Honey simple syrup

Last week at the lake, where cocktail hour acceptably starts around noon, I watched with sadness as my husband and friends popped open local craft beers to drink with lunch. Or when the margarita pitcher passed me by during that pre-dinner guacamole hour, the salted rims of glasses sparkling jewel-like, causing a Pavlovian mouth-watering.

Uncorking that bottle of rosé to eat with my guac just wasn’t doing it for me.

When you are grain-and-sugar-free, you can’t drink beer. Or mixed drinks. The only alcohol that’s acceptable on the GAPS diet is dry wine, and that in limited amounts (*see note below).

In a move of desperation, I decided to make myself a wine cocktail. I had brought along some sparkling water, and cranberry concentrate, and realized I needed a sweetener. Sugar is out, and I’ve made the mistake before of pouring honey into a cold drink (it sticks like candy to the stirring spoon, refusing to dissolve in icy waters). So in a moment of desperate brilliance, I whipped up a simple syrup using honey instead of sugar. It worked beautifully — after refrigeration the syrup was cold and pourable, ready to add to my cocktail of choice.

If only my concoction hadn’t tasted like a back-woods version of Bartles & James.

But even though my cocktail was undrinkable (the rosé and guac started to taste a lot better together), I drove home with honey simple syrup in our cooler. And have since thought of more delightful uses for it (for the GAPS or sugar-free-inclined):

  • homemade “soda” (sparkling water, unsweetened cranberry or cherry concentrate, honey simple syrup)
  • iced coffee (cold decaf coffee, coconut or almond milk, honey simple syrup)
  • iced herbal tea (cold herbal tea, honey simple syrup)

And while cocktail hour won’t currently be improved (if the best things come to those who wait, I’ll be having the world’s most epic beer and margarita sometime later this year or early next), an afternoon pick-me-up of homemade cherry soda over ice is just the thing to get me through our own pre-dinner hour, at home, no guac, in a hot summer kitchen.

* newsflash: after the original posting, a concerned reader emailed to tell me that tequila, being grain-free, should be fine. A little research showed that it’s TRUE — small amounts of pure tequila are allowable on the GAPS diet! I see a margarita with tequila, fresh lime juice, and honey simple syrup in my future. Thanks, Belinda!

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Recipe: Honey Simple Syrup

Ingredients

  • equal parts honey and water, any amount

Instructions

  1. Combine honey and water in a saucepan. Warm over medium-low heat, stirring, until honey dissolves completely (no need to simmer).
  2. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Pour into a glass jar, and store in the refrigerator. Keeps for a really long time.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

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This post was linked to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.

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Relaxing

I had a nightmare last night — you likely know the flavor: I was back in undergraduate school, standing in the office of the art department. Trying to explain to the department head my predicament: I had forgotten about two of my classes for an entire semester, and finals were starting the next day.

This classic anxiety dream has nothing to do with anything but the fact that today I started life again, after a lovely 5-day respite. We went with friends to their house at Lake Michigan, joining mutual friends from North Carolina whom we’ve not seen together in years. In short, it was so lovely, in that delightfully relaxing way you can be with old friends, that my subconscious then equated re-entry into normal life with a blind-taking of college finals.

We did a lot of this:

All of those meals, so low-key, no-stress, without pretense, and remarkably, even shockingly, tasty. I had my very first bite of deep-fried asparagus, I’m told a local specialty, and completely addictive (in case you’re wondering, yes, I cheated).

And also my first beer-can chicken.

(Sorry for the blur there, my hands were shaking at the prospect of having a Bud Light can on my blog. Here’s a better one:)

Cheap beer or not, this was hands-down the best chicken I’ve ever had. No joke. It rocked my poultry world (though I refuse to admit that the Bud Light had anything to do with that, other than provide moisture).

To balance out the alcohol universe, we drank some really. Good. Wine.

In case the parents were too close to having all the fun, my kids got to have their own version of vacation treats: canned whipped cream, hosed in copious amounts (with my maternal hands tied behind my back) on top of a warm strawberry-rhubarb pie.

(No, the wine was not hers — she chose the canned whipped cream instead. Silly, silly girl.)

Not to mention s’more-making:

We nibbled on smoked meats and cheeses, imported from our beloved local shop.

And speaking of smoked, we did that to a pork butt and some lamb.

Some of us smoked other things too.

