Category: syrups & infusions

Spiced bourbon. Need I say more?

Last fall around this time, I posted a recipe for spiced honey; honey infused with spices & lemon. It was a great thing to have around last winter when I thought I’d die. No seriously. I was in the midst of two TERRIBLE bouts of severe cold/bronchitis & it really helped immensely. I added it to tea & I had spoonfuls of it straight from the jar. I’m still making a few jars of it for this winter. However this year… I’m also going with spiced alcohol.

Spiced Buffalo Trace Bourbon; with cardamom, vanilla & cinnamon.

Truth be told, I am not  was never a bourbon girl. Not really. I’d drink it in an old fashioned, even drink it on the rocks. But it’s never been my favorite thing to drink alone. But lately, when it comes to infusions & whipped creams & baked goods & even pickles… bourbon has become my “boo thang.”

Jay loves him some bourbon. He’s my go-to bourbon guy. If I need it for a recipe, I ask him. Which one is best in this, which one would be good for that, which is too expensive to bake with (notice: don’t touch the Pappy Van Winkle, whatever you do), which one would go well in cake, you get the idea.

‘Tis the season for warming drinks. Bourbon, brandy, whiskey, etc. Fall & winter just screams for that kind of thing. Hot toddy’s, hot milk punch, hot buttered whiskey, all that. And like I said, while I’m not a fan of straight up bourbon, I do enjoy some infused varieties. I added that cherry bourbon to Cokes all winter, not to mention I made chocolate sauce with it. And listen: who wouldn’t love some vanilla-infused spiced bourbon?

Loony people, that’s who.

A recipe for spiced Buffalo Trace bourbon.

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Ch-ch-ch-chili oil.

Okay, guys. This is another one of those “not really a recipe” recipes. Meaning it’s more like a how-to, not so much a full on recipe, just like that tarragon vinegar I made.

Homemade chili oil how-to.

Yep. Chili oil. An incredibly versatile condiment used for both cooking & as a “garnish” if you will.

Chili oil (also called hot chili oil or hot oil) is a condiment made from vegetable oil that has been infused with chili peppers. It is commonly used in Chinese cuisine, East and Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Particularly popular in Sichuan cuisine, it is used as an ingredient in cooked dishes as well as a condiment. It is sometimes used as a dip for meat and dim sum. It is also employed in the Korean Chinese noodle soup dish jjamppong.

Chili oil is typically red in color. It is made from vegetable oil, often soybean oil or sesame oil, although olive oil or other oils may be used. Other spices may be included such as Sichuan peppergarlic, or paprika. The spices are soaked in oil. Commercial preparations may include other kinds of oil, water, dried garlic, soy sauce, and sugar. Recipes targeted to Western cooks also suggest other popular oils such as rapeseedgrapeseed or peanut, and any dried or fresh chili peppers. The solids typically settle to the bottom of the container in which it is stored. When using chili oil, the cook or diner may choose how much of the solids to use; sometimes only the oil is used, without any solids.

Chili oil is commercially available in glass jars, although it may also be made from scratch at home.[1] It is usually available by request at Chinese restaurants.

-Wikipedia

You can use any dried pepper you like, from Habanero (WHOA!) to chipotle to Ancho to Thai chili pepper (WHOA again!). Depending on the pepper you use, your flavor will differ or range from spicy to mild & smoky to hot & fiery. And of course, that depends on your taste. But choose wisely- if you’re not a fan of hot stuff, don’t use a super hot pepper. The internet is a great resource for Scoville scale measurements & also to find out what peppers taste like what.

Ever since my debacle last year with searching for chipotles, I’ve since learned to never be without dried chilies. When I find them, I buy them. I haven’t in a while because it just so happens I have a full stash. But I have noticed that this year, dried peppers are much more common, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding any. If you grow your own peppers, you can dehydrate them yourself to use in flavoring oil or other recipes. I keep my stash in a quart jar, hidden in a cool, dark, dry place so they stay dry.

Dried chilies for homemade chili oil.

The oil you use will also depend on you. What will you be using the oil for? Olive oil is good if you’re using it as a garnish. Vegetable oil, corn oil or peanut oil are best if you plan on cooking with it. Sesame oil is not suitable for high heat, so it’s best used if you’re planning on sprinkling the oil on top of already cooked food (stir fry, maybe? Or fried rice?). Coconut oil can be used over relatively high heat, and has little flavor, so it might be a decent choice as well. Whole Foods Market has a good rundown of oils on their website, you might wanna take a peek.

All I did to make this oil was:

  1. First, I found a bottle to use. I bought this little bottle at Michael’s for like $1.20, but you can find ones like it just about anywhere, or you can use a jar.
  2. Then I heated a 1/4 cup of oil over low heat. I used corn oil myself. Once it was hot but (not scaldingly so), I added a whole dried chili & 1 tablespoon dried red pepper flakes, and then I let the chile get hot. I did NOT let it cook! I just heated it enough to release the oils & flavor.
  3. I removed it from heat & let it cool to room temperature. Then, using tongs, I put the whole chili in the bottle. I poured the chili oil over it, then poured more fresh oil in to fill the bottle, and then I let it sit in a cool, dark place for one week before using. The longer it sits, the hotter/more flavorful it gets.

Obviously, you can add more chilies if you’re using a larger container. And you’d use more oil, as well. Experimentation is the name of the game!

How to make an easy chili oil.

Here today, tarragon tomorrow.

Homemade tarragon vinegar.

Some recipes aren’t really even recipes. I mean, if something has two ingredients & requires little more than bruising some herb leaves, heating up some vinegar & then just combining the two… how can that even be a recipe? It’s more like an instructional, or a how-to, or a guideline. Not really a recipe, though. For blogging purposes we’ll call it a recipe, but between the two of us it really isn’t, now is it?

Either way- it’s worth reading this. You’ll get something out of it, I promise. Plus, I’ve been bombarding you with berries & baked goods, so let’s switch gears.

See, I have this lovely mortar & pestle. And I rarely use it; most of the time I crumble dried herbs in my fingers or tear fresh ones if needed. But every now & then something comes along that calls for this pretty little old fashioned bowl & club grinder. When that happens I must use it, even if it’s for just a few tarragon leaves.

