinking it might not be a bad idea to bring that method back.

But meanwhile, things are good in my world.  Babies have a way of making everything feel fresh and amazing.  Kind of like a fresh bottle of brandy.  Before the comments of nursing mothers and alcohol come flooding in, I'm not actually drinking the brandy - and to be honest, despite brandy being the most often purchased liquor in my state, it's really not even my favorite.  But used to cook with or inoculate fruits?  It might just be my favorite thing ever.

Dorie's brandied chicken.
click the photo for the recipe.

Alcohol in general is still not on my grocery list.  On the continuing path to our household economic recovery, (and fresh off the path of 9 months of abstinence anyway...) I can't see spending a red cent on something as trivial as alcohol - especially since it isn't really a necessity.  But my parents were here for a Sunday dinner when my newest babe was just 5 days old, I knew I had to have them try one of my favorite chicken-in-a-pot recipes from Dorie Greenspan's Around my French Table.  It's a recipe that calls for Armagnac, which is a spirit that I find completely wonderful, though prohibitively expensive to me.  Fortunately, if you enrich the much cheaper brandy with dried prunes and cook it with chicken, the flavor is stellar nonetheless. My Mom and Dad visited the first liquor store they have probably been in since before I was born to get me a bottle of brandy for the dish, and I've been making good use of the rest of the bottle in the days since that chicken was earnestly devoured.

brandied raspberries

My neighbor has a tart cherry tree in her back yard.  She generously offered them free for the picking, and another neighbor graciously offered to pick some for me, since we were in the midst of a heatwave.  The cherries were deliciously deep red, tart, and perfect, and I instantly knew I had to make brandied cherries.  The last time I made them was maybe 3 years ago, and I still have a handful of faded cherries submerged in liquor stashed in the back of my fridge.  I couldn't remember what ratio or recipe I used, so I went with one I found on Serious Eats.  The general ratio for that recipe was one part sugar (I used raw sugar), one part water (or cherry juice) to two parts brandy.  I didn't pit the cherries, and didn't bother to poke a needle through each one either:  I figured a bit of time on the counter and more time in the refrigerator would take care of any of that extra work for me - and I was right.  I let them sit out on the counter for a few days before transferring, and already the brandy was dark red and the cherries nicely spiked with flavor.

brandied raspberries

Some new friends recently transplanted back to the Midwest from Oregon stopped by yesterday to visit and thoughtfully brought me perfectly ripe raspberries.  I decided to try brandying the raspberries using mostly the same method, but using the ratio of 1 part each sugar (white granulated sugar in this case to preserve the true flavor of the raspberry), water, and brandy.  I packed the raspberries into clean pint jars, heated the sugar and water over medium heat until the sugar just dissolved, and then added the brandy off the heat.  Just standing overnight led to color saturated liquid that is less potent than the tart cherries, but so excellent tasting I can hardly wait to have an excuse to make a pound cake or some shortcakes, maybe even a "poke" type cake that can make use of the bright, spiked raspberry juice.  There are some words I hate using to describe food, and luscious is one of them... but these berries truly are luscious.

I might be silly to compare my new babe to a bottle of brandy.  But in a way, it fits.  When you don't have something for a long time, you can really appreciate it all the more, and that is how a second baby is for me.  I am reminded of how wonderful every new moment was with my first little son, and just what is is store for me with my second.  I marvel over impossible long eyelashes and tiny fingernails, I get to know all the expressions and nuances of a brand new personality, and savor each one for the fleeting moment in time I now know it is.  Like the bottle that empties too quickly, but lives on in what it has preserved, I document in both mental and physical photographs the new life I've been blessed with.  I will most happily decant both in the future and be able to feel as full of emotion as I am right now.


Drinking Horchata.

The first time I ever had horchata was about 10 years ago with my friend Frankee. We were at a little Mexican place in Kankakee, Illinois, and her husband ordered a pitcher for us to share. She actually didn't drink it, since she doesn't like it, but I was hooked. Ever since, I usually ask for it whenever I try out new Mexican places. Until recently, I'd only score once or twice a year, but happily it now seems easier to find. Some are thick, some light, and others gritty. Some are so sweet, and others barely sweetened at all. I like them all, poured over huge amounts of crushed ice or ice cubes. Basically, I don't care what kind it is, since it all appeals to me equally.

Really, there are three reasons for my horchata making yesterday. Last night, I went to see Vampire Weekend and the title track on their sophomore album is Horchata. I'd be hard pressed to get the opening lines out of my brain, since it has been running through my head for the past 2 days now. I also checked out this post from Glutster yesterday, and decided that his photos were so great I had to have some horchata immediately. I have a car today, and am half thinking I'll run over to El Rey and find some pureed red cactus fruit (tuna or jiotilla), so my next glass can be as delightfully rosy as Javier's. Reason three is that my Spanish teacher, Rosa, was telling me that she is eating gluten free and sugar free right now. Rice is gluten free, and I figured you could probably sweeten horchata with stevia if you felt the need, so this could be an easily adaptable drink for allergen conscious people.

