Rose Posca

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During and after college Aaron worked as a bartender. The places he worked at ranged from good to great, and he took to the work with a single-minded enthusiasm. Need someone to explain to stir or shake a cocktail? Curious about why a drink uses this specific bitter Italian liquor and not that nearly identical bitter Italian liquor? Have an opinion about jiggering in ounces verses measuring with milliliters versus free pouring? Aaron’s your guy. We have a bookcase in our dining room that’s filled with booze. There’s ancho chili liquor and local sour cherry cordial and approximately 50 types of bitters. There’s the stuff he’s made himself like Green Tea Vodka, Hibiscus Gin, and Popcorn Rum. He collects cocktail glasses, name drops cocktail historians, and chats up local bartenders about ratios. He’s been passionate about cocktails since we were able to legally drink.

I’m not passionate about cocktails. I appreciate a well-made drink, but usually choose a Manhattan or Sidecar over a deeply imaginative confection. But passion is sexy and fascinating, and in this case it’s deeply convenient. Aaron takes care of the drinks, and I manage the food. He carefully selects the wine for date nights and I roll out the pasta. At dinner parties he’s whipping up spicy Palomas while I bring cake. He suggests the brewery to meet up with friends and I make the snacks. We sit at the bar in restaurants, Aaron chatting up the bartenders and I investigating the menus. It’s a happy pairing (pun intentional) but it has its downside. I have made perhaps five cocktails in my entire life.

That may not seem notable to you. Let me just emphasize again I have a bookcase full of booze three feet from where I write this. There is all the equipment and resources that I could need, including dozens of cocktail books. And I have no aversion or hangups about alcohol. I just don’t ever put in the effort to make my own drinks. This habit extends to non-alcoholic drinks as well. We had friends over this weekend for the afternoon. I assumed we’d drink water. Aaron whipped up jasmine-lemongrass Arnold Palmers instead.

Sometimes, when I’m lucky, I get inspired rather than lazy by Aaron’s passion. This inspiration usually manifests in non-alcoholic beverages. Have you heard about posca ? It’s an ancient Roman drink, essentially vinegar, water, herbs, and perhaps sweeteners. There’s no known recipe, and the exact proportions have been lost to history. But I love the idea of it- tart brightness from vinegar, honey for sweetness, herbs to keep things interesting. It’s lemonade before lemonade, a refreshing summer drink.

For this posca I took a hint from my bartender husband and instead of honey made a rose syrup. The syrup is simple, floral, and brilliantly pink. I mixed it with apple cider vinegar (because apples and roses are botanically related. Science!), water, and ice. The drink is beautiful, ended up a pale shade of millennial pink and with a lovely, light blend of sweet and tart. It’s, as they say at my work, extremely quaffable. I’ve been drinking it in the sun while reading a master’s newest book and hiding from this terrifying news. If you need a spot of sunshine (and I certainly do), this rose posca performs admirably.

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Rose Posca

Dried rose petals can be found at health food stores and co-ops (mine sells them in the medicine section) as well as some spice stores. The formula I give here is to my taste. Feel free to play with the levels of vinegar, syrup, and water to make your house version of posca.

Serves 1

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dried rose petals
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

In a small saucepan combine the sugar with the rose petals and 1/2 cup water. Bring the sugar and water to a simmer, stirring once in a while to dissolve. Once the sugar is dissolved, set the syrup aside and let the rose petals steep. I found 2 hours gave me the strong rose presence I wanted, but if you have less time the syrup tastes of rose after 15 minutes. Strain into a clean jar. Refrigerate if not using right away.

To make the posca, combine 1 cup of water, the apple cider vinegar, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the rose syrup in a glass with ice. Stir well. Drink in the sun.

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Turmeric Latte with Cinnamon and Honey

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Aaron bought me a massage for Christmas. This week I finally got to use it. It was a luxury, truly delicious, but intense. When the masseuse was working my shoulders I gasped. They were not mobile. They were tight, aching, in a different way than the rest of my tightly wound body. “Sorry, my shoulders are not as flexible as they should be-” I tried to apologize. The masseuse, a kind and efficient woman, stopped me.

