Sunday, December 29, 2013

Absolut power

If you have been following this blog, you are well aware of my obsession with all things pumpkin -- muffins, soupbread (as distinct from muffins), beer, curry (blogpost pending after many attempts to recreate the divine dish at Thai X-ing). Well, a few weeks ago my friend Amanda passed along a link for DIY pumpkin-infused vodka. Oh, my, yes.

One small kabocha squash from the farmers' market, some spices, a small bottle of Absolut, and a day later.... I will say that the original recipe called for canned pumpkin (boo!) and entirely too much nutmeg (hiss!). But the idea was there. So after a bit of tinkering with the second batch, I offer this improved recipe:

Pumpkin-infused vodka

  • ¾ cup water
  • ¾ cup raw turbinado sugar
  • 4 whole cloves
  • ½ tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg (the TBSP the original recipe called for was WAY too much)
  • 1 tsp powdered ginger
  • peel of one lemon (try to keep it in one long piece, which makes it easier to fish out later)
  • about 1 cup roasted, mashed pumpkin (I can’t bring myself to use the canned stuff)
  • 1 ½ cups vodka

DirectionsBring water to a boil over medium high heat in a small saucepan. Add the sugar and return to a boil, cooking until the sugar has completely dissolved.

Remove from heat and add cloves, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, lemon peel, and pumpkin. Return to stove and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Add vodka, and mix until completely combined.

Pour your fancy liqueur into a Mason jar and put in the refrigerator. Strain it (or don’t) before drinking.

My landlady liked a shot of the strained infusion with tonic water and lots of ice when we had a snow day recently. (No snow, incidentally, but classes were canceled and to be honest it was nice to have the morning off.) I prefer my pumpkin vodka with eggnog. To each her own. I will admit that eggnog is not always my thing. My take on glasses of eggnog is similar to my take on pastrami sandwiches: they should be consumed infrequently but enjoyed thoroughly. I'm significantly less strict about things containing pumpkin, however: the more the better.

Earlier this evening, after a bit of mulled wine and holiday punch and lots of tasty seasonal nibbles, I was in the mood for my annual bit of 'nog. Instead of the usual brandy for spiking it, though, I decided on some of my homemade pumpkin vodka, and I can tell you -- this is not the pumpkin vodka talking, really -- it may become a holiday tradition. I don't know why friends at this afternoon's apartment-warming gathering were stifling grins and refusing glasses of it. Have to get home soon? More for me, I guess. Better mix myself another to keep my spirits up as I proofread....

Monday, December 16, 2013

A bike lane is not a parking lane

Why is it, I ask you, that it is perfectly legal for every delivery truck on god's green earth to park in the bike lane? Why not, frequent stoppers, put on your flashers or live park in a driveway for your quick dropoff or pickup? They're just sitting there most of the time, unoccupied... unlike the bike lane you just parked in. Again.

Should I assume driveway blocking -- even for live parking purposes -- is categorically illegal? It's the only way I can explain this frequent and highly obnoxious (and somewhat dangerous) habit of cars and trucks parking in bike lanes. The only other explanation I can think of is that the vast majority of DC drivers are simply jerks.

I have been contemplating this quite often as the holiday season gets into full swing and everyone seems to be getting packages from UPS, FedEx, and all kinds of unmarked white vans that are parked right smack in the middle of the bike lane. And it's not just delivery trucks. Construction vehicles. Cadillacs. Taxis. What gives??

By my count -- and I've had plenty of time to gather data in recent weeks -- it's averaged out to two vehicles parked in a bike lane for every five blocks along my regular weekday commute from my place to Eastern Market, or once weekly trips up to Van Ness, or Sunday farmers' market shopping runs to Dupont, or, you know what, they are parking in bike lanes EVERYWHERE... and it's starting to make me a little cranky. At not even 36 (yet), I am too young to be getting this cantankerous.

So, if you're an automobile driver, please: I don't park in the car lanes, so I ask that you don't park in the bike lane. Scoot into a driveway or hug up next to the corner for a few minutes and let us chilled-to-the-bone cyclists get to where we're going (which is hopefully somewhere indoors) and not get hit on DC's narrow streets by aggressive drivers as we try to scoot around your double-parked self. Thanks!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Foodie stamps

Can you feed yourself on $30/week?

Zucchini latkes, made one summer with farmers' market eggs
 and yogurt, community garden zucchini, and homegrown chives.
Cost per serving @ $1.
    I did not take the official DC Hunger Solutions Food Stamp Challenge last week, but I've been there and so can attest that one can still eat well on not much money. It's odd being a self-proclaimed foodie while being not so far above the income bracket qualifying for food stamps these days, but it's not unheard of. Food education is important -- people tell me this on an almost daily basis -- but it doesn't pay that well. So in honor of the Food Stamp Challenge, I offer some ideas for ways to eat well when you don't have a lot to spend. Incidentally, these are tips that I often share with groups of low-income folks I work with here in our nation's capital:

    1. Learn to cook -- Not only will you enjoy the food more when you've had a hand in preparing it to your liking, but it's way less expensive than eating out. (And don't give me that "fast food is cheaper" line: you'll be paying for it in poor health and hospital bills later.) Plus, you will endear yourself to friends and family, and neighbors who smell the aromas coming from your kitchen.
    2. Go vegetarian -- Meat, especially sustainably-raised meat, is pricey. Lentils, black beans, cowpeas, chickpeas are your friends... and dry legumes are more nutritious and less expensive than their fresh, frozen, or canned brethren. Eggs are another good option. Need recipe ideas? Call me.
    3. Garden -- Grow some of your food. It's amazing what you can grow in a 4'x8' raised garden bed, or even a few pots on the porch, steps, or windowsill. And you may never have to pay $2.99 for a sprig of fresh herbs again. (Take that, Whole Paycheck!)
    4. Barter/workshare -- If you're new to gardening, you can learn by volunteering at a local farm or community/school garden, and the bonus is that folks often send you home with fresh goodies. (The free produce is limited in the winter, but spring, summer, and fall are bountiful in our region.)
    5. Learn to bake -- Flour is way cheaper than bread, and you can adjust the texture and ingredients to your taste. And there is the added bonus of killer triceps with all that kneading. Let me know if you want some sourdough starter.
    6. Drink less -- And have friends who are generous with their homebrew.
    7. Save your scraps -- Little odds and ends of things can be mixed together to make tasty soups, salads, stir-fries, and quiches. I've been saving bones and vegetable scraps in my freezer and making broth out of them for years, and my stocks for soups and stews are the tastier for it. (I also pack out my vegetable scraps for composting when I cook at friends' houses, but let's not get too crazy here. We can talk about composting another time.)
    8. Use your benefits wisely -- If you do qualify for food stamps, use them as much as possible at local farmers' markets that double (yes, you read that right, DOUBLE) the value of your food stamps. Your grocery store sure as heck doesn't double 'em, and the produce is so much fresher and healthier at the market. Even if you only spend $15/week at the farmers' market -- half of the allotted $30/week of the F.S.C. -- you'd get $30 worth of fruits, veggies, milk, eggs, and such at the market and still have $15/week left to spend on other stuff at the grocery store (orange juice, beans, rice, you name it).

    So that's my spiel. Whether or not you're on food stamps, I like to think that these tips might be helpful for those on a tight budget.

    Do you have other ideas for eating well for not a lot? I'd love to hear 'em.

    Sunday, December 8, 2013

    Holiday jewel scones

    Okay, I'll admit it: I've had baked goods on the brain more than usual these days. I think it started when I went on a self-imposed gluten fast for the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving (to see if gluten was the nefarious force behind my many months of back pain -- you never know), but it turned into a full-fledged craving after Kenton told me about the fancy tea he'd been to with his parents and aunt last weekend. Lemon tartlets, cucumber sandwiches, and the fluffiest, most decadent sounding scones... ohhhh... I wanted some.

    After three weeks of almost absolute gluten abstinence, I may have gone a little crazy this weekend. Puff pastries and lobster risotto and cookies at Kenton's holiday office party last night. Pizza for lunch today -- though to my credit I did halve the regular whole wheat flour with some (gluten-free) rice flour. And I couldn't resist cranking out a batch of scones using some of the fresh pomegranate seeds dad gave me during my visit to Northern Virginia yesterday afternoon. I mean, I haven't made scones since the summer. It was time. And, boy, were they good. You'd never guess that they're actually pretty healthy, too.

    Pomegranate and almond scones
    makes 8 large scones
    (Thanks to budgetgourmetmom for the general recipe idea, but especially the tip on grating butter, which allowed me to get the butter mixed in quickly, before my hands warmed it too much -- genius!)

    • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
    • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1/3 cup raw sugar
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 8 tablespoons butter, cold
    • 1-2 handfuls pomegranate seeds
    • 1 handful slivered almonds
    • a bit less than half a pint (6 ounces or so) of plain, lowfat Greek yogurt
    • 1 large egg
    • zest from 1 orange
    • splash of vanilla (1/2 teaspoon?)
    • 1 egg white
    • sugar for dusting


    1. Preheat oven to 400°
    2. In a medium bowl mix together the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
    3. Grate the butter into the flour mixture using the large holes on the grater. Use your fingers to work the butter into the flour until it resembles a course meal.
    4. Stir in the pomegranate seeds and almonds.
    5. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, egg, orange zest, and vanilla. 
    6. Add yogurt mixture to the flour mixture. Use a fork to stir it until dough clumps form. Continue to press the dough together with your hands, but don't overwork it. (I don't purport to make scones as well as the ladies at The Rosemary House, but that is one of the big lessons I learned while baking there: don't manhandle the dough!)
    7. Place dough on a lightly floured surface, press into a 7 to 8 inch circle, and cut into 8 triangles. Brush tops with egg white, then sprinkle with sugar.
    8. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 15 minutes or so. Cool on a wire rack and then either devour (or freeze so you have some to share with others).

    So far so good on the back pain after the 24 hour gluten extravaganza. Maybe its the post-scone-number-two delirium, but now that I look a little more closely, I can see what dad means about the pomegranate seeds looking very festive, like Christmas lights. As we move into holiday season, I wouldn't be surprised if I make these baked wonders again. Especially if dad takes care of the laborious seed removal process again, heheh.