And when dinner was over, we caught the sunset from the top of a dune. A few of us caught air as well.

Final verdict? Totally worth a panicky discussion in the art department office during the wee hours of this morning.

 

Breakfast: marinated asparagus & a five-minute egg

It’s safe to say that breakfast has had a regime change in my world.

My old routine, for something like 10 years:

  1. wake up.
  2. drink coffee, with half-n-half.
    (you might correctly notice that nothing happened between points 1 & 2 — it was a seamless transition that needed to occur as soon as possible after consciousness. also, a confession: I might have been guilty, for 10 years, of faking sleep so that my husband would give up, get out of bed, and make the coffee. the coffee which he roasted from green beans. can someone please tell me why my husband bothers to stay around?)
  3. sometime later, maybe 9-ish, have a bowl of homemade granola and milk.

A perfect setup that I never tired of in a decade, until last summer when all of a sudden I no longer wanted granola. And then, in a related move, I went grain-free. And simultaneously (begrudgingly) decided that caffeine is something that — if I look myself in the eye and speak the truth — is best for me to avoid.

I had no idea what to do with myself in the mornings.

Until I started the GAPS intro diet, back in January, and began a few new habits. Now my mornings look something like this:

  1. wake up.
  2. drink a glass of water.
  3. about half an hour later, drink fresh juice (carrot, celery, apple, ginger, etc.)
  4. around 10 or 11, eat a “brunch” that involves at least 2 eggs. could be scrambled with veggies, could be poached, could be fried — whatever I fancy.

Of those egg options, my favorite is poached. A runny yolk, a firm white, void of fried crunchy edges (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But I don’t always want to bother with poaching — the splash of vinegar, the vortex-creating, the watching — sometimes it’s more than I can handle on a busy morning. So lately I’ve replaced it with a good ol’ five-minute egg. Soft-boiled, still runny in the middle if you cool it quickly.

A couple weeks ago I picked up some purple asparagus at the Broad Ripple Farmer’s Market — the stalks were thick, but it was too pretty a color to pass up. It ended up marinated (boiled and then tossed with a simple vinaigrette), and one morning I grabbed a handful cold from the fridge and plopped two 5-minute eggs on top of it. A few cracks of black pepper, a good sprinkling of salt, and I had myself a fancy breakfast.

And then had it again the next day, and then again the next.

Slightly-warm eggs over the cold tangy asparagus, with a few leaves of thyme and a sprinkling of seeds over top. It’s safe to say a new breakfast is in town.

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Recipe: Cold Marinated Asparagus

: 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pound asparagus
  • salt
  • 1 Tbsp cider or wine vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Snap off tough ends of asparagus, or peel the thick bottoms of the spears to allow for uniform width all the way down the stalk. If you have some kitchen twine, tie the asparagus in a bundle — it makes for easier removal from the water (this is optional).
  2. In a pot large enough to hold the asparagus lying on its side, bring 3-4 quarts water to a boil. Add 1 Tbsp salt, and the asparagus spears. Return water quickly to a boil.
  3. Once water returns to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 8-10 minutes or until spears are tender but not mushy (I usually start checking the spears after 6 minutes).
  4. Remove spears with a slotted spoon or tongs, and spread on a clean kitchen towel to cool quickly.
  5. Meanwhile, make vinaigrette: combine vinegar, olive oil, mustard, and salt in a small jar. Cover tightly with the lid and shake to emulsify.
  6. Once asparagus has cooled to room temperature, transfer to a container and drizzle entire bottle of dressing over the top. Toss to combine. Taste for seasoning — may be served immediately or stored 2-3 days in the refrigerator, eaten cold.

Recipe: Five-minute Egg

Ingredients

  • as many eggs as you’d like to serve

Instructions

  1. Bring a pot of water large enough to hold your eggs to a boil. Gently lower eggs into boiling water — once water returns to a boil, reduce to a low simmer and cook for exactly five minutes.
  2. While eggs cook, fill a bowl with ice water.
  3. After five minutes, remove eggs from boiling water and plunge quickly into ice water. Let cool for about 5 minutes (longer if you prefer cooler eggs).
  4. Peel and eat immediately, perhaps over marinated asparagus.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

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This post was linked up to the Seasonal Recipe Roundup: Asparagus at GNOWFGLINS.