“There’s no should. We’ll go from where you are.”

My mom says that I inherited her dad’s shoulders. As soon as winter comes, they start to ache. Mobility is limited. When it’s very cold out, it feels as though where my shoulders join my back are coming apart at the seams. I’m in my 20s-late 20s, but still 20s. I feel too young for this pain.

There are two things that help relieve the pain- yoga, and a regular intake of turmeric. Going without both means I’m in pain. Using only one means the pain is dulled but still there, like a headache behind your eyes after taking Advil.

My mom takes turmeric pills for her shoulders, but I like to drink my turmeric. I’m not the only one- I used to work with a cook who would mix ground turmeric and black pepper into a water bottle in the middle of his shift. Another cook I work with makes ginger and turmeric tea every day. I prefer something a bit more gentle- turmeric and cinnamon and cardamom warmed together with honey and milk.

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Turmeric is sharp and bright, which makes it an excellent addition to savory foods. Although I prefer savory over sweet like 8 out of 10 times I’ve never gotten into savory drinks. Whole milk rounds out turmeric’s sharp edges, and honey brings out the sweet notes. Ground cardamom adds an earthy floral note, and cinnamon adds warmth and just a hint of heat. I whizz everything up in the blender then warm through on the stove, making for a luxuriously frothed drink. Aaron compared it to a chai latte, and although the taste is different it hits many of the same notes. I started drinking these turmeric lattes for pain relief, but I continue because they’re delicious. It’s always easier to consume good foods when you enjoy them.

If you’re looking for the savory end of turmeric, last week’s chana masala or my carrot and coconut dal are both excellent starts. And if you have any all-star turmeric recommendations I’d love to hear them- winter is just hitting its midpoint, which means I have a few more months of daily turmeric consumption.

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Turmeric Latte with Cinnamon and Honey

Serves 1

I prefer this drink made with fresh turmeric- I think it’s brighter and less sharp than ground turmeric. If you can only find ground turmeric, you could easily substitute it for fresh. I would start with half a teaspoon, then adjust the level of turmeric to your taste. This drink could of course be made dairy-free (almond milk works best), but I prefer it with dairy milk.

1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon fresh turmeric, peeled and finely grated
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

Place all ingredients into an upright blender. Blend on high for 1 minute, until everything is well-mixed and frothy. Transfer into a small saucepan, and warm over low heat.

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London Fog

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I like to do non-work work at coffee shops. The vibe is chill, the music is usually killer, and there’s something about being surrounded by other productive people that makes me want to keep my head down and get stuff done. I love almost everything about coffee shops, except for my lack of options.

Here in Minneapolis I have a favorite coffee shop that takes tea seriously, and I get by without feeling cheated. But it’s surprisingly common for even good shops label their tea options as black or green. And forget about the indulgent, treat-yo-self-y variations that coffee drinkers get.

On some tough days I like to get a good tea latte. That seems to be the umbrella term for flavored tea based drinks mixed and milk. Chai lattes are the most common and they can be delicious, though I’ve found they tend to run a bit sweet for my taste. I’m certainly not above ordering a bright, grassy green tea latte from Starbucks. But one of my favorites is a London Fog, which is surprisingly rare and absolutely delicious.

London Fogs are simple- Earl Grey tea mixed with steamed milk and vanilla. I’ve seen variations that use lavender, or lapsang souchong for a smokey take (also known as a London Smog). I don’t have a regular source for London Fogs near me, so I’ve made dozens with variations of milk, ratios, steeping time, and sweetness level. All this work is to deliver you a solid recipe (and so I can have them whenever I want).

Here’s what I found. My preferred way to make a London Fog is to brew a strong cup of tea, then heat and froth the milk. I like a 3:1 ratio of tea to milk, but Aaron, who indulges in actual lattes as his coffee house treat of choice liked a 2:1 better. I found that the vanilla and Earl Grey both needed a tiny bit of sugar to sing. And my preferred tool for making a frothy latte is a milk frother, a cheap little battery operated wand. However, both an immersion blender and some vigorous whisking will work. If you’re not into single use gadgets (and I swear I’m not, though I make no promises for Aaron), you can make it with what you’ve got.

