The History Stopper

The History Stopper

[credit: B. Wacks]

So we had another big release so there’s another .0 celebration at work. The Fingerprint from the last one was such a success, I got to develop a new one for THIS time too. Now, was I asked or did I volunteer? Hmm …

I wanted to work with gin this time — I really love the botanical notes and it works so well with many edibles. I know there are LOTS of people who say they don’t like gin, so I wanted to develop a gin drink for them. I played with the Bombay Sapphire East last summer — it’s not an aggressive gin — not so much juniper-forward — with definite notes of citrus. Might be the lemongrass? I’d found that I really loved gin with cucumber, so that was my starting point. As to why I got inspired to throw in the kiwi — who knows. But it REALLY works with the gin and cukes.

So the Culinary Guinea Pig totally signed off on this. But sometimes I like a little extra verification, so I had my neighbor John try a little. John is more into super dry gin martinis over “craft cocktails” — so I felt he could provide some constructive criticism on balance — especially if it was too sweet. His response? “Why aren’t you a bartender?”  LOL   So I think you can serve this one without worry!

So, a sidebar before we get to the drinking. As I am developing a cocktail, I frequently start out using teaspoons and tablespoons of the syrups, liqueurs and liquors to check the flavor profiles. Then I ramp it up to a serving. Then, as needed, I up the proportions for a pitcher. I don’t take pictures until I think I’m final — makes sense, right? So I JUST NOW realize, as I’m about to upload the pictures — I FORGOT THE MINT in the final pitcher at home for the photos!! It’s KILLING ME — the drink is incomplete without the mint! Don’t be like me — get the mint in there. And of course this means I have to go buy another cucumber and more kiwi and take the pics all over again. Because I’m slightly obsessed that way.

The History Stopper
Yield: 6

IMG_20160422_2044401/3c to 1/2c Cucumber-Kiwi syrup (recipe below)
1/4c lime juice (no shame in using bottled Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key West Lime Juice)
1c Bombay Sapphire East
12oz seltzer (unsweetened)
Mint leaves
Lime, cucumber, or kiwi for garnish

Add the cucumber-kiwi syrup and lime juice to a pitcher. Stir well. Add the gin and stir again. Add the seltzer and stir gently. Fill a rocks glass with lots of ice. Place two leaves of mint in one palm and SPANK the mint with your other hand. Drop those leaves in the ice. Pour in the drink and garnish with a lime wedge and/or a cucumber wheel and/or a kiwi wheel.



Now, for a crowd, I was making a double batch in EACH of my two party pitchers — doubling all the measurements above. I got more than 12 servings out of each double batch because we were using pretty small cups.

This sizes down nicely as well — it’s a 2:1:4:6 ratio, for you math geeks. For other people, it’s 2 tablespoons of the syrup, 1 tablespoon of lime juice, 1/4c of gin, and 1/4 of the can of seltzer.


IMG_20160423_113544Cucumber-Kiwi Syrup
Yield: 12 to 16 ounces

1/2 English cucumber, unpeeled, chopped into a medium dice
2 kiwis, peeled, chopped into a medium dice

Place the cucumber and kiwi in a saucepan. Add just enough water to cover. Bring to a bare simmer and cook gently until the cucumber and kiwi have softened and the water is a lovely green color. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, pressing and pushing the solids against the strainer to extract as much juice and puree as possible. Discard the seedy mush. Measure the remaining (strained) liquid and add just enough water to make an even measure (1 cup, 1.25 cups, 1.5 cups, etc). Pour this into a clean pan (or the same pan rinsed out). Add an equal amount, by volume, of sugar. Bring to a gentle simmer, stirring often to ensure sugar is dissolved. Boil gently for 2 minutes. Allow to cool completely. Refrigerate. Should last two weeks — but not likely much longer, as there’s a fair amount of solids that push through the strainer.



Use in cocktails.
Mix with seltzer for the pregnant lady in the office.
Drizzle over ice cream.



