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Monday, July 17, 2017

Reminders

This weekend I finally marked "complete" in my phone reminder to "Add polymeric sand to patio".  I think I put that reminder in my list while Leslie was still alive, if that tells you how long you can ignore a daily reminder.  The first week you're like..."RIGHT!  I have to get that started."  That continues off and on for a few months.  After that you realize you're not doing it, so you turn off the notify thing, but you're still thinking..."I'll get to it," so you don't actually delete it.  After about a year you just don't even actually see the reminder.  I think I stubbed my toe on the polymeric sand in my garage getting out of the minivan and that got me thinking I should complete it this year.  That, and I've been actually using my reminders more consistently as a tool to combat my continuously-decaying short term memory.  (Highly recommend this)

Last year I ALMOST did it.  The job has more to it than just "add sand" though.  I had weeds growing through my patio cracks pretty much...everywhere.  And the sand fills the cracks like grout would.  It's super simple but...

First I needed to kill the weeds.  Roundup.  Fine.  I did that last year.  Then waited a couple days...did it again for the ones that lived.  Then pulled them.  Then stalled out before I could reach the next phase...

Pressure wash patio.  I almost stalled out on that again this year.  It seems the $100 pressure washer I bought 15 years ago is no longer getting up to pressure.  I thought maybe my hose was too long (ba dum bum) and almost stalled out again holding up the project until I got a shorter hose.  But after pressure washing it a few times (my dad loaned me his pressure washer and even took a turn pressure washing it before I got to it) and then pulling any remaining weeds not already dead or dying, I finally got past that stage. 

When the patio was originally installed...seven years ago maybe?...they had me fill the cracks with polymeric sand, and it probably lasted three or four years without any weeds poking through before each subsequent year stared getting worse.  It looked horrible.  Finally had enough.

Anyway..."completed."  Thanks for the reminders.
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I've been having some great successes lately with cooking.  I'll share some of those on the blog at some point.  But this weekend I had a couple "setbacks".

Yesterday was National Ice Cream Day (I guess).  I recently bartered for my friend Kate's unused Cuisinart ICE-21.  I've always wanted an ice cream maker.  For Emma's birthday in March I actually made "no churn" ice cream that turned out amazingly well (and was super easy), but I was eager to try "the real thing".

I talked to Emma about it and we decided to start out simply before doing anything crazy.  We decided on vanilla.  Kate gave me a couple pointers (put the inner tub in the freezer for at least 24 hours before starting, chill your ingredients as much as possible before starting, and don't run the machine more than about 15 minutes unless you want to burn out the motor).

I needed a recipe and asked her for one, but she was on the road and just told me to google cuisinart recipes, which I dutifully did.

Except.  Except I didn't pay attention to WHICH cuisinart ice cream maker I was getting the recipe for, and ended up making about twice as much as the ICE-21 can fit.

I followed the recipe.  It said 30-35 minutes in the machine.  I thought about Kate's warning...but it was the Cuisinart recipe...how could that be wrong?

I discovered my error about 35 minutes later when my mixture was still soup.  I reread the recipe book and saw that the filename of the Ibook was ICE-35 recipes.  uhhhhhh...

The bright side is...the mixture isn't wasted.  And I didn't burn out the motor.

So Kate advised me to just split the mixture in half and try again the next day.  (That's today, by the way).  So...my mixture is in the fridge chillin', my tub is in the freezer, freezin', and hopefully tonight I'll be making ice cream.  Happy belated National Ice Cream Day!
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Meanwhile...I decided to make a roasted red pepper for hamburgers.  I thought...roasted red pepper, avocado, and provolone would be a nice burger combination.  So I took the red peppers out to the grill and started them cooking.  Once I got back in the house I changed my mind about the burger, deciding we'd had them too recently, and decided on spaghetti instead.

I remember thinking...maybe I should set a timer for the pepper so I don't forget them.  But I decided I wouldn't.

This morning I woke up and looked out at the patio...it's so bare with all the furniture still off in the grass, and it looks so nice with all the cracks filled with the hardened sand/grout and not a weed in sight.  I glanced at the grill (which I'd rolled back the previous night to roast the red peppers) and froze.  The red peppers!

They were done.  The gas was gone.  They were done and sitting on the grill, black as pitch but perfectly in shape.  I picked one up.  It was paper light.  I squeezed and it cracked, crumbling to powder under the pressure of my fingers.

I should have set the timer.
Delicious..."blackened" roasted red pepper...patio with polymeric sand in the background.

video

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Easy Shrubs

The first time I'd ever heard of a shrub I was trying desperately to decode Smallman Galley's cocktail menu.  In general, the whackier the cocktail, the more I want to try it.  Smallman Galley (a local "chef incubator" has a bar menu filled with whackiness.

I didn't actually even TRY the drink with the shrub in it...just noted it on the menu as I tried to make sense out of ANY of their offerings.