Tip Tuesday, no. 2

cut avocado

This is an unusual Tip Tuesday, since the premise of doing the series was that I’d post when a Monday had come and gone and life (and therefore blog) had gotten away from me. But I posted yesterday. No, this atypical Tip post stems from a nightmare I had last night, about stringy avocados.

I wish I was joking — I dreamt that I was being forced to eat them. I woke up gagging.

There aren’t many things in this culinary world more disappointing than a stringy avocado. It’s the waste. The realization of missed golden opportunity. The knowledge of what could have been.

For years I wrestled in anguish over knowing when to cut an avocado. Since I hated the strings, which tend to happen when over-ripe, I very often cut too soon, leaving me with an inedible rock. The fruit was black, soft to the touch, HOW WAS I TO KNOW IT WASN’T READY.

Then a couple months ago, I read that when an avocado is ripe, the tiny stem end will flick off easily. And since then I’ve not once cut into an under-ripe avocado.

I’ve still cut into stringy ones — mainly because I just let them go too long, as is demonstrated by the two shriveled specimens on my current counter, likely the inspirations for my subconscious early-morning terror.

So today’s tip: you know an avocado is ready when the stem nub flicks easily off with a finger. Cut at will, and fear the string no more.

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In other news, I’m guest-posting over at the Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking blog today! Take a jaunt over to Kate’s place, and read all about my Culture Club mini-food swap group here in Indy, where we swapped homemade cultured foods on a weekly basis. Our group is on a break now, but for over a year it was one of the best things that happened to my kitchen.

Chickens -n- cherries. Not together.

Big news at the Carter house: we’re getting chickens.

Isn’t that just so femivore of me?

All we need is the coop. Which usually runs a few hundred bucks, even if you’re building it yourself.

But thankfully, my husband is a cheap and resourceful man (really sexy traits — and I’m not even joking — when we started dating a dozen years ago). He found out that BigCar, a local arts collective, is unloading quantities of industrial shelving from an old auto-parts store that’s now the Service Center for Contemporary Culture to people who have a specific project in mind for up-cycling. He figured it would make great framing for our chicken coop, and hey, it’s free.

So here’s a shot of the beginning stages of our coop (via an Instagram from last week):

The top part will end up with plywood and siding, and the whole thing will be wrapped in chicken wire (bottom too, as predators like to dig under coops to get to the chickens), and they’ll have an enclosed run that’ll extend about 15 feet. My favorite part is the ladder they’ll walk to get into their house, which is ready-made from a steel auto-parts shelf.

His prediction is that the whole project will cost him about $70. That man, I tell you. Be still my beating heart. More pics of the progress will come.

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In other news, it’s cherry season! Only about 3 weeks early!

I had my first-ever experience of cherry-picking a couple years ago, when my friend Shannon discovered a sour cherry tree in her new yard. We picked like mad, probably after the cherries were a little over-ripe, fighting against birds and worms and gravity to get the largest harvest we could. Last year the tree was dormant and produced no fruit — so we were eager last month when fruit began to appear. Because of the crazy-mild spring in Indiana, the cherries are very early, and I was shocked to get the call last week that they’d likely be ready within days. I picked this afternoon, with Shannon, her girls, and Emily:

Don’t we look gloriously happy to be picking cherries? I think it looks like an ad for some sort of pharmaceutical that has nothing to do with cherries. In reality, one of us had undoubtedly said something unbearably funny, since we are just those kind of girls who say unbearably funny things with every exhale.

And if I’m smiling, then what you can’t see is the fear in my eyes: that rung was as high as I was willing to go on the ladder. And every so often I’d look down and wonder what it would feel like to not just fall, but fall through the limbs of a cherry tree, scraping  exposed skin along the way, to the hard ground below. The smile was all a nervous facade.

There is a reason someone invented a cherry picker. A person-sized bucket with sides & hydraulics sounds like the way to go.

But all that living-dangerously did paid off with a quart & a half of cherries. And don’t think I won’t be out there again in coming days — dropping necessary activities for more opportunities to take my chances on a ladder in a (relatively short) tree.

Sweet & tart ginger-rhubarb jam (small batch)

chopped rhubarb in pot

Yesterday was a long day in my kitchen, but not one of those blissful, satisfying days where nightfall leaves you with a beautiful layer cake, or a cleaned-out pantry, or 30 sealed jars of something preserved. It was one of those days that happens, one where you’re really just getting caught-up, doing the un-sexy things that simply need to get done (hello, stock-making!), and scattered in there are a couple of botched experiments. By nightfall, after washing the 100th dish, it’s hard not to loathe the very sight of your kitchen.