Le Creuset mortar & pestle used for bruising tarragon leaves for use in an easy homemade tarragon vinegar.

It’s really quite simple. I had some fresh tarragon here, looking sad & lonely. Left over from those pickles. It had to be put to use before it was no longer good (oh fresh-cut herbs, you & your tiny little lifespan). After making two quarts of pickles I wasn’t sure what else I could do with the tarragon before it wilted completely. Hence the title of this post. Get it? GET IT?

Using a mortar & pestle always makes me feel very witchy, or Harry Potter-ish.

How to make homemade tarragon vinegar.

And I always forget about infusing olive oil or vinegar with herbs. Why? No clue. It’s a fantastic idea. So I made some. I mean, Heinz sells bottles of this stuff. SELLS IT. For money. I can make it for nothing! Or close to it, seeing as how the tarragon costs nothing if you grow it, and I always have white wine vinegar on hand. I decided to do some research on it and I found the following little snippet. Turns out, tarragon is a bit more valuable than I had thought:

These days, tarragon is more commonly used as a kitchen herb, but it actually has a long history as a medicinal plant, and that tradition has a good scientific basis. For starters, tarragon can improve digestion by increasing the secretion of bile and acids into the stomach. It also helps to whet the appetite. Further, research has shown that tarragon extract may help in managing diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity, and it may also kill ulcer-causing bacteria. Finally, the herb contains a chemical called caffeic acid, which works as an antiviral agent and also helps rid the body of damaging free radicals that can lead to cancer.

-source

All that & tasty too? Awesome. Now I really can’t let any go to waste, so herb-infused vinegar it is. And it’s a very, very easy process:

  1. I bruised some tarragon sprigs that were washed & patted dry: leaves, stems & all, in my mortar & pestle. Just lightly, to release some of the essence & aromatic oils, not to totally decimate it.
  2. I scooped it out and put it into a glass bottle. A glass bottle that once housed illy Italian iced coffee, by the way, so SAVE ALL YOUR GLASS JARS & BOTTLES- you never know when they might come in handy.
  3. I heated up about a cup/cup & a half of white wine vinegar just until warm and poured it over the tarragon into the bottle. I closed the lid once it cooled to room temperature, and set it aside.

Homemade tarragon vinegar.

Easy peasy.

And then… I let it sit for two weeks before using (which actually I haven’t gotten around to yet) in a cool, dark & dry place. That’s it. It’s ready for use in béarnaise sauce, salad dressings, to toss steamed veggies or potatoes in or for use in potato salad, or to have with chicken or broiled fish (those particular recipes are favorites with the fam). All that from one little bottle.

Oh, I forgot to mention I labeled it, too.

How to make homemade tarragon vinegar for salad dressings, etc.Label from Sur la Table

Now, the amount of tarragon you use will vary from person to person. If you want a stronger vinegar, then add the amount that I added, which you can see is quite a bit. If you want a more delicate flavor, add less. You can use dried tarragon as well- roughly 1/4 teaspoon per cup of vinegar. White wine vinegar, that is, not regular. Regular vinegar could be used, but the flavor of wine vinegars are better suited for dressings. However last summer I did make chive blossom vinegar using plain ol’ regular white vinegar. I’m sure also that a very strong herb such as basil could be used to infuse red wine vinegar, but I can’t say for sure. Try it… what’s the worst that can happen? You waste a 1/2 cup or a cup of it on a not-so-great-tasting experiment?

I assume this can be done with any and all herbs, so if you dislike this choice of herb, try another. And of course you can infuse oils as well. Rosemary is a great choice for olive oil, so is oregano. Use your imagination.

How to make your own tarragon vinegar (or any herb-infused vinegar).

Leftover blackberry honey syrup.

Don’t you love when you’re reading an old book & the author wrote it as ‘sirop’? It’s so old timey or foreign. I know sirop is the French way of spelling syrup, but it seems that a lot of books written in the 1700′s or 1800′s write it that way, too. Makes sense since it comes from the Latin ‘siropus.’ But anything written in another language (or in an old way) is more attractive. Like, for example, this recipe would be ‘Sirop de mûres e miel’ in French. So lovely.

Are you tired of my history of language lesson yet?

Blackberries always intrigued me. I’m not a fan of the flavor of berries, let’s just get that out in the open right now. I can tolerate strawberries, but I’m not a huge fan by any means. I’m a big apple girl (both figuratively & literally- I  NY, too) and I love citrus. Berries? Nah. Not for me. But regardless, I love looking at them, touching them, cooking with them. I come from a family of berry fiends… which is good, because I get to satisfy my curiosity without wasting food. I didn’t grow up near a blackberry bramble. There are no wild berries growing in my yard, however we did have a flowering crabapple tree. My berry encounters were not on a farm or in the wild country, but supermarkets & restaurants & as the flavoring in gum. Blue raspberry anything still makes me queasy to this day, by the way.

I came up with this idea because after finishing that blackberry whateveryouwannacallit thing I made, I had some blackberries left over. Not enough to make into a jam, really, unless I made about 4 ounces, and that’s not really worth the trouble. It was pretty much a decent-sized handful of big, juicy berries. And blackberries don’t last long, as you probably know. So I figured I’d make them into a syrup using some honey.

Waste not, want not.

I didn’t use a recipe, so I honestly have no idea what measurements to tell you to use. You aren’t going to be canning this; it’s just for immediate use or storage in the refrigerator, so there’s no concern about adding acidity or the amount of sugar, etc. The more honey you add, the more syrup you’ll get. The more berries you add, the more syrup you’ll get. I made it about even, which gives a stronger berry flavor. If you have more honey than berry, the flavor will be more honey & vice versa. You get the idea.

You can use it for pancakes/waffles, you can stir a little bit into some lemonade & toss in some whole berries for a nice summer drink or use it as the base for a cocktail. I’m sure a lighter bourbon like Basil Hayden’s would be interesting mixed with a bit of this. Also, use it as a salad dressing base: mix it with a little red wine vinegar & olive oil, you’ve got yourself a blackberry honey vinaigrette. Even better, mix it with some blackberry vinegar, if you’ve got it.

