With colds circulating and holiday stresses escalating, a little tea time is just what the doctor prescribed. Steal away from wrapping, from planning, from baking, from whatever chaos or sneezing…
It PAINS me to admit I have a Starbucks drink because it pains me to wait in line at Starbucks and listen to “half caff” and “macchiato” and “frappuccino,”- syrupy abominations I could stomach if the coffee weren’t so over roasted and unpalatable. Admittedly, I am what you call a coffee/coffeeshop snob. (Before you condemn me completely, I’m not alone in thinking their drinks are obnoxious.) I have principles and rules, and no matter how much I like it, I just can’t bring myself to revel in Starbuck’s stronghold on Tazo Chai unless I am:
- At an airport
- At a rest stop
I am neither of those right now.
But I am resourceful! My final nudge to satisfy my chai cravings with a homemade solution came after styling the “Big Batch” article for TABLE Magazine. The article, by Jessica Server, also featured recipes for making a big batch of soup and a pancake mix. High yield recipes not only simplify weeknight menu planning, but these consolidated efforts lend themselves to my passion- entertaining.
Stretching out these more intensive kitchen efforts yields more gatherings with less stress. Without having to start from scratch for each party, there’s more time to focus on other obsessive details without devolving into Mr. Hyde before guests arrive.
Homemade chai concentrate not only saves me from Starbucks, but this recipe offers more opportunities to welcome friends into my home. If a big batch of chai doesn’t inspire you to host a variety of gatherings, keep reading. I’ve thought about this for you.
Invite a friend over for some quality one-on-one time. Serve a pot of chai and delicacies from your favorite French bakery, or bake this apricot breakfast pastry. Make an even bigger pot of chai and warm a whole table of brunch guests with all the comforting spices. After dark, offer guests a chance to concoct their own gingerbread inspired cocktail with my favorite Snap liquor. For an even fuller bar, offer spiced rum and whiskey options too.
If I seem a tad obsessive about these “Big Batch” ideas, it’s partially because I am obsessive and partially because I spoke about them in front of a live audience! For a few more of my ideas on Big Batch entertaining and styling, check out this video from my spot on Pittsburgh Today Live with TABLE Magazine:
Chai Tea Concentrate for Lattes & Cocktails
Recipe adapted from the graphic food memoir Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
The “Whole Body” section at Whole Foods sees a significant spike in sales about 1-2 weeks into January. Can you guess why?
This is about the time a person realizes his or her symptoms are no longer the effects of a well celebrated New Year and are, in fact, the start of a cold or flu. Since all I was hitting on New Year’s Eve was tea (admittedly lame), I was faster to recognize the softball in my throat as an ailment and not the consequence of celebration.
“Hippy” inclinations aside, I’ve long thought cough medicine was a form of syrupy, grape TORTURE. Why add suffering on top of suffering? Instead, I turn to nature for remedies I actually want to drink.
Landing somewhere between a soothing vegetable broth and Tang (in a good way!), this herbal tea’s ingredients unfold as you sip- a hit of ginger here, a faint kick of garlic there, a tart pucker of lemon and the sweetness of raw honey.
Whether not there’s a softball in your throat, this tea is a healthy way to start the morning or sip while cozily escaping the winter just beyond your window.
Sip and be well!
Herbal Cough Suppressant with Lemon & Turmeric
Recipe from Bon Appétit
Yield: Makes about 8 cups
About This Recipe: Imagine a cross between broth and the Tang from your childhood, in a good way, and you have this homemade elixir. Smooth and flavorful enough to drink even when your throat is in tip-top shape. Be careful not to boil the tea. It will give you a cleaner flavor and be more nutrient-rich.
When a cold or flu sets in, time and traditions have taught me several remedies. I boil water. I juice lemons. Most recently, I add a dash of turmeric to everything, perhaps a swig of apple cider vinegar and a sweet spoonful of honey to help nature’s medicine go down in the most delightful way. However, when it comes to mending the pangs of a wounded heart, the prescriptions are not so tried and true.
I’ve mended the shattered pieces of my broken heart before. In a manner that often surprised me, I dug deep, surfacing a resolve I sometimes forget I have. I sought reinvention and reacquainted myself with my individualism. I sought solid ground and forged forward. I turned to yoga, cleansing foods or new projects to carry me through the murky waters of the wrong relationships. Yet for some reason, when it came to a failed friendship, I allowed myself to be kicked while I was down and to stay down.
