Backyard Beverages – Lilacs, Chamomile and Roses

Sitting outside and looking at the blossoms on the rose bushes growing in our backyard, my older daughter remarked, “I wish the bushes had those flowers all year.” It is interesting to see how my inability to enjoy moments without lamenting their fleeting nature has been passed down. I walk around my garden, thinking of how I wish my purple mustards would hold off from seeding for another month at the same time I beg the tomatoes to get color. It clarifies how it is not that I do not appreciate moments, but rather I am greedy for all of the peak moments. I get nothing from the low moments. Like little R, I want the roses blooming, the purple mustards edible without cooking, and the tomatoes soft, red and warm from dangling in the sun all day – and just like little R, I want all of those things all year long.

But I know this is not reality. Seasons are reality. Lilacs to roses to jasmine to the red maple to bare branches is reality, but I am a greedy child in an adult’s body.

It is with the greediness that I grabbed a basket and, with little R, I snipped all the roses from the bushes and bring them inside. After I had all the roses inside, I wondered what my greediness did to me. Granted, they’d eventually wilt and fall to the dirt, but now I had over a gallon of roses inside. Like I said, greedy. We put the perfect ones in a vase in the window. With the remaining, I looked to uses for backyard flowers earlier this Spring.

You see, the new car smell has not worn off this “having a yard” thing. When you live for over a decade in places where your flower options are potted flowers grown in full shade, once the limitation is lifted, things get weird. See my obsession with our lilac bush (or now bushes – yes, we got another) for an example. This year, I dried the flowers, made it into tea and then into kombucha. Next, our backyard chamomile got the dry to tea to kombucha treatment. Most of the Spring mornings were spent drinking tea and kombucha from the left over dried flowers from our yard. I made kombucha cocktails and vinaigrette, but my favorite use was chamomile kombucha poured over carrots and butter and they finished glazing inspired by David Posey’s kombucha glazed ribs.

As a warning, most kombucha folks will warn against using flowers in kombucha. Apparently the oils can cause rancidity. I tasted none of it. I drank or used all of mine in a matter of a week. If I get a rancid batch, I’ll just toss it, but I have not yet.

The thing about these roses is how I had so many, I’d be drinking more rose tea and kombucha than I cared for, so I split them three ways. I dumped equal parts by volume into a quart of rice vinegar and a quart of vodka. After a week in each, I drained the liquid from each. The vinegar takes the floral flavors in a more serious way, but the rose liquor has a nice softness. The remainder was dried. The dried petals reduced greatly in size and darkened significantly. The tea made from them was not the deep red of the liquor and vinegar however, but rather a shade darker than pink. The flavors of the tea and kombucha.

Late summer might bring wood sorrel greediness or star jasmine greediness or something I do not know will pop up greediness. Hopefully teaching the little one about the seasons, about appreciating their brevity, might stick with me. If nothing else this summer has taught me that enjoying them might mean seeing some of them hit the dirt. Hopefully I’ll learn I don’t need to grab them all and use them to enjoy them.

Backyard Flower Kombucha

1 cup dried flower petals
1 black tea bag
1/2 cup white sugar
2 quarts water
1 cup unflavored kombucha
A scoby

Step one: In a large jar, combine tea and sugar. Heat water and pour over tea and sugar.

Step two: When mixture is completely cool, add kombucha and scoby.

Step three: Let mixture ferment for 7-10 days.

Step four: Bottle and drink.

Originally posted 2014-07-24 23:02:54. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Lemon-Lavender Cold Brew


There are people with good taste. Then there are people who are good tasters. Shannon Steele, roaster and brew specialist at Passion House Coffee, has a preternatural skill at discerning flavors in coffee and, as I have found lately, her skill translates equally well into the world of food – she recommended a cookbook that I had dismissed wrongly which turned out to be fantastic – and gin – she recommended a wonderfully aromatic French gin.

When Shannon talks about flavors, I listen. When she combines a little food with coffee, I drop what I am doing to listen, then immediately follow along. I wrote last year about my preferred method for cold brewing coffee, so when Shannon mentioned infusing her cold brew with basil and lime, my ears perked up.

For the longest time, every time iced coffee came along, it was dull and bitter – which is why you see most iced coffees loaded down with sugar and cream. The thought of steeping the cold brew with citrus and herbs really interested me and the addition of fizzy soda water pushed me to act immediately. I had tried the combination of cold brew and soda water at Next, it was Passion House coffee and Shannon’s bending the ear of the staff no doubt, and loved the lightness it brought to iced coffee. Continuing to add lightness, brightness and flavor was too intriguing to wait.