Keeping all that in mind, this is what I did:

  • I rinsed off & dried the berries. Only do this right before using them, or else you’ll end up with moldy fruit.
  • I put the clean fruit into a medium saucepan and mashed them with a fork. It’s not necessary to make sure they’re completely smooshed- just enough to release a bit of juice.
  • I added about a half cup of honey (more is fine), and turned on the heat to medium-low, stirring with a wooden spoon so nothing scorches.
  • Keep stirring and gently mashing the berries, incorporating them with the honey. The mixture should be a reddish color now. Keep cooking & stirring.
  • Cook, stirring pretty frequently, until it’s reduced & thickened slightly, and it’s a dark, foamy syrup with little round berry bits & guts in it. Don’t worry, you’re straining that out.
  • Add a dash of pure vanilla extract and stir well. Almond extract works too, but nothing at all is fine. The blackberry honey flavor is enough!
  • Clean a jar, put it on a tea towel on your counter or table and place a strainer over the top. Depending on the amount of berries/honey you’re using, you might need a pint jar. Pour the mixture into the strainer little by little, pressing down with a rubber spatula to extract more syrup. When all the syrup is out of it, scoop it into the garbage and pour more of the mixture in, then repeat.
  • Once you’re finished, place a lid on the jar and let it cool. Once cooled, refrigerate or use immediately.

It’s insanely simple, and it makes use of even the smallest amount of leftover blackberries. I’m pretty sure it would work with blueberries or raspberries as well.

Also? It’s pretty.

Leftover blackberry honey syrup

Spice up your life!

In just a few short days, February will have arrived. The winter is far from over, of course, but with February comes the new onslaught of holidays: Valentines Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Passover, etc, etc, etc. Before you know it, websites & blogs will be proclaiming “SPRING!” while you look out your window & see 2 feet of snow or frost-covered cars.

Not me, however.

I am fully aware that there’s a lot of winter left to go, and that you need some warming up. As do I. So on this, my last post of January, I present you with the following: spice-infused milk.

It’s a goddamn revelation, I tell you. It’s the easiest thing in the world, and I’m sorry I never thought of it before. It’s genius. Leave it to Martha to come up with something so stupidly simple it makes you feel positively soft in the head for not thinking of it yourself. It’s basically the same concept behind flavored coffee creamers. Duuuuh.

Last week when I went to Mystic, CT, in a little shop called the Franklin General Store I found Dave’s Coffee Syrup. It’s basically an all-natural, preservative free version of Coffee Time syrup. The ingredients are simply cold brewed coffee & cane sugar; no high-fructose corn syrup or coffee flavor. It’s typically used to make “coffee milk”; a Rhode Island tradition, but there’s a tag on the label that encourages you to get creative with it. I bought the regular coffee syrup, Jay got the Madagascar vanilla coffee syrup. I decided that I wanted to use my infused milk with my new coffee syrup… and so I did. But first I tried it with a regular coffee.


SPICE-INFUSED MILK (via Martha Stewart Living, Dec. 2012)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • Spices of your choice; i.e. star anise, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, freshly grated ginger, vanilla, cloves, etc (see below for recipe ideas)
  • 16-oz. jar for storage

Directions:

  1. Heat the milk in a medium saucepan with the spices you choose, stirring just once or twice. Heat JUST UNTIL STEAMING.
  2. Cover pan and let the spices steep in the milk for 1 hour.
  3. Strain and reheat if necessary, or refrigerate in a jar (up to 3 days). Reheat gently before serving.

There are tons of ideas & possibilities here, and not just for coffee! For example:

OATMEAL: Infuse 2 cups milk with 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, 1 cinnamon stick or the pod & seeds of half a vanilla bean. Add to oatmeal.

SWEDISH COFFEE: Steep 18 lightly crushed cardamom pods in 2 cups whole milk, add to coffee. Alternately or in conjunction, you can use 1 cinnamon stick or freshly grated nutmeg.

MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE: For a spicy Mexican-inspired cocoa, infuse 2 cups whole milk with 1 or 2 dried chiles (smoky chipotles or anchos), 1 cinnamon stick and the pod & seeds of 1 vanilla bean. Mix with cocoa.

INDIAN: Use 10 cardamom pods, a teaspoon of fennel seeds, 1 star anise petal and 1 cinnamon stick. Use with coffee or cocoa. This is also good over muesli or with oatmeal.

GROWN UP MILK PUNCH: Mix milk with 2 tablespoons caramel, 3 teaspoons maple syrup, half a vanilla bean (scraped), 2 pinches ground cinnamon. Cook as directed, let cool. Once cooled, mix with 2 shots of brandy in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain before serving.

I made Swedish coffee milk, but I added half of a vanilla bean & a cinnamon stick to the cardamom. So maybe that wasn’t really a Swedish coffee, but I don’t care. It was delicious. I highly recommend it. Do whatever you want! Add whatever spices you like! Chiles, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, vanilla bean, Chinese 5-spice, etc. Go nuts.

And of course, what’s a Swedish coffee without a Swedish book?

Chai concentrating.

Pinterest has taken over everyone’s life lately. It seems as if everyone is either making something they found on Pinterest or talking about something they found on Pinterest. And I’m no different. My Pinterest page is filled with amazing things; some of which I’ve made, some of which I’ll never make, and most of which I just gush about. I even wrote about it at textdrivebys.com twice…

This chai concentrate from Tasty Yummies is one of the ones I’ve actually both pinned and made.

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November is doing it’s best to get fully settled in. It’s been very, very cold, and as a matter of fact in addition to hurricane Sandy hammering us last week, tomorrow we’re getting a Nor’easter! Gusty winds, heavy rains and even snow in some places. So it’s time for warm drinks & spicy flavors. Hot cider, hot chocolate, hot tea. One chilly Sunday I was browsing Pinterest, looking at things I had been pinning for something interesting to create, and I noticed this chai concentrate that I had pinned way back in August. As soon as I saw the stunning photo of it in a Mason jar (how could I turn away!?) I pinned it. I’m not a massive chai person, but I do enjoy it every now & then. And it’s worth it to me to try a homemade version because I really never buy it when I’m out. I usually prefer a coffee. So when I do have chai, it’s at home. And I love some pre-made brands, and some tea companies versions of it. But sometimes it’s just not the same.