The Fingerprint

So I work for a pretty cool company called WealthEngine. We had a major product release a couple of weeks ago — WE Analyze — a point-and-click web-based solution that harnesses the power of one of the largest consumer data sets ever created. It’s been balls-to-the-wall for an extended period, with multiple parallel release sprints and, forget it, this is where everyone’s eyes to start to roll. Let’s just say it’s been intense.

After a major release or product launch, we throw ourselves a big party. So a couple of days before the celebration, I got called into a conference room by one of my VPs. Since the summons came on the tail of a conference call where I got snotty about a potential publicity stunt I wasn’t thrilled about, I assumed I was about to get a dressing down. To my relief and surprise, the VPs asked if I would create and serve a signature cocktail for the celebration — to be named The Fingerprint. Color me THRILLED!

We’ve had a few nice days (the flipflops have made an appearance!!), so I knew I wanted to go with something lighter and reminiscent of spring. So a clear liquor, not brown. And something fruity with a herbal or botanical accent. This is a tough time of year — the citrus has started to taper off and we don’t have a fruit in season yet. Many frozen fruits rival fresh fruit, in quality, so I had no worries about turning to the freezer for raspberries. I had a general sense of proportion of liquor to seltzer to citrus to sweet after years of mixing these, so I just need to experiment with the right liqueur and tweak the proportions. Of course, it needed to translate to a pitcher — we are a drinking crowd!

The Fingerprint

Yield: 6

IMG_20160322_1831221/4c Raspberry-Ginger puree (recipe below)
1/4c ginger liqueur (I like Domaine de Canton)
1/4c lime juice (no shame in using bottled Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key West Lime Juice)
1c silver rum (the cheap stuff is fine)
12oz seltzer (unsweetened)
Lime wedges
Fresh raspberries

Add the berry puree, ginger liqueur, and lime juice to a pitcher. Stir well. Add the rum and stir again. Add the seltzer and stir gently. Serve over lots of ice, garnished with a lime wedge and/or fresh raspberry.


Now, for a crowd, I was making a double batch in EACH of my two party pitchers — doubling all the measurements above. I got more than 12 servings out of each double batch because we were using pretty small cups.

This sizes down nicely as well — it’s a 1:1:1:4:6 ratio, for you math geeks. For other people, it’s 1 tablespoon each of the puree, liqueur, and lime juice, 1/4c of the rum, and 1/4 of the can of seltzer.

On party day, I used a raspberry-lime seltzer. It’s just as good with lime seltzer or even plain seltzer. The key is that it is unsweetened seltzer.

For you tequila lovers — feel free to sub in silver tequila in the same proportions as the rum. Really lovely.


Raspberry Ginger Puree
Yield: ~ 16oz

1 12-oz package of frozen raspberries
3/4″ ginger, peeled and sliced into “coins”

Place the frozen berries and ginger coins in a saucepan. Add just enough water to cover the berries. Bring to a bare simmer and cook gently until the raspberries are mush and the water is a lovely deep berry color. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, pressing and pushing the solids against the strainer to extract as much juice and puree as possible. Discard the seedy mush. Measure the remaining (strained) liquid and add enough water to make an even measure (1 cup, 1.25 cups, 1.5 cups, etc). Pour this into a clean pan (or the same pan rinsed out). Add an equal amount, by volume, of sugar. Bring to a gentle simmer, stirring often to ensure sugar is dissolved. Boil gently for 2 minutes. Allow to cool completely. Refrigerate. Should last two weeks — but not likely much longer, as there’s a fair amount of berry solids that push through the strainer.

Use in cocktails.
Mix with seltzer for a refreshing soft drink.
Drizzle over pistachio ice cream.

BGE in the snow

Has it really been a year ?

I sat down to write a blog post, and realized it’s just two days shy of a YEAR since my last one. Wow. I knew it had been a while, but THAT long?

It wasn’t my year healthwise. Let’s just say, if I vomit, it seems to portend something REALLY awful involving a hospital and specialists. Ugh. And the dog died (that’s been really hard). Then early this year, my dad got a pretty brutal health diagnosis, so I spent a little time in the midwest with my folks. The blog kinda fell to the wayside as I waded through that plus two rounds of RIFs at work and the usual releases and patches and bugs, oh my. Yeah, one of those years. Here’s hoping 2016 is a bit smoother ride!