After brewing a particularly strong batch of cold brew (100g coffee, 200g water off the boil, 550g ice water), combinations began to bounce in my head. I have a lovely lavender bush in the yard and, after trying a roast of coffee this summer with serious lavender notes, I thought the pairing would work, so I added flowers from 2 sprigs. Since it was my first shot at this, I stuck with the herb/citrus pairing and added zest from half of a lemon. I briefly consider orange zest, but I wanted tartness not sweetness.


After a brief steeping period (8 hours), I strained the coffee again and chilled it. In the evening, I filled a tumbler with ice, then a bit of sparkling soda water. After adding the cold brew, I smelled not only the coffee, but the lavender as well. The flavors from the lemon were more forward than the lavender, despite the aroma being amazingly strong. The coffee sparkled even beyond the bubbles from the soda water. The combination of coffee roasted with skill and brewed with care combined with a few small additions made this cold brew an incredible treat.

Brainstorming later with Shannon, I think my next go will be with anise hyssop flowers and noyaux. Kind of a bubble gum/almond combination that will differ substantially from the herb/citrus combination, but has possibilities.

Originally posted 2013-08-06 23:06:16. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Koji Horchata

There has been a lot written lately about how food has become more photogenic than delicious. While I do not dispute food becoming more photographed and photograph-able, I think when someone says care for flavor and texture is losing out to beauty they are picking nits. There are examples where it is true, but there have always been examples of beautiful dishes which taste like nothing, or worse. My opinion is because of the volume of exposure to the creative process, it is more likely we, as public, are being exposed to more of the creative process, and more of the editing process, than in the past when whatever little we saw, was refined and edited to the nth degree. There is a ton of demand for the exposure to that process and then encouragement to make the experiments available to the public. Herein lies the conflict, the photos and exposure are free marketing and far more far-reaching than word of mouth reports of a delicious roasted chicken or a soulful bowl of beans.

With that said, after I made a quart of this koji horchata, I tasted it. Clearly this was a drink which sounded better than it tasted. The idea of it was exciting, koji made things delicious – miso, sake, shio koji, etc — , but was this better than horchata? Clearly not. It was interesting. It had a broader spectrum of flavors than horchata. L mentioned a subtle blue cheesiness, I found it to be really floral and sweeter than horchata would ordinarily be. Was it a drink which is totally crave-able in the summer heat? No. It was not the Ramones, it was Primus.

I went back and forth on whether to drink the rest and where I ended up was instead of ending the process, I continued it. I made regular horchata. Then I made blends of the koji and standard horchata to see if I could tip the balance into deliciousness.  I wanted to try a 50/50 version, so I felt compelled to start with three variations (25/75, 50/50, and 75/25) then triangulate the ratio from there. After drinking all three, I liked the lower concentration of the koji horchata. I kept tasting the standard, then adding some to the koji/standard mixture until I got what I felt juuuuuust better than the standard. After doing my calculations, I got a 7:1 ratio of standard to koji horchata made my favorite cup (I love math, thank goodness, this is the world’s most delicious story problem). This begs the question, “Why bother?”

I ask that question more than you could know, but answer comes down to “I did not know, but I wanted to know. And now I know.” Is a 7:1 koji horchata worth making? I don’t know. Are you curious? I am sure someone is. Then for them it is worth it. They will likely Instagram it. Then Ozersky or the other guys will probably use it as an example of how we don”t make simple food anymore. I will undoubtedly read that article while eating a chicken leg quarter grilled over charcoal with a tinfoil pouch of carrots and cabbage sitting alongside it or on the way home from eating Mark Mendez’s beans. And when I read it, I’ll think of how much volume of access has increased by demand and be glad. I like seeing your pretty plate. I know where to get delicious brown food. It is out there just the same as it ever was.

PS. The recipe for koji horchata is the same as your favorite horchata with koji inoculated rice in place of regular rice. If you want to use my ratio, just add 7 parts mold-free rice with 1 part koji instead of using a kitchen scale to blend both drinks.

Galangal and Lemongrass Liquor

In preparation for cooking from the Pok Pok cookbook this winter, L grabbed some galangal from the local Korean grocery. Only she picked up three pounds of it. After using the first bit, I froze the rest.  I knew I was coming up on the end of the useful life span of the remaining 3/4 of a pound and before 6 months was up, I wanted to make good use of the galangal. Short of ice cream or candy, my best guess was as a liquor. 