The history of chai is quite a rich one, despite most people only knowing it from it’s existence in lattes at Starbucks.

Masala chai (literally “mixed-spice tea”) is a beverage from India made by brewing tea with a mixture of aromatic Indian spices and herbs.

Plain chai

By itself, chai or cha is merely the generic word for “tea” in many European and Asian languages. The widespread form chai comes from Persian چای chay. Street vendors called “chai wallahs” (sometimes spelled “chaiwalas”) are a common sight, although coffee is a more popular beverage in some southern parts of India. Chai is also a popular item in restaurants known as Irani cafés or the genre of South Asian restaurants known as Chai Khanas or Ghahve Khane.

Spiced tea

For many English speakers, the term “chai” is synonymous with masala chai, as further described below. The redundant chai tea is sometimes used to indicate spiced milk tea as distinct from other types of tea. Numerous coffee houses use the term chai latte for their version to indicate that the steamed milk of a normal latte is being flavored with a spiced tea concentrate instead of with espresso, without necessarily implying the addition of coffee. Some coffeehouses and brand names refer to their product as chai tea latte.

The beverage is locally known as Chai karak in the Middle East.

And might I add… DELICIOUS. And this homemade concentrate is also easy. Cheap, too. But at the same time it’s quick- it takes no time at all, and it makes your house smell absolutely amazing. The smell alone is worth it! Just like the homemade pumpkin spice latte mix I posted about last month, if you’re a chai lover who buys a lot of chai lattes, this could totally save you some money.

HOMEMADE CHAI CONCENTRATE (adapted minimally from Tasty Yummies)

Yields: 1 batch of concentrate, approximately 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 8 bags black tea – I used PG tips
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 1/3 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 whole star anise pods
  • 1/2 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Directions:

  1. Add the water and sugar to a medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil over a medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and put in the tea bags, cheesecloth pouch and cinnamon sticks. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat strain the concentrate through a sieve, separating the large pieces (tea begs/cinnamon sticks/cardamom pods/anise/cloves/etc) from the mix. At this point, add your vanilla extract & honey. Stir to combine.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool before pouring it into an airtight jar or container. This amount fits perfectly into a 1-quart mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

To use it, mix one part concentrate with one part milk or milk-like product of your choice. Heat the concentrate for a hot version, pour over ice for a cold version.

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I used ground cardamom & ground ginger, I had fresh ginger but it was frozen & I didn’t feel like defrosting it so I could cut it (it’s a pretty large hunk, and yes I freeze my extra ginger). I didn’t have any cardamom pods but I had a large jar of it ground, so I opted to substitute that. Also, the original recipe called for a whole vanilla bean, coconut sugar & raw honey- I only had regular sugar, brown sugar, a small amount of German rock sugar (for my tea) & sugar cubes myself, so I made an executive decision. If you want to use another kind of sugar, go right ahead, but you might want to read what she says her results were first. My honey wasn’t raw either, but I don’t think that makes much of a difference taste-wise. All of my vanilla beans were being made into homemade vanilla extract at the time, so I had to use some vanilla extract instead. If you like a spicier chai, add more peppercorns. If you like a sweeter chai, add more sugar. Likewise… if you prefer a less sweet chai then just use less sugar/honey. What you use in it is totally up to you. And as a matter of fact, this mix makes a nice hostess gift, too. Tie some raffia around the top with some cinnamon sticks & handwritten instructions, and you’re good to go. And if you know someone who was in the path of Hurricane Sandy who has no power but still has a gas stove to heat it up with, maybe bring them some, along with some food.

As for me? I’ll be drinking some later tonight watching the 2012 Presidential election returns. Make sure you registered U.S. voters get out there today & do your duty! It’s a privilege to be able to push that little lever or fill in that circle on paper, so get your lazy, apathetic asses out there. And to everyone who already voted; good for you. It’s not even 8 a.m. & you’ve already made more of a difference than most people will all day. And if you’re one of those people affected by Sandy, you can still vote. Download a mail-in ballot or call your local elected officials to find out where to go to vote in New Jersey, or if you’re in NY you can click here & find out where to go (and in turn pass it on!). I know you’re all dealing with so many other things, but voting is going to continue; no matter what election day will not be suspended. And it’s so important to get your vote in. So please, try and get as many folks as you can to the polls today.

And if you remain unaffected, if you’re safe, warm & dry today, and you know where you’ll be voting & that you’ll be coming home afterwards… then especially be thankful for that.

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It was a dark & stormy All Hallows Eve….

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Happy Halloween my little zombies! No, it isn’t quite Halloween yet, but it’s close enough. And I thought a cocktail called a “dark ‘n’ stormy” would be a perfect treat for sharing with you on Halloween. Come on. Is there a better named drink than that for Wednesday night? No. Not only for Wednesday night, but tonight- since the ridiculous Hurricane Sandy is barreling her way up here to NY today. And what could be better than a delicious spooky sounding cocktail made with homemade ingredients for a pre-Halloween storm dubbed “Frankenstorm”?

Ugh, I know. It sucks. I really hate hurricanes. Down in NOLA or other hurricane-prone places, people have “hurricane parties“; they’re so used to it. But see, here in New York we don’t get them often. we aren’t used to it at all, and they can be terrifying. And the shitty thing about it is not only do we never get ‘em, but when we do… they’re usually a doozy. Especially these “once in a lifetime” ones that combine with Nor’Easters or cold fronts to make a monster of a storm. They’re historic storms that end up not only knocking out power & screwing everyone else’s life up for days if not weeks, but sadly killing people on a grand scale. But what is there to do about it? Nothing. Nothing but sit & wait it out. Mother Nature does what she wants. It’s her world, we all just live in it. Respect your mother, right?

It seems I’ve been posting tons of drinks & alcohol infusions & such lately; pumpkin spice latte mix, candy corn vodka, now this. But I can’t help it. Once you start with this stuff you can’t stop. And this particular post all started when I made my own ginger ale… or ginger beer, actually.