Making horchata is really as easy as drinking it, you just have to have a bit of patience. One of my Rick Bayless cookbooks had a recipe using almonds, but since I was nearly out of them, I adapted his method to this recipe, by Chelsey Kenyon. Really, I ended up using both recipes, since I added milk. The beauty of horchata is that you can do whatever you like best, to concoct a result that suits you. I did use plain old refined sugar, but knocked it way back to about a 1/4 c. Rick's recipe called for 1 cup, and Chelsey's recipe for 1/2 cup. Like I said, it is purely a matter of taste.

Rcakewalk Horchata (inspired by Rick Bayless and Chelsey Kenyon)
  • 1 c. white rice
  • 2 1/2 c. drinking water
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick (canela)
  • scant 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 c. milk (2% is what I used)
Grind the rice in a blender, or a coffee grinder like I did, until it is finely ground. You can leave the cinnamon stick whole, or break it apart if you like more cinnamon flavor. Heat 2 1/2 cups of water until hot but not boiling, and pour it over the rice and cinnamon. Let it come to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

After refrigeration, pour the mixture into a blender. I left the cinnamon in, since I'm crazy for cinnamon, but you can fish most of it out if you prefer less. Add sugar, and mix on high for about 3 minutes until the rice is finely ground. Pour through a fine sieve (or through layers of cheesecloth and a regular sieve) to remove most of the rice pulp. (I actually like a bit of grittiness, but you could make this absolutely grit-less by using a finer sieve and perhaps running the liquid through a muslin bag.) Transfer to a pitcher.

Stir in milk. You could add more milk, or more water, or some of each, but I liked the result with just a cup of milk. You could also add additional sugar at this point if you like. Serve on ice and dream of warm weather.

"In December drinking horchata
I'd look psychotic in my balaclava
Winter's cold is too much to handle
Pincher crabs that pinch at your sandals


Addicting lyrics indeed, almost as addicting as the horchata itself. My milky glass below doesn't pack the same visual punch as the rosy, pecan garnished one that Glutster enjoyed the other day, but it sure hit the spot for me.

Tea from a coffee pot...

My little mid-century home has a wealth of built in storage disguised as a china cabinet in the dining room. Deep within the closed bottom cabinets, I found my old percolating coffee pot about a week ago. It was by accident, really, since I had to rearrange cookbook space due to the new additions. I can proudly say that I think I now have more cookbooks than any other genre of book, an obsession that really is only curtailed by my lack of funds. Fortunately, I have a great library within walking distance to fill in my gaps.

I'm not sure what made me decide to making tea in this contraption, but I figured this brand new percolator was not going to live out its life hiding away in the depths, or brewing up coarse grind coffee. Back when I got the percolator, 1996 I think, I did use it for coffee. I was not impressed with the lifeless, lackluster joe that emerged. In those days, I resulted to straight espresso instead of the brewed coffee that is currently my morning mainstay.

Faberware. A decade has passed, and it is still in the same pristine condition I left it in. No crazy, leftover coffee smells either. The tea snobs may shutter at my new found method of brewing, but I don't think I'll succumb to regular brewing again, at least for awhile. The basket neatly holds loose tea and prevents it from littering the water. It's a self-contained unit and only needs to be plugged in for about 3 minutes to cycle.

Granted, I think I do prefer the method of strainer basket for my nicer (and more expensive) Rishi Teas, since they can then endure multiple infusions. When I ran a second infusion of this Cinnamon Plum (below), a new seasonal obsession, it was rather weak - but not really non-palatable. But if you are in a hurry for great tea, and don't worry about the waste (or are using a teabag), 3 minutes is all it takes before you could be pouring that first cup.

I have recently recultivated a love affair with Celestial Seasonings. When I was a kid, there was a menagerie of CS boxes lining the back of the stove at my best friend's house.

I thought the artworks were amazing: of the boxes that I still remember - Tension Tamer: a princess atop a great green dragon, Bengal Spice:a burly, lounging tiger, and my most favorite Mint Magic: with its wizard conjuring up a golden chalice, presumably filled with my favorite beverage)....and what a treat to choose from 30 different kinds of tea! We liked tea at my house too, but usually we had only one kind open at a time. Even now, when you ask my Dad or Brother if they want tea, it is just assumed that you mean Lemon Zinger. I can see why. I recently bought a carton and am drinking it with honey.

just 3 more minutes...

My cabinet has expanded to include several open boxes. I like the choice of boxes, but I still waver back to my loose teas. A short list of links to my most favorites lately:

If you happen to have a percolating coffee pot around, I'd suggest having a go with tea brewing. My 4 cup pot is perfectly suited to one tea bag, I'm supposing because of all the percolating going on.