The cocktail in question, "Here and Now" was a solution of "Market Alley" gin, dry curacoa (don't know how to make the little tail on my c), summer berry shrub, and lemon.  The one I tried instead was Vilified.  I found its contents more exotic.  BUT...I noted the term "shrub".  And learned that it was a way of preserving fruit juices/syrups in a vinegar solution.  It sounded kinda gross if we're being honest.
each ingredient less likely than the last

Except, a month or so later, at a Yelp Elite event at Muddy Waters (an amazing local oyster joint (probably they wouldn't appreciate that appellation, but here we are)), Boyd and Blair Vodka gave a two station presentation...1)  Making a shrub, and 2)  Creating a holiday punch from said shrub.  I tried the shrub.  The shrub was delicious.  I took pictures. 
the shrub

the punch

Right then  and there I vowed to make a shrub.  It was easy!  I would make a holiday punch for thanksgiving from the shrub I'd made (I didn't) or maybe Christmas (I didn't).  But the thought was there.  And I did make a shrub that November.  I just...I just kept forgetting to buy cheesecloth to strain it when I was done.

For months that shrub sat in a 32 ounce mason jar in my refrigerator, and two days after I finally pushed the button on my amazon app purchasing cheesecloth, it arrived on my doorstep (on a Sunday...god bless you, Amazon).  I strained.  I invited my sister over later that week.  And we got to work. Drinking.

Okay...

Apparently the idea of the shrub dates back to colonial days.  Seasonal fruit was preserved using vinegar and sugar, jarred and stored until needed/wanted, straining the fruit through cheesecloth left a mildly vinegar-tasting fruit syrup, or shrub.  Mixed with club soda, or carbonated water, you basically have shrub sodas, or drinking vinegars.  Mixed with spirits...you have excellence. 

Boyd and Blair's original recipe (they handed them out on printed cards at the Yelp event) was holiday-esque, it was spicey and wintery and delicious, and although I wanted to replicate it, I was missing some of the fancier ingredients. 
I still have this card in my recipe box.

Couldn't find it on their website, but they have some awesome drink recipes WITH shrubs.
http://boydandblair.com/recipes/

But you can basically make a shrub out of any fruit/vegetable that's juicy.  The more fibrous fruits/vegetables don't work as well.  I loved the idea of strawberries and basil.  I got a package of strawberries and some fresh basil along with unfiltered cider vinegar and some mason jars and a fruit masher and a canning funnel (that delivered months before I realized I needed to place my cheesecloth order).

There are several ways to make shrubs.  Two main ways...hot or cold.  There are several great posts on the merits of each (easily searchable..."how to make a shrub"), but broken down into very basic terms...cold keeps the brightness of the fruit better, hot minimizes the tang of the vinegar better.  Why I use the cold method, however, is because it's suuuuuuuuper easy.  And I'm a single dad raising two kids, one of whom is autistic.  I like things easy.  Easy is my jam.

Okay...Cold method...there are a couple approaches to this as well:

1)  mash fruit, mix/mash with sugar, let sit a few days, add vinegar, mix, let sit a couple weeks.
2)  mash fruit, mix/mash with sugar, add the vinegar, let sit a couple weeks. 

I picked the easier method of...just throw all the shit together and mash it up and then let the vinegar and sugar do its work. (method 2)

If you look at the Boyd and Blair recipe, there are some decimal places there that I thought were too complicated.  I simplified my own version to be...in essence this:

1)  1 1/2 cups of mashed fruit (take a bunch of cut fruit, toss it in the mason jar and mash the shit out of it until it's down to 1 1/2 cups.  Add more fruit until you get 1 1/2 cups mashed.
2)  1 1/2 cups of sugar (I then take the fruit muddler/masher and mash the shit out of the fruit with the sugar until it's all one big syrupy mulch)
3)  1 1/2 cups of unfiltered cider vinegar (or however much room you have left in the 32 oz mason jar)

Easy.  Close the lid, shake all up until the sugar granules are all fully dissolved (if they weren't already) and put it in the fridge.  I labeled my jar with the date since you're supposed to wait a couple weeks.  Every day I'd grab the jar, mix it all around, and put it back in the fridge.  Until...I didn't anymore.  Because it was months before I had cheesecloth.

When I finally had the cheesecloth...I strained the syrupy mashed fruit mix through it into another jar and I had my shrub.  It smelled amazing...strawberries and basil...and yes, a hint of vinegar.


I encourage anyone who wants to try a shrub to start with strawberries and basil.  It's amazing...

My sister and I collected some mixers together and made the following:
1)  Strawberry basil shrub mule (with ginger beer, vodka and a bit of lime juice)
2)  Strawberry basil shrub old fashioned (bitters, bourbon, teaspoon of sugar)
3)  Strawberry basil shrub with rum and lime juice
4)  Strawberry basil shrub margarita (tequila, cointreau, lime) (not pictured below)




They were ALL.  UH.  MAY.  ZING.  Seriously, I would have thought at least one of those things would have sucked a little.  None did.  None sucked.  They kicked ass.  No sucking.  All kicking.