The original recipe requires only ginger, sugar, water, lemon juice and a fungal-bacteria symbiote[4] known as a ginger beer plant. Fermentation over a few days turns the mixture into ginger beer.

Forms of live culture other than the ginger beer plant can produce a fermented ginger beer. Cultures used include brewers or baker’s yeast, lactic acid bacteria, kefir grains, and tibicos. Brewing ginger beer generates carbon dioxide as in beer. The alcohol content, when produced by the traditional process can be high, up to 11 %,[2] although ginger beer is usually brewed with much less alcohol.

Brewed ginger beer often includes other flavorings, prominently lemon or lime juice. These juices are not merely ornamental, however, as they establish an acidic pH balance for the solution; this helps in both protecting the ginger beer from other cultures, as well as facilitating sugar inversion to increase the availability of the more readily metabolised fructose and glucose. Other, more strictly flavoring-specific, elements have often included: citrus zests; cayenne pepper and other hot spices; and admixtures from other brews such as nettle or dandelion beers.

-Wikipedia

I had wanted to do it for a long time, but I kept putting it off & putting it off. I don’t really know why- maybe because I just kept thinking it would be more complicated than it is? Or maybe ’cause I can be kinda lazy. Whatever. But at any rate, I finally got to a point where I decided I was going to do it. And I did. Complete with a scary little bat flying around…

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I found two awesome recipes here and I figured I’d try them both. The first one I made was the “fermented” version; made with yeast. It was super easy to make and even though it took almost 3 days to get to sip on, it was more than worth it. I used lime juice instead of lemon and it was fine. Of course with that homemade yeasty-ness too. Not too shabby. But the thing I really wanted to do was make a dark ‘n’ stormy cocktail with it for Halloween. And boy, did I ever!

A Dark and Stormy (or Dark ‘n’ Stormy) is an alcoholic highball style cocktail popular in many British Commonwealth countries, such as Bermuda and Australia. It consists of dark rum and ginger beer over ice. It is optionally accompanied by a slice of lime.

While the Dark ‘n’ Stormy is traditionally made with dark or black rum, one variation nicknamed the Light ‘n’ Stormy uses 10 Cane, a light rum, and Blenheim Old #3 Hot ginger ale.[7][8] Another variation on the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, called the Ginger Bush, swaps Rum for Bourbon.[citation needed]

For several years, Gosling’s has been a sponsor of the annual yachting regatta Chester Race Week in Chester, Nova Scotia. The Dark ‘n’ Stormy is the special drink of the night each year, made with ginger beer brewed by local Halifax, NS brewery Propeller Brewery.

Rum mixed with ginger wine is a particularly strong combination, known as a Turbo Dark N’ Stormy, and is a favourite tipple of Pembroke College Boat Club (Oxford).[citation needed]

-Wikipedia

Alright. So the drink really doesn’t have anything to do with Halloween or even this time of year. But the name, people… the name! And while I’m no expert on this drink, I find the homemade ginger beer really made all the difference. And as a matter of fact, I liked the process so much, I made brewed up a vanilla cream soda version the next night. And I’m planning on a root beer version. But you don’t care about all that. You wanna get drunk. I understand.

I actually found that this ginger beer was much better in the cocktail than it was alone.

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DARK ‘N’ STORMY

Ingredients:

  • 1 shot (or 2 ounces) of dark rum (preferably Gosling’s Black Seal, but anything dark will do- I used Myers’s myself)
  • 1 cup homemade ginger beer (recipe below)
  • One quarter of a lime
  • 1 sprig fresh mint

Directions:

  1. In a glass filled with ice, pour rum, then pour ginger beer. Stir.
  2. Squeeze the lime in, and if you like, toss the lime right on in the glass.
  3. Top with mint, candied ginger, or lime if you’re fancy, or you can spear a lime slice on a fancy pick like my Halloween bat.
  4. Drink up.

HOMEMADE FERMENTED GINGER BEER (adapted a teensy bit from monikakotus.com)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2-2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger root
  • juice of one lime
  • 1/4 teaspoon baker’s yeast
  • cold fresh spring or filtered water (yeast does not like chlorine, so make sure you don’t use fresh tap water unless you let it sit overnight first)

Directions:

  1. Through a funnel add sugar and yeast to a 2-liter plastic bottle. Mix grated ginger root and lime juice and then transfer it to a bottle, add water to fill it half way and shake well to mix all ingredients.
  2. Add more water, leaving about an inch head space, screw the cap on and shake again. You can also mix all the ingredients in a jar and then transfer to a plastic bottle.
  3. Leave in a warm place for about two days and then transfer to refrigerator, to stop fermentation process. Refrigerate overnight.
  4. Pour it through a strainer and enjoy!
My fancy French glass bottle was so tall it never fully made it into any of the shots! GRR…

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Okay, now, technically the only rum you should use in a dark ‘n’ stormy is Gosling’s. They apparently patented it. But I don’t really see why you can’t, in the privacy of your own home, use whatever dark or spiced rum you have: Kraken, Sailor Jerry, Captain Morgan, Myers’s, Bacardi, etc. And also, technically, you can use ginger ale instead of ginger beer in a dark ‘n’ stormy. Nobody’s going to kill you. However traditionally, ginger beer is what’s used. So if you’re not going to make your own, then at least buy one. There are a huge variety of brands, from Goya, Reeds, Barritt’s & Regatta to those fancy small batch micro-brewed ones you can get at a natural market or beer distributor. And if you do make your own, and you find it too yeasty or too earthy for your taste, try using Champagne yeast instead of supermarket baker’s yeast in the next batch. I thought it was amazing, myself, but of course everyone has a different idea of what kind of ginger ale they like. Tweak it the way you want it. More sugar, less sugar, more ginger, lemon juice instead of lime juice, different yeast, etc.

Also just a small note of massive importance: you cannot use a sugar substitute. Yeast needs sugar to work it’s magic, so you could try lessening the amount of real sugar, and subbing Stevia or something for the rest… but you absolutely MUST use real sugar in some amount in order to get the yeast going. Also, because of this, there’s a minute amount of alcohol in the finished product. Nowhere near enough to matter, really, unless you’re restricted by health or religious factors. It probably amounts to the same percentage in chewing gum or something.