I’m using my Monday to recover from the weekend (hi, double on Saturday/ debate on Sunday) by drinking a London Fog and listening to the incomparable John Hiatt. If you’re trying to jump into this week, I might offer you the same advice. Or any day, really. The fall is better with London Fogs.

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London Fog

Serves 1

You can play with ratios as you’d like for this- the formula remains the same. I wouldn’t use any tea that’s too fancy here- the nuances will get lost in the milk. Cheap Earl Grey will work just fine.

2 teabags Earl Grey tea
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Bring 1 cup of water to boil. Pour into a mug with the Earl Grey. Cover (I used a small plate, turned upside down) and let steep for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes have passed add the milk, vanilla, and sugar to a small saucepan. Heat the milk over low heat until small bubbles begin to appear at the side of the saucepan. Remove the saucepan from heat, and begin to froth the milk with whatever method you choose. If you’re using a milk frother or immersion blender, just turn it on and  hold it in place, though you may need tilt the milk to one side, depending on how wide your saucepan is. If you’re using a whisk, just go to town on it. You want for all the milk to appear frothed as you scrape the bottom of the pan.

Remove the teabags from the tea and add the frothed milk. Drink immediately.

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Kale and Mango Smoothie

 

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Back in another life I taught preschool. I was due at work by 8 every morning, and it was a 40 minute drive from our old apartment. The teachers took our lunches during nap time, which meant it was close to 2 by the time I would get lunch. Sometimes I would eat some of lunches provided (which was allowed- I promise there was no stealing food from 2-year-olds), but those were uniformly government-regulated-almost-healthy (canned green beans and sausage pizza was common) and rather depressing. Pretty quickly on I realized a bad breakfast would make me hungry, grouchy, late, or all three.

I experimented with a lot of breakfasts during that time, but smoothies were a lifesaver. I could blend them up in minutes, and sometimes would make them the night before. I would double fist a thermos of black tea and a bright green smoothie in a mason jar, and arrive at work both on time and full.

There are some disadvantages to my career change, with lack of weekends being one of the chief ones. But one of the greatest things about restaurant work is that no one expects me to wake up at 7 anymore. I’m free to choose my own late rising.  Which I do. And which wrecks havoc on my breakfast routine. Which is reflected in the archives of this blog, which means that after over a year of blogging I’ve posted a grand total of 3 breakfast recipes. For scale, you may wish to compare it to the 20+ salads I’ve created. So in the spirit of back-to-school, breakfast routines, and righting terrible wrongs, here’s breakfast recipe #4.

This was one of my favorite smoothies when I taught, and I used to drink it at least twice a week. The mango and orange juice together are fruity and bright, and mask the heavy earthiness of the kale. Yogurt adds a bit of heft and a creamy texture. And the color was enough to bring a smile to my face. The  bright, vibrant green practically oozes an air of health and contentment. I needed that while teaching. I needed the nutrients, I needed the ritual, and I needed the psychological pick-me-up.

Now while not-teaching I need the nutrients, rituals, and pick me ups just as much, even while eating breakfast at 10. Here’s to centering rituals, vegetables for breakfast, and better mornings for all of us.

Kale and Mango Smoothie

One of the beautiful things about smoothies is that the format is so malleable. If you’d like a thick smoothie I’d reduced the orange juice to 1/2  a cup, and perhaps up the yogurt factor. You could also swap out flavors as necessary- blueberries and bananas and spinach are particularly good friends. Frozen mango helps chill the smoothie and make it frothy, and also streamline morning smoothie making. But if you are inclined to peel and chop a mango first thing in the morning, I salute you.

3 kale leaves, roughly torn and stems removed
1 cup frozen mango
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup plain yogurt

In a blender combine the all the ingredients, making sure the kale is on the bottom. Blend on high until smooth. Drink or refrigerate immediately.