So...I made more...blueberry ginger, cherry, grilled pineapple with jalapeno, and, in honor of Donald Trump...peach mint!  mmmmmpeachmint.  All soooo good.
peach/mint...skins...no skins...no worries!

blueberry ginger

cherry

And then I was at another Yelp Event at Tres Rios where they served a roasted red pepper margarita.  "Nobody else in the city is making this margarita," they said...NOT.  SO.  FAST, Tres Rios...I roasted red peppers and jalapenos...I mashed, I mixed...and right this very minute there is a roasted red pepper/jalapeno shrub aging in my refrigerator waiting for its turn in the margarita merry-go-round.  It smells soooooo good.


It's gotten a bit out of hand, I'm not going to lie.  The other day, Emma tried to put something away in the fridge and she said, "Dad, can we move all your 'special juices' to the basement fridge?  There's no room for food."  And she's...she's sort of right.

I'm taking a brief break from shrub-making and transitioning over the fourth of July holiday to shrub DRINKING.  But there will be more.  So many more.

If you decide to shrub here's the equipment you'll need:

1)  32 oz mason jar
2)  Fruit masher
3)  cheesecloth
4)  canning funnel (optional...but it's less messy)

The recipe is constrained only by your imagination and budget.  Healthy people are drinking unfiltered active yeast vinegars these days, and while I can't speak specifically to any health benefits I'm observing...I did feel pretty amazing after my sister and I finished our cocktails.

Despite the health benefits of the unfiltered cider vinegar, nothing is holding you to it.  Use champagne vinegar, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar...whatever you think.  The same is true of the fruit the sugar and any spice you use.  The recipe amounts to:

1)  fruit or vegetable you want to preserve/shrub
2)  spice (optional) you want to mix with it (I recommend basil/mint/jalapeno...it cuts the vinegar smell and taste and if you pick well, pairs really nicely with your fruit)
3)  sugar (this can be any sugar...cane sugar, raw sugar, maple syrup...whatever you think would be a nice mix with the fruit/veggie you selected)
4)  vinegar (again...any vinegar will do, but I highly recommend the unfiltered cider vinegar)

and that's it...1 1/2 cups of mashed fruit veggie of choice with spice of choice, 1 1/2 cups of your sugar of choice, 1 1/2 cups of  your vinegar of choice....mash/mix...refrigerate two weeks, mixing daily.  Strain and mix in cocktails or carbonated water.
mash up your fruit

add sugar

mash it all up

add vinegar

label with the date (if you're forgetful...like me)

refrigerate two weeks, mix every day or so
strain a couple weeks later!  voila!

Experiment with how much you want to use.  With cocktails we basically used 1:1...1 shot of shrub with 1 shot of liquor.  With carbonated water, there weren't any other flavors so 2 shots of shrub made a nice fruity flavorful summer ...shroda (props to Kate for the portmanteau name).
cherry shroda!

Great for summer bbqs.  Kids or adults...

Drink responsibly.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Dance Recital

We also...and I promise...shrubs, but later.  We also had a dance recital.  Dance has been rough this year.  Emma's high school schedule has been more demanding of her time.  Whether it was school work, the play (Cyrano de Bergerac) or the musical (Les Miserables), Emma just always had somewhere to be and something to do, and although people stepped in to give rides to and from where needed...I often felt like I was just sort of being carried along like parental schedule flotsam.

But...we made it.  And Emma and Lily both had their recital and both did great (Lily even went as far as to audibly proclaim "nice job everyone" before being escorted from the stage by her new TSS (who seems very nice).

And just like that...we're here.  We're in that place where kids start narrowing their foci.  Where Emma must also.  Gone are the days of soccer, lacrosse, softball, and dance...trying things out just to try them.  There's no more time.  She has work.  She has schoolwork.  She has dance.  There's not much (if any) room left. 

I'd love to give her opportunities to try new things.  But...if she juggles that ball, another will fall from her grasp.  It's a milestone.  She can't do it all.  Some day she'll probably regret not...trying out for the lacrosse team...or something.  But she can't.  There's no more room.

As it is, I've told her she can pare down her dance schedule, focusing on the dances she loves and leaving those that she...doesn't love...behind. 

Leslie always wanted her to continue with ballet.  Her reasoning was that all the other movements were derived from that sort of basic balletic movement.  And she was probably right.  And I'd love to bounce this decision off her...but I think ballet has to go. I think she'd get it. 

Emma told me, "I'm not going to be a professional dancer," and I agree.  She is a beautiful dancer, emotes in a way that I don't think can be taught...but lacks some of the skills and flexibility of some of her peers.  She'll continue to dance.  She'll get stronger and more skilled.  But...it's not going to be her job.

She loves tap and contemporary...even jazz.  But ballet has been sort of an afterthought for her for years.  And I'm ready to let it go.  Given everything else, I think it makes sense.  She's AMAZING to watch tap.  She can focus on that.  She loves it.  And it's a hobby, basically.  She's getting in shape, part of team, gets to perform...but a hobby.

It's sad that things have to fall out of our schedules, but the demands on these kids' time is incredible.  And she needs time with friends too.  And with her family.