And now for something (not so) completely different…

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The second one was a syrup that you mix with sparkling water or club soda to make an “instant” ginger ale. It’s sweeter, doesn’t have that ‘yeasty’ flavor of the other one and it’s very, very easy. Way easier than the fermented stuff, and that stuff is crazy easy in and of itself. Basically: one cup thinly sliced fresh ginger + one cup sugar + two cups water = ginger syrup. Put it all in a medium saucepan, bring to a light boil then lower the heat & simmer for ten minutes. It makes about 2 cups (mine filled a 16-ounce/pint jar almost to the top). Pop it in a jar or bottle, put it in the fridge and use it as you see fit. The website I got it from says one part syrup + three parts club soda (or sparkling water) makes a great instant (and fresh) ginger ale. Delicious. You can have it alone, but if you like you can just squeeze a little fresh lime juice and/and crush some mint in it and you’re on your way. DIY or Die! It’s a crisp, drier version of store-bought ginger ale. Probably cheaper too. Just keep the syrup in the fridge.

It definitely has a more “user friendly” taste than the fermented ginger beer. If you want to ease into making your own sodas, this would be the one to start with.

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It’s not as dark as a store-bought ginger ale, but if you like more gingery flavor & add more syrup, it’ll get darker. And yes, you could use the ginger syrup/club soda mix in a Dark ‘n’ Stormy, too. And as an added plus, my mother informs me the ginger syrup is excellent in tea as well. Another plus? Ginger is soothing for stomach problems, and the fresher the better, so this syrup can act as a tummy soother if you’re nauseous or have other ailments of that sort. Which you just might on November 1st, after all that Halloween candy is eaten.

Keep your fingers crossed for me, guys. This storm is supposed to be a wicked one. Everyone else in Sandy’s path, be careful. And if you’re not in her path, be careful out there on Halloween. You never know who… or what… you’ll encounter. Even if it is dark, but not stormy. Bwahahahaha…

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I want candy. I want candy (corn).

“We… try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup.”
-Will Ferrell, ‘Elf’

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It may not be Christmas at all yet, far from it actually. But every time I see candy corn I think of that quote from the movie Elf.’ I can’t help it. I know, I know, the retail establishments start pushing Christmas on you quick enough as it is, you don’t need me talking about it on October 20th. That was wrong of me. I’m sorry. Genuinely. I should know better.

But what I’m not sorry about is candy corn vodka.

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Yup. Vodka. With candy corn. I hope this makes up for mentioning Christmas two months early. Basically, you place candy corn in some vodka and what do you know? After anywhere from a few days to a week, you get orange-colored candy corn flavored vodka.

Blam.

I’m not a major vodka person. The last time I had more than one small glass of vodka or rather I should say: the last time I had vodka straight up, not mixed with anything, it was a green apple flavored Smirnoff variety. Apple flavored vodka straight up in a red Solo cup (Toby Keith has nothing on me). It was a Friday night and I was sitting cross-legged on the table in a tiny, cramped, too hot dorm kitchen at F.I.T., before I headed over to CBGB‘s with some friends. Super punk rock. But really, I don’t think I even need to elaborate on any of that statement, do I? No. I think it pretty much speaks for itself. I also don’t think I need to say how long ago that was. I’ve already shown my age numerous ways there in that statement. ‘Cause, really? Apple flavored vodka? Sheesh. How early ’00′s of me. I’m also not going to name names & incriminate anyone I was with seeing as how alcohol on school premises is strictly forbidden & we may or may not have been of legal drinking age (do as I say, not as I do, children).

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I knew there was a better use for candy corn than snacking on them absentmindedly while watching horror films & polishing off an entire bag. Now you can get drunk absentmindedly while watching horror films. Just put the candy corn (maybe 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of them) into a jar (I used an 8-ounce jar, if you use a larger one, double or triple the amount of corn) and pour in vodka. Let it sit for a week, then shake it, strain it, and use it! Great for a Halloween party, dontcha think? Slap a cute label on it and you’ve got yourself a great prop too. Like my jar of brains. No less awesome, but slightly less gross-sounding. Unless you give it a creepy name… like Ghost Pee. Haha. Ghost Pee. As a matter of fact, you can download some great labels for free on the internet; here & here are great choices, and this one here has a great idea for a more intricate do-it-yourself design, and then of course you can always buy pre-made ones at Michael’s or another craft store. Martha Stewart usually has some really cool ones.

So yeah, anyway, I’m not hugely into vodka. And not because the aforementioned college incident left a bad taste in my mouth, either, no pun intended. I guess I’m just not into it. I’d prefer beer I suppose if given the choice. However… the possibility of whipped cream flavored vodka or candy corn friggin’ vodka is kinda exciting, I’m not gonna lie. By the way, mucho thanks to Melanie who first gave me this idea last year. I’ve waited one whole year to get this shizzle a brewin’… so let’s party! You can serve it in a martini glass rimmed with black crystal sugar, and maybe an orange & black candy stirrer? Or a candy corn on a toothpick? Or you can make a cocktail using it, like this one from the Food Network.

Speaking of partying, don’t forget to enter my Sourpuss Clothing Dia de los Muertos giveaway… it ends on the 25th, so get in there & enter. Also, I’m now a contributing author to a brand new group blog, textdrivebys.com. Come by and say hello!

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Cold & flu season be damned.

Yup. It’s that time of year again. FLU SEASON.

