I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. It was a tough year. (Dear anyone that has any influence over these things: can 2014 continue an upward trend? Thanks.) I know its a bit early for a year-end retrospective – blame the incessantly grating Christmas creep. Since we last spoke, there have been all sorts of changes around these parts, mostly of the personal variety. I like to think that I’m willing to do a lot for people – to put my time, sweat, love and attention towards a multitasker’s nightmare of shared projects. And as long as those projects continue to give back – via a paycheck, gratitude or otherwise, that works for me. It’s a simple equation, really (isn’t it always?) when those endeavors stop giving back and become more of a source of pain than of fulfillment, then it is time to reevaluate and sometimes move on. Needless to say, when your days are consumed by personal evaluation, your writing gets pretty dull. Seriously – you should see my drafts folder. Let’s just say its been a year of full-on mental and physical decluttering.
The first casualty was my writing, but initially, so was my kitchen – enabled by my move to a much more urban location with excellent food aplenty. Obviously neither were great for my health or my wallet, so I eventually made my way back into the kitchen. Then – full disclosure – I hid there for a while. I realized that the kitchen shouldn’t always be a place of refuge. It can and should be a haven from stresses of work, play, and everything in between. But (and this may be a bit of a ‘duh‘ moment for most of you), I find there is something missing when my life is devoid of creativity and collaboration. And, after some navel gazing, I’ve come to accept that I get a lot of fulfillment not just from cooking and preserving but also from this blog.
So as I’ve reevaluated my life, I’ve reevaluated this space. Do you ever get a moment to take a step back and really think about how to do something right? I almost never get that chance. Thanks to the talented Cyn at River Dog Prints, ye olde blog has had a lovely reno (so come on and visit snowflakekitchen.com, you RSS readers). The new digs are emblematic of the new reality and I am quite taken with them.
I’ve also become more taken with bitters. I tried citrus bitters earlier in the year. They were good, but I found myself having to use a pretty large amount (like close-to-equal parts with the main booze of the drink) to get the flavor I was after. Ready to tinker again, I treated myself to a bottle of Onyx 111 and picked up some gentian root and other herbs from the Penn Herb Company. And though I’ve only had these bitters with one whiskey drink and one spiced rum drink, I am already enamored with them. They’re that little-something-extra-you-can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on that takes your drink over the top.
Vanilla Coconut Maple Bitters
Adapted from Imbibe Magazine’s Homemade Vanilla Bitters
1 cup Onyx Moonshine (or other high proof neutral liquor)
1 scant teaspoon gentian root
4 vanilla beans, split and scraped
1 tablespoon fenugreek
1/4 cup coconut flakes
1 tablespoon pink peppercorns
2 cardamom pods
Grade B maple syrup, to taste
Decorticate the cardamom (apparently that is the correct word!) and then toast the peppercorns, fenugreek, cardamom and coconut over medium-low heat until fragrant. Take care not to burn the pan. Add your toasted spices to a glass jar that has a lid – either a locking jar with a gasket or a mason jar will work well. After scraping, cut the vanilla pods in half so that they completely submerge and can fully infuse the ‘shine. Add the gentian root, vanilla and add Onyx to cover. If you don’t have high-test moonshine to work with, grain alcohol would work just fine. I find that a higher proof alcohol really does make a difference here – spring for the high-test hooch, people. The bitters need to infuse for a while – start tasting after three weeks or so. Once you can taste all of the flavors, strain and add maple syrup to taste – I ended up adding approximately 1/4 cup. Bottle into a smaller jar, or better yet find a vessel with an eyedropper. The coconut makes the bitters taste almost creamy, and the dark maple syrup and fenugreek add an almost malty flavor. I’m sure these are only the latest in a long line of bitters experiments.
So make these, tweak to your taste, and invite me over. I’ll bring chutney and cheese and we can catch up. And thank you for sticking around – I am so looking forward to many good things in store for the future.