I have been cooking and cocktailing along the way. I’d like to assure you, there was pie for Pi Day!


And on the drive from St Louis to my parents, I got a real kick out of the signs for THIS place!




These cookies were pretty awesome.




And quinoa, doctored up with dried fruit, nuts, and some Greek honey, makes an amazing breakfast alternative to oatmeal!




We visited our Florida place in December, allowing us to GORGE on the most amazing citrus ever. I bought an electric juicer for the Florida house, and it was either mimosas or margaritas nearly every night. I loved that juicer so much, I bought one for the brick house too. Here — ruby navels. OMG they were divine!


So, I can’t guarantee my pacing, but I hope to take up the blogging again this year.


Branching out …

So I’ve been playing around a little bit with rye whiskey lately. There was a dry spell leading up to my surgery and for some time afterwards, but once I was off pain medications, the CGP was relieved that I returned to my previous cocktail goddess status. I’d had a sip of a Manhattan at my neighbors’ sometime over the holidays — and it struck me as something I’d like to perfect.

I went with rye whiskey as it’s the traditional whiskey for a Manhattan. The typical Manhattan is a 2:1 ratio of rye to vermouth. I’ve even seen 3:1. I tried both and they were just too rye-heavy. Equal amounts of rye and vermouth were just too sweet. So I settled on the 3:2 ratio as being Just Right for me. The traditional method calls for putting the ice and liquids into a cocktail shaker, stirring about 50 times until the outside of the glass starts to frost, then straining into a martini glass and garnishing with a cherry. Again, a little too strong for me — I liked it on the rocks and sipped slowly.

I’ve been perfectly happy with Wild Turkey Rye and Martini Rossi sweet vermouth. Both are reasonably priced and easy to find. Turns out the CGP isn’t too fond of Manhattans, which means I don’t run out of ANY of the ingredients!

Michelle’s Manhattan
SAMSUNG Serves 1

3 cubes of ice
2 stem-on maraschino cherries
3 – 4 dashes bitters
1 teaspoon juice from the cherry jar
2 tablespoons sweet vermouth
3 tablespoons rye whiskey

Place the ice in a rocks glass. Drop in the cherries. Dash the bitters onto the ice. Add the vermouth and rye. Stir about 15 times with a cocktail spoon. Let percolate a few minutes before you imbibe.



PSA: Don’t blame it on Popeye’s !!

So, the blog is going to go dark for a bit. You’ve probably noticed I was a little light on posts lately – well, yesterday the ole gallbladder needed to come out. I’d had an attack about 2 weeks prior, but didn’t realize at the time that the 12 hours of excruciating abdominal pain followed by relief-inducing vomiting was a gallbladder attack. Silly me, I thought it was a GI virus. I teleworked the next day, taking a quick nap mid-afternoon, but just shook it off. I felt a bit off in the days following, but didn’t think much of it.

Fast forward to this past Sunday, when an innocent lunch of leftover Popeye’s led to 6 hours of debilitating abdominal pain, again followed by a relief-inducing vomit. As I lay on the couch, pre-vomitus, crying, my husband is saying “You are going to the doctor tomorrow” and I’m agreeing, blubbering “Yes! Yes! I’m going to the doctor tomorrow!”

And off I went. There seemed to be some urgency, as I had an ultrasound on Tuesday (it would have been Monday except I had had coffee before my doctor appt), a surgical consult on Wednesday, and then surgery scheduled for Thursday. Each appointment ended with strict instructions to avoid any fat in my diet and if the pain returned, I was to head straight to the ER. So basically I’m a walking time bomb. I stuck to the diet instructions – relying on uber low-fat chicken soup, crackers, jello, and plain pasta. I called it the white diet. My appetite was a bit off – not surprising as I feared that the next bite might set off the pain again. Although I suspected since Monday that the gallbladder was coming out, I wanted it to be in a planned fashion, not some chaotic ER emergency.