Contrary to the guillotine-like finality of an amorous breakup, the conclusion of the wrong friendship can feel like cutting fabric with dull scissors. As my own threads frayed, I allowed little jabs to continue to hurt me, questioning how such a divide could form where a solid weave had been. Subconsciously, I assumed this form of heartbreak to be different, granting it more time, more generosity of spirit, more of my mind space. Then I had a divine intervention in the form of a dance floor and Destiny’s Child.
Now that you’re out of my life, I’m so much better
You thought that I’d be weak without you, but I’m stronger
You thought that I’d be broke without you, but I’m richer
You thought that I’d be sad without you, I laugh harder
Thought I wouldn’t grow without you, now I’m wiser
Thought that I’d be helpless without you, but I’m smarter…
…Wishing you the best
Pray that you are blessed
Bring much success, no stress, and lots of happiness
(I’m better than that)
The pop divas were presumably singing to ex-lovers, but it made me realize my failed friendship was really no different. Strung together in a sentence, that idea seems so simple, but discovering it felt like a grand epiphany! A friendship breakup is still a breakup. Whether your heart aches with failed love or failed friendship (or both), I challenge you to blare that song, dance as if a crowd of one million adoring fans is watching, and not feel more empowered. Impossible!
Even as those scantily clad, jungle-surviving, good “Christian” girls wield their independence in the form of handmade spears, they remind us to wish the best to those who hurt us. They also remind us to fill our proverbial dance floors with only the best of backups- “After of all of the darkness and sadness, soon comes happiness. If I surround my self with positive things, I’ll gain prosperity.” When it comes to mending your heart, you owe yourself this 2000s throwback. When it comes to mending your physical health, you owe yourself this sweet, tart, nourishing barley water.
Keep on survivin’!
Lemon & Honey Barley Water
About This Recipe: I discovered this traditional healing drink after the side effects of an antibiotic sent a family member to the hospital, and she needed natural relief for her symptoms. Barley is a whole grain rich in vitamin B-complex, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, selenium, zinc, copper, protein, amino acids, dietary fiber, beta-glucans and various antioxidants. You can reap the health benefits of this versatile grain not just by including it in your diet, but also by preparing this sweet and citrusy tea-like beverage. It’s an especially refreshing way to start the morning!
The commercial, food photographers, with whom I work as a food stylist, will look at the photos in this post and think I’ve lost my marbles. Combined, we are a grocery store’s pain in the ass. We nitpick and fondle every, single apple, or we unearth the only perfectly spherical orange from the bottom of the citrus pyramid. We fluff and sort through every, single leaf of arugula or cobble together our own spring mix with pops of color.
When we arrive at the checkout, we reluctantly pass the food items, from our gloved hands, to the cashier and plead with the bagger to cushion every item as if it were a premature newborn. The whole experience is ridiculous, to the say the least, but like a model sequestered in hair & makeup for hours, our grocery store process fulfills society’s accepted notions of beauty. The leafy greens pictured here, however, are more like the beauty you observe when your grandmother’s aged hands knead bread, or when a toddler hands you a bouquet of dandelions. They are not perfect, but they are beautiful.
They are beautiful because they represent the Urban Farmer’s constant care, his planning, his ideals, his dedication to the land and community. The greens surround the kohlrabi as it emerges from the ground like a purple spacecraft. Subjected to the hungry, tiny, menacing mouths of cabbage loopers and aphids, these leaves weren’t headed toward the cover of Bon Appétit by any means, but they were headed to the juicer, and fresh, nourishing juice first thing in the morning is a beautiful thing!
The motor roared, the boat rocketed up, and slammed down repeatedly, but he held the extended rope calmly, effortlessly. His single ski cut into the glassy surface, and the water sprung forth like a choreographed fountain. His lean legs bobbled ever so slightly before he jumped and defied the turbulent wake. The rope still seemed to hang loosely in his hands.
My brother made waterskiing look easy, too easy.
