Hello from the Other Side: A Dry January Complete

Reflecting on a sober January

It started as a joke between Ktams and me–

“How long you think we could go without any alcohol?”
“None at home either?”
*Laughter*
“Yeah, think we could make it the whole month?”
(Not a chance!)
“Only if you’re ok being hermits this month”

Oh, how right he was.

Time slowed within days of cutting ourselves off from a hobby that had taken up a larger portion of our waking hours (and money!) than I had expected. Coming home from work, I was in the habit of pouring myself a glass of our house wine (read: Trader Joe’s Box Shiraz, which is actually a completely palatable and affordable easy drinking wine), and I would sip as I got dinner rolling or broke into some house chores. Then I might have a second glass of wine with dinner an hour or so later, and shoot, you’re making yourself an Old Fashioned?

Nightcap Me.

My drinking had certainly gone unchecked for at least a year. While this wasn’t every evening, it was safely two, and as many as six, nights a week, and when I investigated my new hobby of drinking more IPAs (‘sup hazy!) with Ktams my jaw hit the floor. We’re talking anywhere from 200-300 calories per beer!? I’m no calorie counter, but it’s easy to add up how I could consume half my daily caloric intake on a few afternoon drinks. I wasn’t about to add an hour of gym time to my daily regimen because you know I’m still telling myself that riding myself to work on my bike five days a week best be enough for winter. I spent the entire month of January contemplating how days can grow so long and how I didn’t know how people kept clean when I felt like every turn I made I was met with opportunity to drink–now I’m somewhat removed from the restaurant industry being in catering/sales, but still the opportunities found me more often than I was expecting. What’s more, my denial of alcohol consumption also caused me to close myself off from social opportunities and talking myself out of seeing friends because I had convinced myself that I wouldn’t be as interesting; conversation would be that much harder to keep up without the almost sexy, giddy, fun conversations that the alcohol lent itself to, right?

I also had a pretty cataclysmic event with my blog that brought me to question its (and ergo my) purpose and brought to light the shift I’ve seen in the industry over the last year or so. I had to address how lost I feel in the current of it all. For those who don’t know, I attribute my food blog with my break into the food Eden that is Portland, and that was its original purpose. Here I am nearly seven years later, and I am realizing that I am checking most of my opinions and insights at the door with my blog, and is that fair?
Maybe.
I have learned that this city is really just a medium-large town, and my industry is so small! Everyone knows someone who knows you, and in that world, if you have nothing nice to say you keep your lip zipped. Well, perhaps in 2019 I’ll stop thinking that I don’t belong in this realm and share some of my insights–

or maybe I’ll have an anxiety attack.

It took nearly the entire month to address these worries, but once I did, I was already on the 25th of the month, home stretch! And it wasn’t all self reflection, it was also a month of committing to some other positive changes.

Konmari, Say Hey

Like the rest of the world, we let the spirit of Marie Kondo back into our home after I cast her out sometime in 2017 in utter defeat and frustration. We had a pressing reason for welcoming her presence back into our lives, and no, it wasn’t the Netflix series. Though, that helped. We had finally found a wonderful contractor that could fit with all of our needs for replacing the flooring in half our home, and custom building a kitchen nook I’ve dreamt about since we bought the house back in 2014. And for a project of this size, we have to move one half of our house into the other half so that he can do all his work. We live in less than 1,000sq ft, so it’s taken some serious reorganizing to make everything work. First the bedroom, then the kitchen, and so on.

I let Marie back in. For what it was worth, watching those on her show struggle with the steps made me feel less helpless and overwhelmed. I kondo’d three garbage bags of adorable clothes that didn’t fit or weren’t my style anymore, and created more logical space for the dresses and tops I loved. Then I eliminated so many superfluous kitchen gadgets and tore my bathroom apart and put it back together again without the 20 travel toothpastes. Sidebar: We finally got electric toothbrushes–hello 21st CENTURY! This project came at a great time because I didn’t feel cloudy or like I was far too busy to finish a step. Just determined.

Yes, I’m still on step two and a half of five total steps, but some people take months! And you will pull these cookbooks from my cold. Dead. HANDS!

So if you’ve been wondering what in God’s name I’ve been up to lately–maybe we should grab a coffee and catch up.

Oh yeah, Ktams is roasting his own coffee now. This turned into a Christmas letter fast. More to come.