Everybody has those days, right?

One of my failed experiments wasn’t a total bust — just a disappointment and therefore a lesson learned (optimism! it can be mustered!). I picked up a pound of rhubarb at the Broad Ripple Farmer’s Market last weekend, with hopes of making my first jam of the season — one that skips the sugar. You’d think that the whole no-sugar thing would be the challenge — but the recipe actually came together quite nicely.

It was the aesthetic realm in which I missed the boat. My rhubarb was mostly green, with just a couple inches of bright red at the very bottom of the stalk. I became concerned when I chopped it all up and noticed I had a pot-full of green. And then, when I cooked it, while the flavor was sweet-tart and punchy, the essence of coming summer, the color was a chilly autumn day.

rhubarb jam

I realized very quickly why rhubarb is often paired with strawberries: it’s not only for their sweetness, it’s for their color. When I think rhubarb, I expect pink. When I look at this jar of jam, my tastebuds expect something different, something maybe pear.

But, as is usually the case, we’ll eat it. And enjoy it. And make a note to try and buy the mostly-red rhubarb next time (or add a least a small amount of bright-red berries to punch up the color — this recipe utilizes this trick!).

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Recipe: Ginger-Rhubarb Jam (small batch, refined-sweetener-free)

: makes about 3/4 pint

Rhubarb is low in pectin, so while this jam with thicken up with cooking & cooling, it won’t set up  like a commercial jam. Feel free to add a little pectin to attain a thicker texture.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2″ pieces (a heavy four cups, chopped)
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tsp grated or minced fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup mild honey (can sub sugar)
  • pinch ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Place the rhubarb in a medium non-reactive saucepan and add the salt. Over medium heat, cook, stirring occasionally, until juices begin to release (about 5 minutes).
  2. Add the ginger, cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is very soft and falling apart (10-15 minutes).
  3. Add the honey and cinnamon, and cook uncovered, mashing up big chunks with a fork. Cook an additional 5-10 minutes, or until thickened to desired consistency (it will thicken a bit once cooled).
  4. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Let cool completely before transferring to a clean jar and storing covered in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks (freeze for up to a year).

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

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Avocado popsicles

I have a story coming out in this week’s NUVO, about a new food cart in town that sells handmade popsicles (I love this company, by the way — they are making really amazing popsicles, use recyclable materials and are conscientious about giving back to the community — if you live in Indy and run across their cute retro-styled bicycle cart, give your support!).

They have a list of interesting, not-your-run-of-the-mill flavors, and one of them was avocado. When I saw it, I was immediately reminded of the avocado ice cream from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop — I made it a couple years ago, and then turned it into an avocado licuado con leche (Español for avocado milkshake) — resulting in an amazingly creamy and delightful summer drink. I immediately had in mind to figure out my own honey-sweetened version of an avocado pop.

I had a few duds before I found a winner. The losers all included dairy — I started with David’s ice cream recipe, which includes sour cream, and replaced it with yogurt. But it was a bit muddy in flavor, so I ended up ditching the milk and keeping it simple — just the avocado, honey, water, and lime juice. I love the results — very creamy, not-too-sweet, and a perfect refreshing and healthy afternoon treat.

Full disclaimer: this flavor is unusual. The avocado is very present, and I can see how it could mess with your head a little, being cold and sweet. These are not a favorite for my kids, they eat them about half the time, and the other half turn up their noses — but that’s fine by me, since it means a four-pack of pops lasts me more than just one afternoon.

If you’re looking for more homemade popsicle recipes, check these out:
Raspberry Sherbet Popsicles
Mango Popsicles
Chocolate-Coconut Popsicles

 

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Recipe: Avocado Popsicles

: makes about 4 pops, depending on mold size

Ingredients

  • one ripe avocado, cut in half and pitted
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup mild honey (can sub sugar)
  • 1/2 cup water

Instructions

  1. Scoop the flesh out of the avocado into a blender. Add remaining ingredients and blend until very smooth.
  2. Spoon thick puree into popsicle molds. Freeze until firm. Run molds under cool water to easily loosen pops from molds.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

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This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.