The surgery actually went very well. Checked into the hospital around 1p, back to pre-op at 2p, promptly into the OR at 3p, rolled back to recovery around 4p, out of hospital by 6p. There were a few humorous moments I’d like to share:

  • When I was instructed to change into hospital gown and socks, I was so excited to see my socks were green – that way I won’t get them mixed up with Keith’s collection!
  • Before rolling to the OR, Tim, the nurse anesthetist, gave me a bit of a sedative in my IV. It kicked in immediately, making me pretty loopy. As they are rolling me to the OR, I exclaim, “Since pot isn’t legal in Virginia, this is probably as high as I’m going to get!” They laughed. I’m pretty sure I was their last patient of the day.
  • In the OR, as they are getting me ready, one of the nurses tells me she’s going to adjust my socks and leg wraps. I tell her I shaved for her, since I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to bend over again. As before – laughs all around. Do you think I missed my chance for stand-up?
  • Upon waking up in the OR, the first thing I wanted to know was whether it was laproscopic, as planned, or if they had to open me up. I was thrilled to hear it was laproscopic. Then I announced I thought I had peed all over the bed. They assured me it was no problem. I was too high to be embarrassed. Maybe they shouldn’t have pumped 2 liters of liquids into an unconscious, intubated, peri-menopausal woman.
  • Back in recovery, I was instructed that I had to sit up and see about getting dressed. I was pre-occupied with exactly where the incisions were, and insisted the nurse show me. Keith told me later she seemed a little uncomfortable with the whole thing. I think I had a valid concern – I needed to know if I could get a bra on (we decided no) and whether the pants were going to have to be rolled down yoga-style or not (not). There had been an extended discussion about the bra thing in the house, before leaving, and Keith had already called it – no bra.
  • When I changed T-shirts this morning, I discovered one of those sticky things with a snap on it on my shoulder — they missed one!

So I’m home with an arsenal of pain medications and a variety of bland foods for the next couple of days. I’ve been advised by both my surgeon and others lacking a gallbladder to take it easy on introducing real food again. My digestive system has been traumatized and permanently altered, so that seems a wise approach.

Many thanks to my husband Keith, who is doing a fantastic job of taking care of me. Also thanks go to the staff at Inova Medical Group (Annandale), starting with Dr. Seetha Durbhakula (“Dr. D”), who immediately recognized this was likely an acute gallbladder situation, and the nurses who were diligent about the scheduling and referrals. I really liked my surgeon, Dr. Virginia Madey of Virginia Surgery Associates. Her hospital staff’s cheerful demeanor (they laughed at ALL my jokes) and practiced manner went a long way towards calming my anxiety.

So I’m going to end this PSA by saying, if you have excruciating abdominal pain that lasts for more than 2 hours, whether or not it’s accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea, please follow up with your doctor. An upset gallbladder is not something to fool around with — and if it needs to come out, it needs to come out.


And Winter Is Here

And so begins my lament … I hate winter.

Yes, hate is a strong word. But I am so over winter. I’m tired of the freezing pipes battle. I’m tired of the freezing furnace sump pump battle. I’m tired of throwing treats out the back door because otherwise the dog won’t go out to do his business. I’m tired of being cold, all the time. The high point of my morning commute? When the seat heater kicks in. The one bright spot until April I guess.

Winter has me hankering for lamb. So on Sunday, with a little sunshine and temps above freezing, I wandered up to the Lebanese Butcher to get a leg of lamb. There’s a very friendly, well-spoken young butcher who takes great care in deboning this near-primal cut for me. While he’s working over my leg, I usually wander around the market and fill my basket with interesting exotic (to me) condiments. This time, I found a carton of Guava nectar out of Egypt. The ingredient list was guava pulp (35%), sugar, citric acid, and water. That’s it. No HFCS. No artificial colorings. No preservatives. So I grabbed a box. Given that this is a Halal market and appears to be run by observant Muslims, I didn’t mention I was going to use it in cocktails :)