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Confession time: I have never gotten a flu shot. Ever. Not when my mother was on chemo, not when my grandmother was over 90 years old and I was taking care of her, not when I took the train into Manhattan every day during the winter with sweaty, stinky people coughing & sneezing all over me. Not even when I was still in college & they “highly recommended it.” I never once got the flu, and in turn never once gave anyone else the flu. And don’t lecture me- I don’t plan on ever getting a flu shot, unless I’m in a compromising situation health-wise. First of all, I recently read a study that said that green tea supplements actually worked better to prevent the flu than vaccinations. And also, another study that said due to the aluminum content in the shots, adults who received 5 or more flu shots were 10% more likely to get Alzheimer’s than those who had 2 or fewer. And that was substantiated by an article I had read last year. True or not true, substantiated or not, outdated or not, it brings up a lot of questions. And it doesn’t seem like a risk I’d like to take. I realize health is not something to play around with. I’m not anti-vaccinations (quite the opposite actually), I especially think they’re important for children, and I would never tell anyone else what to do. I’m just not over-dramatic when it comes to my own health. I realize the flu can be serious… but I’m not in a high-risk group. I’m healthy. I’m not pregnant. I don’t have asthma or diabetes. And I much prefer to take my chances and avoid the doctor as much as possible. If I can’t cure it with NyQuil, orange juice, Tylenol and brandy/whiskey, then and only then do I consider a trip to the professionals. I haven’t taken antibiotics in over 4 years.

Why am I telling you this? Because this post is about something you can make and can up that just might help ease some of the misery you might be put through later on in the season, whether you get a flu shot or not.

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It’s spiced honey! Very simple to make, very cheap to make, and it has a lot of health benefits.

Honey historically as been used by humans to treat a variety of ailments, from gastric disturbances to ulcers, wounds and burns, through ingestion or topical application, but only recently have the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of honey been chemically explained. Different honeys have different properties, which was known since ancient times. Much scientific research has been done, with emphasis of late on fighting infections in wounds. The antibacterial mechanisms known to date are H2O2, methylglyoxal(MGO), bee defensin-1, the osmotic effect and the pH.

In Ayurveda, a 4000-year-old medicine originating from India, honey is considered to positively affect all three primitive material imbalances of the body. “Vaatalam guru sheetam cha raktapittakaphapaham| Sandhatru cchedanam ruksham kashayam madhuram madhu|| “It has sweetness with added astringent as end taste. It is heavy, dry and cold. Its effect on doshas (imbalances) is that it aggravates vata (air / moving forces), scrapes kapha (mucus / holding forces) and normalizes pitta (catabolic fire) and rakta (blood). It promotes the healing process.” Some wound gels which contain antibacterial raw honey and have regulatory approval are now available to help treat drug-resistant strains of bacteria (MRSA). One New Zealand researcher says a particular type of honey (manuka honey) may be useful in treating MRSA infections.) As an antimicrobial agent honey is useful in treating a variety of ailments. Antibacterial properties of honey are the result of the low water activity causing osmosis, chelation of free Iron, its slow release of hydrogen peroxide,[74] high acidity,[75] and the antibacterial activity of methylglyoxal.

Honey also appears to be effective in killing drug-resistant biofilms which are implicated in chronic rhinosinusitis.

Lemon contains Vitamin C, which helps repel toxins. The low pH of juice makes it antibacterial.

Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes”. A study conducted in 2007 and published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry suggests that specific plant terpenoids contained within cinnamon have potent antiviral properties.

Pharmacological experiments suggest that the cinnamon-derived dietary factor cinnamic aldehyde (cinnamaldehyde) activates the Nrf2-dependent antioxidant response in human epithelial colon cells and may therefore represent an experimental chemopreventive dietary factor targeting colorectal carcinogenesis.[34] Recent research documents anti-melanoma activity of cinnamic aldehyde observed in cell culture and a mouse model of human melanoma.Cinnamon bark, a component of the traditional Japanese medicine Mao-to, has been shown in a 2008 study published in the Journal of General Virology to have an antiviral therapeutic effect. A 2011 study isolated a substance (CEppt) in the cinnamon plant that inhibits development of Alzheimer’s in mice. CEppt, an extract of cinnamon bark, seems to treat a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.

Cloves (and clove oil) have long been shown in Western studies to assist in aiding with dental pain.However, studies to determine its effectiveness for fever reduction, as a mosquito repellent and to prevent premature ejaculation have been inconclusive. Clove may reduce blood sugar levels.

Tellimagrandin II is an ellagitannin found in S. aromaticum with anti-herpes virus properties. The clove buds have anti-oxidant properties.

But more than any of that- honey is just soothing, especially when ingested in a warm cup of something. So it stands to reason that some honey with lemon, cinnamon and cloves is something you’d want to make and have on hand for those miserable winter days when you wake up feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck, barely able to swallow. But really, it’s equally delicious in a cup of hot black tea (or even better for your health: green tea) right before bed on a cold fall or winter night. You don’t have to be sick to appreciate it. Stir some of this into some hot apple cider. Hell, you can have a little in a glass of Jack Daniels too. They make that honey stuff, don’t they? Why not a spiced honey Jack cocktail?


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SPICED HONEY

Makes three 8-ounce (half-pint) jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 organic lemon, washed thoroughly, end pieces removed and cut into 6 even slices
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 3 cinnamon sticks (4 inches long)
  • 2 2/3 cups liquid honey

Directions:

  1. Sterilize your jars, put your lids in hot water and prepare your water bath canner.
  2. Stud the peel of each lemon slice with two cloves. In a stainless steel saucepan, combine lemon slices, cinnamon sticks and honey. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Boil gently for 2 minutes.
  3. Using tongs, remove lemon slices from honey mixture and place two in each (still hot) jar. Add 1 cinnamon stick to each jar. Ladle the hot honey into the jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Place lids and bands, turning to fingertip tight, and place jars in canner.
  4. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars. Cool, check seal, then store.

Add it to your tea or even drizzle it on your toast. You don’t even have to be sick to enjoy it! It only makes 3 8-oz. jars, and takes no time to pull together. I think you should try making some… in a few months, you might just be glad you did. Especially since the peak of flu season is in February. That’s a long way off, dudes.

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Instead of making 3- 8 oz. jars, I made 2 jars: one 16 oz. and one 8 oz. Not for anything, but a jar of this tied up with a pretty bow and a cute honey dipper would be a great gift to give someone. Not just for a get well gift (although that’s a great idea!), but even for the holidays. Or to bring as a hostess gift on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Just tie a note on it telling them it’s not just for when you’re sick… and they should try it in some hot brandy punch.

