Fancy cocktail cherries

I’ve been meaning to blog stuff here for months, and failing each time. (Don’t worry; it’s because business is good!) But my pal Jen just started up a fun craft blog with her sister Lauren, and I couldn’t resist sharing this post about fancy cocktail cherries.

So adorable! Jen is already a much better food blogger than I've ever been, and this is her first food post.
So adorable with helpful labels and everything ! Jen is already a much better food blogger than I’ve ever been, and this is her first food post.

But if you’re not quite this crafty, don’t fret! I’ve been a hippie about maraschino cherries for ages, as corn syrup and red dye are on my Foodie Sneer List. These are two natural alternatives I’ve tried and loved. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m TOTALLY gonna try making my own in all three ways, but it’s nice to have a shoppable option too!)

Tillen Farms Maraschino Cherries

These are super-natural, with a nice firm consistency perfect for biting. They’re sweetened with real sugar and colored with beet juice, but there’s no beety flavor! They just taste like maraschino cherries only much better. They also keep the stems on them, so they may look or work better for some cocktail applications.

You can get them on Amazon, but I’ve also seen them at so many local hippie-ish grocery stores, in the cocktail section. They’ve got much nicer ingredients than a couple other purportedly-natural options, too!

ZerGüt Pitted Sour Cherries in Light Syrup

I was searching for the above Tillen cherries in my local non-hippie grocery store, and I wasn’t able to find them. But these weird suckers were in the imported food section, buried among ramen and Tapatío and matzoh mix. I LOVE the name, can I just say? ZerGüt. Zehr cute. :)

They’re sour but they have been soaking in truly light syrup for so long that they don’t taste very sour. However, they’ve also been sitting in syrup for so long that they kind of disintegrate if they’re remotely agitated, etc. Like, ice cubes will crush them. These are also dyed naturally, but the dye tends to kind of seep out of them and into whatever drink or dessert you put them in. Which is weird, since sour cherries are naturally red—it’s almost like their syrup bath causes the natural cherry pigment to leach out of them.

I think they work best to be muddled in drinks where you plan to muddle, or for single-cherry-on-top applications like sundaes.

 

Also, the jar won’t be this cute for long. Something about the threads just isn’t right, so that light syrup tends to leak and stain and drip and make everything sticky and maroon. If I were wise, I would have transferred these into a Tillen jar at some point, especially once I’d used up enough of them. (The ZerGüt jar is quite large!) Eventually I’ll get there, but you should just do it ahead of time now that I’ve warned you. :)

IMG_8577

 

And there you go! May your homemade cocktails never be ungarnished. What’s your favorite cherry?

On selecting satsumas

Satsumas on a tree.I’m obsessed with satsumas. Always have been. Every winter, I compulsively overdose to the point where the skin around my thumbnails is stained bright yellow-orange from the oils in the peel, and my teeth start to hurt from the sugar and acid. I’m an idiot. An idiot who LOVES her satsumas. And as such, I feel that I can speak from a place of authority about how to purchase optimal satsumas.

Satsumas, if you’re unfamiliar, are these amazing little tangerines, similar to the clementine and the mandarin but not quite identical to either. They are sweeter, tangier, softer-fleshed, softer-segmented, easier to peel, more seedless, and generally easier and more enjoyable to eat than any other variety of orange. To the point where I basically don’t eat oranges except from about November to about February, which is satsuma season in my part of the world.

The Wikipedia entry for satsumas contains the following text, which is bullshit:

The uniquely loose skin of the satsuma, however, means that any such bruising and damage to the fruit may not be immediately apparent upon the typical cursory visual inspection associated with assessing the quality of other fruits. In this regard, the satsuma might be categorised as a hit-and-miss citrus fruit; the loose skin particular to the fruit precluding the definitive measurement of its quality by sight and feel alone.

I am going to teach you how to perform miracles and avoid almost all shitty satsumas. Stay with me, citrus lovers.

1) Buy loose over boxed or bagged if you want the best success rate. This may seem obvious, but boxes can hide crappy, moldy, bruised fruit that will start rotting its neighbors sight unseen. If you do purchase a box or bag of satsumas, do your best to peek inside to see if you can spot any weird green or white ones, and unpack the box or bag immediately to quarantine the icky ones from the healthy ones. You can give them all a dip in warm water with a little vinegar to kill of any errant mold spores, but you’re gonna have to carefully dry them all because moisture is mold’s friend.

A box of bee sweet satsumas
Image source: Crochetbug

2) Smaller satsumas are sweeter and superior. (Just remember the handy mnemonic SSSSSS! I don’t know.) The tiny ones have more potent flavor and are generally much easier to peel. I find their texture to be more delicate, too. So it’s best to hand-select small ones that have the thinnest yet least blemished peels. (More below on blemishes.) If you must buy boxes or bags, look on the shorter side of the box, perpendicular to this image I was able to find online, haha. (Sorry! My store doesn’t have boxed ones so I couldn’t snap a real-life example.) There is a small rectangle where the packers should stamp the rough size category—Small, Medium, Large, or Jumbo. Smalls are really hard to find, but mediums are pretty prevalent and will yield a better box than any larger sizes.