So with my veg-heavy lamb stew started (lamb, Penzey’s Lamb Seasoning, onion, celery, carrot, bell pepper, garlic, tomatoes, cubed acorn squash, chickpeas, homemade lamb stock), I set my mind to a little beverage experimentation. I tried a little of the nectar on its own — not as sweet as I expected. Slightly citrusy … slightly floral … very delicate. I mixed a little with gin and orange liqueur — but that wasn’t working. The gin was too herbal and I put in way too much liqueur. So I tried it with rum and reduced the liqueur — definitely on the right track. Understand — I’m doing this with teaspoons and squirts just to see if the flavors meld! So what we end up with is a guava-rum spritzy-punchy thing that really refreshes and kinda sneaks up on you!

SAMSUNGI Hate Winter Guava Rum Spritzer
Serves 1

1/4 cup Guava nectar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 tablespoon blood orange liqueur
3 tablespoons white rum
Ginger ale

Put the juices, liqueur, and rum in a cocktail shaker filled halfway with ice. Shake vigorously for at least 10 seconds until the cocktail shaker is icy. Strain over ice into an old-fashioned glass. Top with ginger ale and stir gently. Consume immediately.



Happy Holidays (and last post of 2014)

Happy Holidays to you and yours! This will be my last post of 2014. We’re out of town for the holidays, spending a few days with my husband’s mother and squeezing in a quick trip to Vegas (a little perk of being an empty nester!). So I’m baking like mad even though I’ve caught the cruddy cold that’s going around. I’ve got a batch of these layer bars in the oven, using up my last jar of strawberry-rhubarb-ginger jam. I went nuts with home-roasted pumpkin, baking off some scones (a riff on this recipe, reducing the buttermilk and adding 1/2 cup pumpkin puree), a classic pumpkin bread jazzed up with some fresh cranberries (pictured next to the booze bottle below), and a batch of pumpkin yeast rolls from the King Arthur website.

One of our treats at the holidays is to order cheese from the Trappist Monks at Gethsemani Farms. They offer four varieties of their semi-soft cheese — our favorite is the Aged (aka “stinky cheese”). They make a pretty nice fruitcake, too. We love the cheese with crackers and salami, or in a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s available year-round, but it’s a holiday tradition for us.

So my last cocktail recipe of the year is **barely** a cocktail. At the end of the day nursing a cold, after a zillion cups of hot herbal tea, you really are sick of the fruity crap. But an iced cocktail is just NOT what the doctor ordered — you already have the chills! But a gentle hot toddy, well, that’s practically medicinal, right?

SAMSUNGHot Apple Toddy
Serves 1

Smidgen of butter
3 tablespoons Evan Williams Apple Orchard
Hot water
Cinnamon stick (optional)

Put the butter and liqueur in the bottom of a mug. Add hot water. Stir until butter melts. Garnish with a cinnamon stick if desired.



Eating SW Florida

The CGP and I were in Florida around Thanksgiving (yeah, this post is nearly a month overdue). We “needed” to attend the annual homeowner’s meeting for our condo down there, so we turned it into a week+ vacation. I don’t usually cook much when we are down there. We have coffee and pastry/yogurt at home for breakfast, and then eat either lunch OR dinner out. The other meal might be light sandwiches or restaurant leftovers. Because we leave no foodstuffs behind when we depart, it can be a challenge to make sure we don’t throw away alot at the end. So breakfast on the last day **might** be ice cream. Just saying.

Our absolute favorite restaurant in Tampa is the Columbia Restaurant, with its Spanish/Cuban cuisine — we always go to the landmark original site in Ybor City. We literally pass the exit as we leave the airport for our condo. So more often than not, we do stop there for a late lunch right after we land. Everything we have ever tried is just top-notch. Ropa Vieja is my personal favorite. Their classic Arroz con Pollo (a special on our most recent visit) is just the best. The Cuban sandwiches are very very well-made. One year, we stopped in on Christmas Eve and got to try this amazing sour-orange roast pork loin that I think is made just for the holiday dinners. Sangria, mojitos, and pisco sours (pictured below) will NOT disappoint. And if you are so inclined, the hand-rolled cigars in the gift shop next door are pretty special, too. Reservations are recommended, unless it’s 3:30p and you’ve just rolled off the plane. Try to plan dinner around one of the Flamenco dance shows, if you can.