Summer after summer I had watched Shayne glide and jump over Lake Geoffrey like a pro. I was always content just to watch, but when I was fourteen, I finally had the urge to waterski. With most of my jitters focused on a fear of water snakes, I hadn’t processed how difficult gliding over water actually is. As the life jacket awkwardly hugged my scrawny frame, I floated in the water awaiting this reality.
Advanced beyond the use of double skis, my brother and friends had to scrounge two singles for me. The cobbled pair felt heavy and off-kilter, but the jet black boat with wild flames began to rev and roar. I gripped the rope with all my might, questioning this choice of mine. Too late. My legs and arms were pulled forward, but my core lagged. Far from impressive or graceful, I looked and felt like the boat was dragging me. Try as I might, I lost the rope and spiraled into the water. Fail.
Waterskiing was not easy, not at all.
Eventually, I learned to squat. I learned to use my quad muscles. I learned not to let the boat drag me and when to let go. Eventually, I was able to lap the lake without holding my breath anxiously, and I dare say, I even enjoyed it. I returned to Pennsylvania, my brother continued to dazzle all summer in Nebraska, and I haven’t stepped foot in a water ski ever since, but at least I tried it.
Taking my brother’s talent for granted, I had underestimated the difficulty level of waterskiing. Other obstacles in life follow the opposite course. We put off trying certain activities because we lump them into a “complicated” category. With all the fancy packaging and ever expanding shelf of nut milks, I had long lumped Almond Milk into the Why would I make that myself? category. As it turns out, making your own version is super simple and straightforward.
Homemade Vanilla Bean Almond Milk
About this Recipe: I originally set out to make almond milk because I was shocked at how many extra ingredients even the most expensive and “natural” brands contain. Making your own does require a few kitchen gadgets (food processor or blender and cheesecloth), but other than that, the process is simple and doesn’t require nearly as many almonds as one would expect. The result is a super natural almond milk without the unwanted extras. Be sure to save your almond pulp as I’ll be sharing a recipe for using it to make a wholesome chocolate treat.
Here’s to trying!
“Have you got into drinking shrub yet?” I asked, and I immediately regretted the “yet” lingering pretentiously in the air.
I backtracked and attempted to erase the unintentional hipster tone I had assumed, while proceeding into what felt like a Portlandia skit. I explained to my friend, “Shrub is a syrup or concentrate made with sugar, vinegar and fruit infusions. The traditional beverage dates to colonial times when it was used as a fruit preservation method.” Luckily, my friend was a good sport because the more I spoke, the more “do you know the name of the chicken I am eating?” I seemed.
On that note, let’s talk about a gathering of shrub nerds . . !
Sarah Walsh, owner of Caffe D’Amore Catering, is an avid shrub maker and drinker. She had the idea to bring other shrub nerds together for a tasting and friendly competition à la… a ShrubDown!
We gathered at Wigle Whiskey, where we received a proper welcome in the form of a cocktail containing peach shrub, early grey tea, honey and Aged Wigle Wheat Whiskey. Set against the backdrop of whiskey barrels, was the “shroda bar,” where we sampled shrub (mixed with soda water) from local enthusiasts including Blackberry Meadows farm, Wild Purveyors, the Butterjoint, the Livermore, and 1947 Tavern. After adequate sampling time, the competition began.
Bartenders from said establishments shook, stirred and mixed at the designated bar before submitting their concoctions to the panel of judges. One critique of the event was the judges were the only official taste testers of the cocktails, but it pays to be friends with a competitor’s girlfriend and catch some of the extra sips. It’s all who you know!
The panel of judges declared a first place tie- weak judging, says my competitive side, but congrats nonetheless to Abbie of the Livermore and Will of The Butterjoint on winning the first ever ShrubDown!
Good news for you local Pittsburgh shrub enthusiasts. There is another ShrubDown on the horizon! Mark your calendars for November 9th, and keep an eye open for more details. For you local and non-local shrub enthusiasts, here’s my own shrub recipe.
I made the pictured shrub from local mint, fresh strawberries and a red wine vinegar when strawberries were bursting with local flavor. Pardon my blogging delay, and I might suggest using a more seasonal fruit if you’re making this during the fall or winter. I made another variety with lemon, rosemary and apple cider vinegar, which was for the more seasoned shrub palate, as it was far more tart and acidic.