Sweet Spring Sangria Sunday, Apr 13 2014 

Well, with the advent of spring in Pennsylvania once again — finally after tons of snow, ice and chill from the polar vortex (what is that?! and does that mean that there is or there is not such a thing as “global warming”?) — I am pleased to be able to resume shopping at the local farmers’ markets. Let’s face it…this indoor gal was not braving the below freezing temps to shop local. That is pretty shameful. I hope to do better next year. Of course it will help oodles if I can procure a warm winter coat. And gloves – yeah, gloves would be nice…

So. With the markets transitioning from traditional winter fare such as citrus into the fresh offerings of things like asparagus, peas, and spring onions, my shopping experiences have become a joy tempered solely by that horrible term “budget”. Most women spend tons of money on clothes, make-up, purses, shoes…Not me. I spend money on two things aside from my family — books, and FOOD. Seriously. I think I’d buy one or some of everything the market has to offer, with few exceptions. But alas, that will have to wait until I strike it rich via my writing career or singing or some such thing — haha! [note incredible sarcasm…]

And speaking of singing — One thing that I’ve incorporated into my life lately as a creative outlet, as well as a way to speak to adults instead of constantly engaging in conversations with only children, since January on a regular basis is a weekly outing to sing at a local bar through the amazing technology of karaoke. I am soooo grateful to live in the here and now rather than “back in the day”…I don’t think I could ever have done the whole guitar thing, and I play piano only slightly these days, so my singing would have been limited to “Happy Birthday” (all three — yes THREE! — verses) for my family. But karaoke – well, that offers possibilities! A lot of people get intimidated by the whole “do it in front of the crowd” thing, and I admit I am like that every single time. But in going back week after week I’ve gained a certain confidence in myself that I did not have before. Plus, I’ve found that a little alcohol is calming to my not-ever-going-to-sing-in-public jitters. I’m not in the habit of drinking myself into oblivion (no, not even in my college days!). So I appreciate partaking of something to kind of loosen up, as well as moisten my vocal chords. But what to have?? I am so lucky and blessed to have a best friend – Damian McCartney – who is a chef and seriously knows about food, alcohol and some bartending too. More on him and his interesting life story in a future post, I’m sure. But. He has recently relocated, from New Orleans to our humble little area of Pennsylvania, and so now I can go directly to him for help in the kitchen. He knows I like sangrias so he came up with one two days ago based on a Moscato wine — just in time for our weekly karaoke outing! I could probably drink a whole pitcher myself before venturing out for the karaoke fun, but then I better KNOW the song because I have doubts that I could read the words on the monitor!

If you are not familiar with Moscato, it is a light, kind of sparkling white wine with a lower alcohol content made from the Muscat Blanc variety of grape. I find it to be a really refreshing drink, and the transition to this spring sangria combines the best of the winter citrus with the reappearance of fresh mint after its winter hiatus.

053Here’s what to do:

* Pour half of a 1.5 liter Moscato wine into a pitcher.

* Take 6-8 mint leaves in your open palm and slap them to release the oils in the mint leaves, then add them to the wine.

* Cut 1 Cara Cara orange (or a blood orange) and 1 lemon in half; cut 2 thin slices from each fruit and add it to the pitcher of wine. Juice the remaining halves of fruit and add the juices to the pitcher.

* Thinly slice 1 ripe pear and add to the pitcher.

* Pour 1 cup of wine into a large glass and add 1/2 cup of honey, stirring until the honey is dissolved, then add the mixture to the pitcher. We used orange blossom honey, but you could experiment. You want something light, though, so I’d probably avoid a buckwheat honey.

* Add as much of the remaining wine from the bottle to the pitcher as you can. I think we actually had maybe 1 1/2 cups of wine leftover — not that it went to waste anywhere! Stir gently and cover to let the flavors mesh a bit…or not.

If you like your sangria a bit stronger, take 2 1/2 cups of vodka and mix well with 1 cup of honey, stirring until the honey is dissolved, then add it into the sangria. You want to do this prior to adding the remainder of the wine, in which case you’ll have a bit more Moscato available to taste.

Enjoy! And if you do venture out to karaoke, sing a song for me! And I guess maybe one for Damian too…

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Chai Spiced Milk Saturday, Feb 16 2013 

014When the wind is howling outside the windows as the sun sinks into the blackness of night you can often find me curled up under my favorite quilt (which my mother made me!) either reading or watching a movie…And if it’s cold enough you can bet I’ll be sipping on chai-spiced milk. “Why not chai tea?” you may wonder. Well, honestly at night I don’t need the caffeine. And I’m afraid I’m more than a bit of a food snob — I won’t use decaf!

In order to make this warm, spicy and delicious drink, you may have to seek out a few exotic sounding ingredients…But it will be worth your while. You’ll need peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, star anise and cardamom seeds. You can see the last three spices in my picture to the left. The peppercorns were already in the peppermill and I forgot to take them out to include them in the picture. (Since most people have seen pepper before, I wasn’t too worried.)

At any rate, I found a local Indian grocer in my area back in 2010 where I obtained my spices for a very reasonable (a/k/a “cheap”) price. I’ve seen them other places where I thought I’d have to sell one of my children. Seriously. And while I do love great chai, I actually love my children more than food!!! At any rate, the packages I ended up buying were larger, so I got more for my dollar. Plus I had enough that I was able to share some with my sister. And I still have some left. From a purchase I probably last made in late spring of 2012 — I know, time to refresh my stash….I do use these things in my baking too, but not as often as I use them in this particular recipe.

This chai recipe, by the way, was inspired one day while I was standing in the grocery store. I actually took the time to read the label on the back of a box of chai tea and a box of powdered chai tea mix , and I thought I could probably come up with something similar by myself without a mix and without the flavoring already added to the tea…I have experimented with adding other spices, such as fresh ginger, white pepper or whole allspice and even whole cloves. But this combination of spices is my favorite go-to recipe, though I will add the above-mentioned things from time to time just to change things up a bit (I know, I live on the wild side, right?) Well — the chai spiced milk part came from just omitting the tea one evening out of necessity…because one of my children used the last – gasp! – teabag without telling me! And discovering that I had no tea after I was already through the majority of the recipe gave me this heavenly-scented, body-warming, exotic creation that is now almost a nightly ritual during the harsh winter months.

So here’s what I do:

* Place about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds in a small saucepan and crush slightly with the back of a spoon.

* Add 2-3 whole anise stars to the pan and crush lightly

[NOTE: You don’t want to pulverize your spices into a powder – you merely want to crush them enough to release their scent and flavor.]

* Break off a 1″ piece of cinnamon stick and add to the saucepan.

* Next, add about 1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper. I use whole peppercorns in a peppermill and just measure out what I want after I grind it.

* Add sugar — this will depend on how sweet you like your spiced milk.  I probably add up to 1/3 cup, and my recipe serves about two people — unless, like me, you have very large cups!

* Finally, add your milk. Again, this will depend largely on how much you want. I usually eyeball it, but the last time I measured, it was about 3/4 cup per serving. So in other words, for the two servings in this recipe, I used 1 1/2 cups. I have made this with regular whole milk, but I have also used coconut milk (not the canned kind, the one in the dairy case) and almond milk to make it vegetarian/vegan friendly. I have not tried it with soy, so if you happen to try it out, please comment to let me know what you think.

* Heat the milk til it’s as hot as you like — I like mine cooked just under scalding, where bubbles are just barely starting to pop up around the edges of the pan.

* Strain the milk through a fine mesh sieve and pour into a cup.

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* Enjoy!