A Very Merry Cherry Season to You

Maraschino Cherry Recipe

It’s cherry season in Oregon, which means I spend most of my evenings after work slaving over hot stove, cherry pitter in hand, and maraschinos on my mind. We are going on our third year of canning fresh cherries so that we have gifts for Christmas and cocktail accoutrements for consumption through the chilly winter months. Each year I find a new family of cherry to enjoy, but the recipe stays mostly the same. Each year Ktams bemoans the cost of Luxardo, the liquor base required for true maraschinos. I’m sorry, but no ordinary cherry liquor base will do (in my opinion). Luxardo’s responsible for about 3/4 the liquid base of the maraschinos, and it lends just enough amaretto flavor that the cherries feel more luxurious than candied. Mix one with a Manhattan and goodnight Bee.

So after three years of honing my cherry canning skills, I thought it was finally time to share this canning recipe with you. I base it off of a refrigerator pickle recipe (this means that you are in essence “cold pickling” the cherries), however these will be shelf stable after water bath for up to 2 years. Mine never last more than a year though because they get gobbled up by our household.

Part of me feels like I should apologize, too, for not being as present in my “write” mind for more posts as of late. Though I’ve been spending my time when I would normally be writing out in my garden or cooking and learning, and in January I took up watercolors; my is that a relaxing hobby! So know that I’m here and have been very busy on Instagram, but am otherwise trying to unplug from things more deliberately because the world is kind of topsy turvy right now, and keeping up with the news is utterly exhausting. There is such a thing as media fatigue, and I’m sure much of our country has it here in the USA. I’ll count myself as one at least. But enough whining! On to the recipe…

 

Homemade Canned Maraschino Cherries

Preserved Maraschino Cherry

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Sweet red cherries (something with some good internal structure, Royal Brooks, Regina, etc), washed and pitted
  • 1/2 C Water
  • 1/2 C Sugar
  • 1 Cinnamon stick
  • 1 t Vanilla extract
  • 2 t Lemon juice
  • A healthy pinch of fresh nutmeg
  • 1 C Luxardo

Tools

  • Canning pot
  • Jars
  • Cherry pitter
  • New canning lids
  • Canning tongs
  • Chopstick
  • Stockpot
  • Funnel
  • Ladle
  • clean towel
  • Bowl to heat up lids

 

Method

Before I start into this, I should mention that this recipe is very easy to multiply–I find that this is a great base, and be sure not to mix up your water/sugar/Luxardo amounts. I speak as someone who did this just earlier this week, but thankfully adjusted before things got too hairy (i.e. before I’d added the liquor in).

Get the canning pot going with water and jars open completely submerged with an inch of headroom. Bring to a rolling boil; this will sanitize the jars while you work on the cherries. In a medium pot, combine water, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, lemon and nutmeg over medium-high heat and bring it to a boil with constant stirring as not to burn the sugar. Bring down to a simmer and add cherries; cook for 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the Luxardo.

Be sure all your tools are sanitize. Soak the lids in boiling water to soften the seals. One jar at a time, empty of water and place funnel over the top, then load with cherries and their juice, leaving a half inch of headspace. Pop in your chopstick and help release any air bubbles hanging out in the bottom of the jar or in the cherries. The liquid should cover the cherries, though the top ones will float. Wipe the top of the jar and put the lid in place and screw on the brace. Place the jar into the canning pot carefully. Repeat this process until you run out of jars or run out of filling.

Boil in water bath canner for 10 min for half pints, 15 min for pints, and 20 min for quart jars. Remove from pot and place on a towel to cool and seal.

POP! Means you’re done! I like to allow another 2-3 hours to rest before labeling and storing in a cool dark place. This recipe makes 4 half pints or 2 half pints.

 

And now for the Manhattan, because I’m sure you’re curious.

 

A Classic Manhattan

Ingredients

  • 1 oz Sweet vermouth
  • 2 oz Rye whiskey
  • 1-2 Dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 Maraschino cherry
  • (Optional) Orange peel 

Method

In a rocks glass, combine vermouth, whiskey, bitters and ice–stir gently. Add cherry (and a little canning liquid) and orange peel. Enjoy immediately.

Roasted Vegetable Salad with Green Lentils, Zhug & Toby’s Ranch Dressing

This post is sponsored by Toby’s Family Foods, but all recipes and opinions are my own.

Happy National Salad Month!! May is the very start of the summer harvest season in my opinion–it’s when you’re going to start seeing breakfast radishes around and fresh spring onions; all the greens!! (I use greens loosely in this case). They come in an array of colors really. You’ll start seeing greens you’ve never heard of before. I still remember the summer I found red mizuna for the first time. It was stacked up high in mounds about eye level in the corner stand at the market, and it caused me to do a triple take from the center aisle. I decided for this recipe post I would try to incorporate its sharp, jagged leaves in marriage with the soft, delicate curvature of butter lettuce. I absolutely love the complimentary silhouettes and flavors. I’m not sure whether you’ve made your way to your local farmer’s market yet, but greens are at their sweet peak. If you’re just getting acquainted I heartily recommend getting a bag of mixed greens to start–or perhaps something that will make you double-take.