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Horchata de Arroz

Horchata de Arroz

For the first nine months of my blog I shot all the pictures on my iPhone. That runs contrary to a lot of professional advice, but I didn’t anticipate any traffic in the beginning. An iPhone was the tool that I had, and I wanted to be able to test things out and get into the habit of blogging before dropping any serious money on this space. I’m not going to claim that I became a brilliant photographer in those nine months. I would say that I improved a lot between my first blog post (eek) and my last one shot with an iPhone (not great by any means, but better). And I think anyone would argue there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

Around six months into blogging I decided that I wanted to take it seriously.In order to blog seriously there’s a lot of different ways you can spend a lot of money. It’s not really polite to talk about money, but I’m a line cook. If you have an awareness about restaurants in America you probably know that cooks of any kind, especially line cooks, aren’t exactly in the top 1 percent. And everything in blogging seems to have a cost, from premium subscriptions to owning your own domain to creative licenses. It was enough to make me consider taking on a third job to pay for all the blogging costs. But after thinking over some opportunities and blissfully ignoring others, I decided that before dealing with abstracts I should learn to take pretty pictures. I started putting away a small amount of every paycheck into a designated account, did some research, and went to a camera store and asked an annoying amount of questions. After three months of saving I walked away with a new camera. A Nikon D5300, to be exact.

It was a learning curve, and a fun one, to figure out how to shoot pictures on this new camera. The photos got better quickly, until they weren’t getting better anymore. It took googling “food photography” and “learn to take better pictures” that I figured out I was using this carefully saved for camera as an expensive point and shoot. Oops.

So here’s the first picture for this blog not shot in manual mode. It’s the first with changes to the white balance and exposure, and the first where I staged the photo before bringing in the food. I still have a lot to learn, but luckily it’s a fun thing to study. It’s also fun to try styling different foods, and some are tougher than others. So naturally I’ll start with a drink. Drinks are easy to photograph, right?

Horchata’s a treat that I don’t drink enough. I see it occasionally at the menu at certain Mexican restaurants, but in my experience it’s a revolving menu item. It’s there one week, gone the next, and may pop back up in a month or two. I’ve always loved the creamy sweetness of horchata, and I got tired of waiting to encounter it. It was high time that I made it myself.

We were hit with a heat wave here last week, and our apartment doesn’t have air conditioning. This is usually not a problem- we live in the coldest major city in the US, where the mean temperature is in the 40s. But when the heat index soars above a hundred it’s painful. For a few consecutive days I gulped down this horchata on ice, which was both a special treat and a cooling tonic. If you’re in a heat wave, this is a treat that will help fix what ails you. If you’re not, it’s a tasty not-dessert dessert, a treat with breakfast, and, as per Aaron, an excellent addition to coffee.

It’s an easy drink, but one that requires both time and some equipment. You need a blender to make horchata. You’ll also need a fine mesh strainer, some cheesecloth, and patience. If you have all those things, and you’re willing to plan ahead, you’ll be rewarded with a sweet, creamy drink that reminds me of the milk left behind after eating cinnamon toast crunch in all the best ways.

Horchata de Arroz

adapted from Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas Frescas by Fany Gerson

Be patient while the horchata is straining. Strain carefully, otherwise you’ll be left with rice pulp in your glass.

Makes about 6 cups

2/3 cup brown rice
3 cups warm water
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
ground cinnamon for serving

In a blender, food processor, or spice grinder, grind the rice into a fine powder. Transfer to a jar with the warm water and cinnamon stick. Refrigerate overnight.

In a blender combine the rice water with the whole milk, sugar, and salt. Blend on high speed for a minute, until everything is well combined and the cinnamon stick has been completely distributed into the rice milk mixture.

Strain into a clean container, using a strainer lined with cheesecloth. If the horchata has some difficulty straining use a spoon to gently stir the horchata as it strains. Refrigerate again until completely cool.

Serve over ice, dusted with cinnamon.

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