Last year with visiting friends, I stumbled on a bayfront bar in a marina in Englewood called Zeke’s. Strong drinks and fried seafood, pretty much as expected, but they served a smoked fish dip that blew my skirt up! I chatted with the chef briefly, and the fish he uses changes daily based on what’s available, but he was personally smoking it and then assembling the dip. So I was thrilled to find that Zeke’s has recently expanded into a standalone restaurant, Zeke’s Uptown Bar & Grill. The fish dip still available, as good as before. The Crayfish Potato Nachos were like the best bar appetizer ever. And a really well-done New England Clam Chowder. I’ll be honest — I don’t think we even ordered an entree because the appetizers were generously sized for sharing — the tuna carpaccio was equally delish. I am looking forward to a repeat visit next time we’re down.

One of our Manasota Key traditions is to split the Fisherman’s Feast (haddock, shrimp, scallops, and ipswich clams) at Flounder’s Restaurant and Tiki Bar. Why split? So we can save room for deep-fried coconut cheesecake with mango sauce. Lots of fun tropical drinks to try — make sure someone is pre-designated to drive, as they pack a punch. We ate a traditional Thanksgiving turkey meal there this year — excellent food with live music and the palm trees waving (it was about 70F that day).



Spritzin’ the Sauce

Yeah — I went there. I took an innocent Thanksgiving favorite, leftover cranberry sauce, and turned it into a cocktail. I couldn’t help myself. We had a fair amount left, and it was looking lonely in there, since we’d already eaten the leftover duck, dressing, brussel sprouts, and pecan pie. We’d had a nice sangria earlier in the week, so I wanted something that wasn’t so sweet. I already had orange in the sauce, so it was a natural to turn to an orange liqueur. And the CGP is always up for tequila, so a margarita-inspired cocktail just seemed to turn itself out.

SAMSUNGCranberry Sauce Tequila Spritzer
Serves 1

1 tablespoon leftover whole berry cranberry sauce
1 tablespoon orange liqueur
3 tablespoons silver tequila
2 – 3 ounces San Pellegrino Pomegranate and Orange Soda
Lime (optional, not pictured)

Put the cranberry sauce in the bottom of a sturdy glass. Add the orange liqueur and stir to loosen up the sauce. Add the tequila and stir. Add ice. Top with the Pom and Orange soda, stir gently to combine. You might want a little squirt of lime juice at the end.



I’m “Dining In” on Wednesday, December 3rd

American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences (AAFCS) is the only professional association dedicated to family and consumer sciences students and professionals. You know, that stuff we used to call Home Economics. Stop laughing. “Family and consumer sciences is the comprehensive body of skills, research, and knowledge that helps people make informed decisions about their well being, relationships, and resources to achieve optimal quality of life. The field represents many areas, including human development, personal and family finance, housing and interior design, food science, nutrition, and wellness, textiles and apparel, and consumer issues.” [logo and quote from]

AAFCS was founded by Ellen Swallow Richards, the first woman to graduate from MIT. AAFCS has designated her birthday, December 3rd, as their first annual Family & Consumer Sciences Day. The premise is simple – they just ask that families prepare and eat a healthy meal together on December 3rd.

So that’s what I’m suggesting — dine in tonight. Make a homemade meal. Even if all you do is boil up some (whole wheat) pasta and heat the sauce up in the microwave, be generous with the pre-shredded parm (I do). Maybe pour a glass of wine too? I’m hoping to make gumbo with the duck stock I made over the weekend. A little turkey kielbasa, some shrimp and fish and okra from the freezer — it’s pretty easy to pull together. But yes, we’ll feel like we are Dining In.