Here in Portland, OR, the Shemanski Park Farmer’s Market is one of the earliest seasonal markets to kick back into gear. Located in downtown park blocks off SW Salmon, the market occurs every Wednesday through October 10am-2pm and the vendors shift throughout, but there are consistently four produce vendors and some really delicious breads from Pearl Bakery (I covet a good Paesano loaf myself–they sell out before noon usually). On one trip I was able to gather all of the fresh produce needed to curate this salad. I then gathered the rest of the ingredients at my local Safeway, including Toby’s Ranch Dressing and naan, which I sliced then toasted for crunch and maximum dressing dippability.

This is my second year putting a beautiful salad together on behalf of Toby’s Family Foods. You can check out last year’s recipe at the bottom of the post by clicking its picture. Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me explain zhug. This green sauce originated in the area of Yemen and was popular in Israel, but is now (thankfully) widely popular all over the world. Per Wikipedia, zhug is made from fresh red or green hot peppers (in most cases I’ve seen, serranos chiles) seasoned with coriander, garlic, salt, black cumin (optional) and various spices. Some also add caraway seed. Zhug may be red or green depending on the type of peppers used (site).

So without further adieu, I give you my yummiest of new salad obsessions.

Roasted Vegetable Salad with Green Lentils, Zhug & Toby’s Ranch Dressing

Ingredients

  • 4 Beets, sliced and lightly tossed in olive oil
  • 4 Large carrots, sliced and lightly tossed in olive oil
  • 1 Bunch of breakfast radishes, sliced
  • 1 C Green lentils, rinsed
  • 1 Large clove garlic, smashed
  • 1 Bayleaf
  • 3 C Water
  • 8 oz Zhug, either homemade or store bought (look in the refrigerated section near dressing)
  • 1 T Tahini
  • 1 Head butter lettuce, washed and torn
  • 1 Head red mizuna, washed and torn
  • 4-5 naan, sliced then toasted to preferable doneness
  • Toby’s Ranch Dressing

Method

I recommend starting this recipe by prepping the roasted vegetables and lentils ahead to allow them ample cooling time. The lettuce in this recipe is relatively delicate, and will wilt if topped with hot ingredients. You can prepare the items up to 3 days in advance.

Prep

Place beets and carrots on a parchment-lined baking sheet, lightly salt and roast at 400°F for 25-30 minutes, flipping everything over once and applying more oil if sticking occurs. Doneness with vegetables can be to personal preference. You’ll notice in the images here that the carrots are a bit black on the edges–I accomplish this by tossing the pan under the broiler for about 4-5 min at the end of roasting to create some additional crunch and flavor, which is, of course, optional. 

While vegetables are in the oven, prepare the lentils. Measure out 1 cup of lentils and rinse under cold water. Combine the lentils in a medium saucepan with garlic, bayleaf and water and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer (minimum bubbles), and cook (stirring occasionally) for 20 minutes or until al dente (with a slight springiness) on your palate. Drain water from the lentils and remove and discard the garlic and bayleaf–cool lentils alongside vegetables and store separately in airtight containers.

Assembly

This salad comes together pretty quickly–the only steps left are to toss together the zhug, tahini and lentils. Taste the zhug alone prior to assembly because its spice can vary. When making this salad for a large group, I’ll chop the vegetables smaller an make a sort of tossed chopped salad, but when just cooking for myself I prefer it as pictured. 

Combine the two lettuces, zhug-and-tahini-covered lentils, beets, carrots, radish, and naan. Now drizzle with the ranch and enjoy!

Recipe serves 4 as entree, 6 for starter course. this recipe can be made GF by omitting the naan

Check out more of my recipes using Toby’s Family Dressings (click the images to be taken to the recipes):

Roasted Beets and Feta in Belgian Endive with Toby's Feta Dressing | The Spicy Bee


The Spicy Bee National Salad Month Bacon, Radish, & Blue Cheese Dipped Asparagus Featuring Toby's Dressing and Dip

Spicy Pork Sliders with Toby's Jalapeño Ranch Slaw

Game Day Bacon Turkey Wrap Featuring Toby's Blue Cheese Dressing | TheSpicyBee