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Is it just me, or is mint taking over the world? It grows wild behind the pea patch, and I’m forever ripping the burly runners out of the food bank beds. The strategy is containment, not eradication. And think long and hard before throwing mint stems into the home compost, especially if your pile doesn’t get overly hot.
Not that mint is the enemy. Not at all. It can be so versatile in the kitchen, almost like basil the way it can go savory or sweet. I like chopping it into a garlicky yogurt sauce to go with pan roasted lamb chops or grilled eggplant; thin slices are nice for Vietnamese cucumber salads and tabbouleh.
Even the picky Biscuit likes to chew on mint, and she can happily entertain herself with a sprig while I chop soil and pull weeds. For a few minutes, at least, which is good as it gets these days.
I give bunches of mint to everybody I think might care to use them. Our hippie neighbors. Our foodie friends. I gave a big bunch to a chef friend, who took one sniff and exclaimed, “Cocktails!”
Indeed. First week in May, and even if you don’t care much about race horses, you can still enjoy a refreshing beverage with crushed mint and delicious alcohol. Only the mint is truly local in this drink, so if food miles are a concern, make up for it by using lots of the stuff.
The Old Cuban
One dozen mint leaves, or more to taste / 3 tbls lime juice / 4 tbls simple syrup* / 2 tbls rum / 2 dashes bitters / 4+ tbls Champagne
Muddle mint and lime juice in cocktail shaker. Add simple syrup, rum, bitters, and ice, and shake until chilly. Strain into two cocktail glasses and add half of the Champagne to each.
*Make simple syrup from 1 cup sugar dissolved over heat into 1 cup water.
Charlie returned recently from faraway conquests, and I can confirm that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Or was it the hop rhizomes he brought me that I mistook for love? These particular roots — Chinook and Wilamette — come from the garden of a northerly friend, from parent vines that have long produced delicious homebrew.
As always most of the work preceded the actual planting. First was site selection, and the options were limited. Next came soil prep; in one spot Charlie strangely found himself chipping through a thick plate of subterranean concrete. But we were committed, sunlight being so scarce around here, and did the best we could with ten gallons of compost, mounding the soil above ground level for better drainage. Then came lunch. Clearly we both earn our livelihoods sitting at desks.
The actual planting of rhizomes took about thirty seconds, and I’m hopeful that the combination of soil and sun will prove close enough to the mark for this hardy plant. Meantime, there are still plenty of good places to track down a delicious beer.
According to the Post-Intelligencer, Washington State now permits distilleries to host tastings and sell their own liquor. Good news. A similar law in Oregon brought about craft products like Aviation Gin; I’m confident Seattle locavores also have it in them to back high-quality hometown drinky drink.
Life slows down just enough this time of year to revive the long-neglected cocktail hour. This week we’re drinking a seasonal interpretation of the Old-Fashioned, whose key ingredient is homemade maraschino cherries. I promise these maraschinos are nothing like the food product you know and love, the one with the nuclear glow. Made from scratch, these are a lovely mix of sweet, spicy, and tangy; I’ve watched full-grown adults eat them straight from the jar. Save a few to muddle with slices of orange and a dash of bitters, stir in bourbon and club soda to taste, a slug of maraschino juice, and you’ve got a cocktail that looks and tastes like summer itself.
Recipe: Maraschino Cherries
A dozen large cherries, pitted / ½ cup water / ¼ cup sugar / 3 tbls grape juice concentrate / 1 large star anise / 1 generous strip fresh orange peel / pinch salt / juice of 1 lemon / dash of almond extract
While preparing the cherries, boil water in a small saucepan, stir in sugar and dissolve, then turn heat down. Add grape juice, star anise, orange peel, lemon juice, and salt and simmer for 5 minutes. Add cherries and almond extract. Cook gently for another 5 minutes, then cool and pour into a glass jar; these are better after curing for a day or two; they stay good for weeks, refrigerated. Adapted from Nick Mautone.
Seattle didn’t really need another coffee company but last fall it got Stumptown Coffee, a smallish outfit that sells a novel local coffee bean. By local, I mean “local”, of course. No one’s growing coffee trees in this kale-and-lentil climate. But the Portland, Oregon-based outfit does its roasting here in the Northwest, and the proximity makes for a fresh and intensely aromatic product. The coffee is as good as any, and as a drinker of decaf, I think I’m qualified to discuss taste.
The original Stumptown outpost is on 12th Avenue in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, just south of Madison, and Charlie regularly stops by on his way to work. On a recent visit he learned that these folks are about to begin roasting beans at this location, which should make it easier to find the stuff around town. It isn’t the cheapest, but Stumptown employees make a living wage, which in my book means health insurance, and that makes the price begin to look pretty darn reasonable.
1 bottle champagne, chilled / 4 oz brandy / large pinch each of ground cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and ginger / 1 tbl brown sugar plus extra for rimming glasses
Combine brandy, spices, and sugar and mix well. Rim glasses with additional brown sugar. Distribute brandy mixture among 5 glasses, fill with chilled champagne, and serve.