I also used two different kinds of honey mixed together, one was a bit lighter in color than the other. Strangely enough, the larger jar I made came out with a deeper color than the smaller jar. Not sure why. It could have been that one honey was a thicker or heavier consistency than the other, and the order in which I poured it into the jars factored in. If you use a flowery honey or Golden Blossom Honey, you’ll get a different flavor. Not a bad flavor at all, it’ll just have more complex notes than the lemon/clove/cinnamon. Also… honey does not expire. A sealed jar of honey can last forever (literally… ). And you don’t have to refrigerate the jars once you open them, since honey is stable at room temperature; the sugar content is too high and the moisture content too low for fungus to grow once it’s opened. According to the National Honey Board:

Honey stored in sealed containers can remain stable for decades and even centuries! However, honey is susceptible to physical and chemical changes during storage; it tends to darken and lose its aroma and flavor or crystallize. These are temperature-dependent processes, making the shelf life of honey difficult to define. For practical purposes, a shelf life of two years is often stated. Properly processed, packaged and stored honey retains its quality for a long time.

If in doubt, throw it out, and purchase a new jar of honey!

So you can open a jar in November and keep that same jar on your counter until spring with no bad consequences. Stay healthy, my fair readers.

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Sources & credits: American Limoges/Sebring Pottery china in “Royal Fortune” pattern; vintage (belonged to my grandmother), 16-oz. & 8-oz. Ball® jars can be purchased at freshpreserving.com.

Cherry bombs (sweet & boozy bourbon cherries).

I’m not a bourbon drinker. Not at all. I’m not really a whiskey girl either, although I do like my Jameson (& some Irish coffee now & then). I’m more a beer person- I’ll take a good quality beer over almost anything else, any day of the week. I do enjoy a nice bottle of wine now and then, too (I don’t drink the entire bottle myself, I swear) but I’m not an aficionado. I know what I like, and that’s all I need. However I know absolutely nothing about bourbon or whiskey, so when it comes to posts like this I have to usually ask for Jay’s assistance. I don’t know what’s good, what’s bad, or what tastes like gasoline, ’cause to me it basically all tastes the same.

Jay gave me a bottle of Blanton’s bourbon to do with as I wish a few months back. I think he was just tired of me hounding him asking what bourbon I can use (and god forbid I use the REALLY good stuff for baking or something). Blanton’s is apparently very good bourbon, and I’ve used it quite a bit, so I’ll be needing a new bottle soon. It all started with the bourbon pickles, really, but it seems there’s always something awesome to make that includes bourbon. Frosting, pickles, and now these cherries. They’re like the cherries that go on top of a very grown-up sundae.

(Speaking of Jay, today is our anniversary… 9 years! I love you, Hikesints! *wink* And thank you for my beautiful Tiffany & Co. present below…)

Back to the booze. So I went to my local fruit market and they had 2 lb. bags of big, beautiful cherries for the amazing price of $1.99. ONE DOLLAR AND NINETY-NINE CENTS. FOR A 2LB. BAG. Do you realize that in an average market cherries are around $5.99 a pound? I couldn’t pass up getting me some, although I didn’t have any idea what I was going to do with them. I figured, worst comes to worse, I can always make preserves or jam, or even a clafouti. But then I thought of an infused liquor, and I knew that’s the first thing I was gonna do. I’ve been wanting to try it for some time now, after seeing some at Punk Domestics.


If there’s one recipe on this blog that a trained monkey could make, this is it. It’s not even a recipe. It’s more like… just instructions I guess. And it goes a little something like this:

  1. Buy cherries.
  2. Buy bourbon.
  3. Wash cherries.
  4. Clean a jar. Any kind of jar, any size of jar that you want- depends on how many cherries you have/how much bourbon you want to infuse.
  5. Fill jar with cherries (stem on, pit in) anywhere from 1/2 – 3/4 full.
  6. Pour the bourbon over cherries.
  7. Put the lid on the jar, put the jar on a shelf (away from direct light), let it sit for a month.
  8. Drink.

That is it.


In one month, you’ll be drinking cherry bourbon. And also eating bourbon-infused cherries, if you wish. The cherries are excellent served with cheese on a cheese platter. Or you can take them out of the jar, pit them, and use them in clafouti or a tart. You can also plop ‘em on top of an ice cream sundae. The bourbon is great either straight up, on the rocks, or mixed with Coke, etc. If when you open it it isn’t sweet enough for you you can add a little brown sugar to the jar. Just close it and give it a shake.

You don’t have to use fresh cherries like I did. I’ve heard dried cherries work too (and Trader Joe’s has a great bag of pitted Montmorency dried cherries for a great price, although they’re tart so you might want to definitely add that brown sugar if you use these). And another great idea would be to put a vanilla bean in there, too. The type of bourbon you’ll want to use, as a general guideline, is one that isn’t top shelf, but definitely not a cheapo one. Any mid-range, decent tasting bourbon will do. The best thing to do is to taste it first. That way you’ll know if it’s worth using/drinking or if you should just use it to make Molotov cocktails.

Kidding.



I have to wait a month to open my jar & drink it, but I’ll keep you updated for sure.

Until then, please do me a favor and go buy a handmade item from TOPSTITCH: 100% of all the proceeds THIS ENTIRE MONTH are going towards The Remi Project. As you may know, both Yoyo from TOPSTITCH & Ariana from The Remi Project are very good friends of mine, so I’d really appreciate you helping out. If you’re unaware of Remi’s story, please go and read about it. He really is a miracle. Once you read it, you’ll see why it’s so important to help out by buying a key fob or donating. Not only that, but Ariana‘s dream is to open a rescue shelter, so by donating to help with Remi’s initial enormous vet costs & his ongoing care, you’re also helping to encourage her to achieve her dream. So buy a key fob for yourself, a covered composition book for your friend, or your kids. You’ll be helping a great cause! We have to start helping our four legged friends even more- they have no voice but ours. Especially on the heels of Lennox’s horrible & unfair death in Belfast, I think we all need to step back & stop thinking of animals as breeds & start thinking of them as living things with hearts & souls.

Because that’s what they are.

I know there are a bunch of animal lovers that read this blog, so I think you’ll all really want to help. And what’s better than helping out but also getting something awesome in exchange?!

Thanks a bunch in advance, guys!

Cherry-infused bourbon (& bourbon cherries). on Punk Domestics