I wanted to keep those Pok Pok flavors in the liquor though, so I grabbed a thick stalk of lemongrass and added it to the peeled galangal in a huge jar with 800 mL of some of the cheapest vodka I have ever seen. I was morbidly curious, so I tasted the vodka first and lighter fluid may have had slightly more subtle notes. This was jet fuel, but it was less than $10 for a liter and a half.

So after covering the chopped aromatics with this jet fuel, I let it sit for a month. Over than time period, the clear liquid yellowed and mellowed. The edges were worn down and replaced with the sharp flavors of menthol and ginger from galangal and herbaceous citrus flavors from the lemongrass. The golden hue came with a slight haze, but the flavors were completely clear.

I made a drink on a perfect summer night, again trying to keep with those Pok Pok flavors adding lime juice and coconut water. The coconut water took the edges off even further and even softened the sharpness of the galangal. My biggest complaint was how little resistance the drink gave. These could do damage to sobriety before you had any idea it was time to slow down.

Combining a classic culinary pairing in a liquor isn’t new or fancy but it renews the question on what other classic pairings would make great liquor.

Galangal and Lemongrass Liquor

800 g vodka
250 g galangal, skin scraped off and cut into chunks (post scrape weight)
75 g lemongrass, outer-casing removed and remainder chopped (post-outer casing removal weight)

Step one: Combine everything in a huge jar and muddle using a wooden spoon.

Step two: Let sit in a dark place for a month.

Step three: Strain and bottle.

Hot Choco-Bacon in a Can!

How did this get past me?

It’s starting to get cooler up here in Michigan, might just be time to pick up a can of chocolate and bacon cocoa (or for those of you who like things spicy, how about some chipotle?).

You can pick yours up straight from McSteven’s website. $7.95 for a 7 oz. can.

Thanks Foodbeast

Originally posted 2011-10-13 20:34:55.

Related Stories:September 20, 2013 Introducing The Baconery!!October 13, 2010 Choco-Bacon…Now Delivered!

I Could Have Used One of These Last Weekend – Bloody Best…


Seriously, this is real.

Out of a place called The Nook in Atlanta comes the Bloody Best!  From their “Brunch Drinks” menu…

A 32 oz. glass overflowing with the Best Bloody Mary you’ve ever had…this beast boasts Absolut Peppar vodka mixed with Fat & Juicy Bloody Mary mix. Then we garnish it with a savory piece of bacon, pepperoncinis, blue cheese stuffed olives, Tots, steak, a slice of toast, and a hard-boiled egg. Served with a Beef Straw to drink from (not kidding). This monster is amazing!

Amazing indeed.  This make my favorite Bloody at the Twisted Spoke in Chicago look like a sippy cup with salami in it.

via The Nook, photo from Obvious Winner

Originally posted 2012-09-12 20:15:36.

Related Stories:July 30, 2013 — Gonna Be a Good Week…Gulp, Gulp…July 2, 2011 — BEST OF TDB | Bakon Vodka & The Bacon Mary!

Spruce Tip Bitters


In our new location, I have found many new things. Running around the neighborhood in late spring, I spotted something that I had heard so much about in readings on “new forager cuisine”, but never spotted while living in the city – spruce tips.


Once the tiny spruce tree in our backyard sprouted new bright green tips, I no longer had to worry about neighbors spotting me snipping their spruce trees. Our little tree yielded about a cup of spruce tips which was not enough for much. My initial thoughts were a compound butter or vinegar. After drinking the last of my rhubarb bitters shortly before moving, I thought spruce tips might make delicious bitters and I knew that I would not need much to make enough to last for a long time.


It was an interesting (confounding) decision as I had finished a bottle of gin and was looking for another, but wanted specifically something with less juniper. Why would I decide to make bitters that are based on a similar flavor? As it ended up, the spruce tip bitters tasted far less like gin than I expected.


To me, it is closer to a cross between lemon, mint and rosemary than the pine-juniper flavor that I expected. The first crack I had at the spruce tip bitters was in soda water on one of the 100 degree days this past week. It was incredibly refreshing without playing any notes of Gordon’s Gin.


While spruce tip season is long past, this was an interesting and worthy undertaking.


Spruce Tip Bitters

1 cup spruce tips
1/2 star anise
2 cardamom pods
1 teaspoon coriander
Zest from 1/2 grapefruit
1 cup vodka

Step one: Combine all ingredients in a jar. Shake every few days for a month.

Step two: Strain into a bottle/jar.