A blemished satsuma.3) Closely inspect the peels. Wikipedia is correct that satsumas have much thinner skins than most orange-type fruits, and their peels are usually very loosely attached to the fruit. That’s what makes them so nice and easy to remove. But you CAN spot a damaged satsuma fairly easily from the peel if you know what to look and feel for. You just have to pay attention! (And be one of those annoying people who takes forever carefully selecting your fruit. Haste makes waste. Be a weirdo with me; I’ll keep you company.) Some signs of damage are more obvious, like this one; the spot is about the size of a penny (spread out weirdly) and is soft and brown. Ew. But any spot of any size that is brown or soft (sometimes accompanied by slightly lighter yellowing in the soft areas) is to be ignored. It may be only a tiny spot on the skin, but it can mean a greater rotted area inside. Similarly, black spots are almost always bad news, and of course white or green mold is no good. Because even the freshly transported supermarket displays can contain crappy satsumas, it pays to carefully inspect them and touch them all over their skin.

4) “Green on the peel, no big deal.” Or whatever. :) Generally, the green only develops on large sized thicker skinned satsumas, and large ones are usually avoided for inferior taste reasons anyway. But occasionally a thicker peel will develop on a smaller satsuma, and those are fine.

5) Air circulation preserves shelf life. Being crammed in a shipping crate together is part of what makes some satsumas go moldy; they seem to need to breathe. So for that reason they’re best stored loose-ish, in a bowl specially made for fruit (out of wire or something). I also like to put a cloth between them and the bars/edges of the bowl to cushion the little suckers. They WILL dry out pretty quickly since their skins are thin, but if you’re like me you’ll eat them fast enough that this won’t be an issue. (I suppose you could always try the lemon hack with them; I’ve never done that. I wouldn’t want to bite into a cold satsuma; that would hurt my teeth.)

6) Peeling them nicely brings good luck. Okay, not really, but it’s fun. I’ve always peeled mine in this kind of serpentine fashion in exactly one piece, ever since I was a kid. Dunno why. And another friend of mine always peels hers in a star-flower-like shape. We take pride in our peeling. What’s your peel shape? Send me a picture! (Not a rude one.)

Happy satsuma season!

Eat, pray, lunch

Ploughmanesque

I’m still just as bad at eating proper lunches as ever. I didn’t finally sit down to some non-trivial calories until 3 PM today. But, thankfully, I was able to assemble this semi-filling, semi-healthy lunchish platter. That’s rotisserie chicken, cornichons and olives, some delicious Dutch cheese, half a Landjäger sausage, and an organic apricot.

What I need is to figure out a way to incorporate more vegetables into this type of super-speedy thrown-together meal, ya know? Then I wouldn’t feel so bad about my spastic work-from-home eating habits!

Green(ish) smoothies

I’ve been working from home since January, trying to make a go of my online dating consultation business full time. (PLEASE send my info to your single friends if you think they could use a hand! Referrals are my number one source of business.) Working from home has SO many wonderful advantages, but I thought one would be that it would make me eat healthier. Boy, was I wrong!

I’m normally a very hungry person, and between boredom, stress, and I guess just timing at work, I’m always acutely aware of when it’s lunchtime at a normal office job. Sometimes I’d have a big project or be engrossed in a deadline and I wouldn’t eat until an unhealthily late hour, or I’d stay late well past a smart dinner time. But for the most part, I ate regularly at normal intervals that didn’t make my metabolism crazy.

At home, I’m a menace. Grant and I are sharing our car and attempting to stave off the purchase of a second vehicle until we have kids someday. So I’m sometimes driving him to work or to the bus stop, grabbing a latte, mocha, or chai, and then not consuming anything else for breakfast. And then I don’t realize it’s Food O’Clock until about 3 PM, when I’m DYING and my entire metabolism is screaming at me and I need to lie down and can’t imagine getting back to work because my blood sugar is crashing so hard. (I exaggerate a little, but not much; I’m an idiot who forgets to eat.) I don’t think this is one of those healthy things where I lose weight; I think my body goes into starvation mode and starts conserving anything that touches my lips as fat. So it’s not like I devised a brilliant breakfast-free stratagem here! I need to eat.

More and more, the thing I wind up eating to chill myself out is one of these:

Mmm mmm purpley goodness!

 

Yeah, that’s a “green” smoothie. Only yesterday’s is more like brownish-purple because I included lots of blueberries. In fact, all this contains is filtered water, ice cubes, two lemons, half a bunch of Italian (flat) parsley, and about half a cup of blueberries.

Here’s today’s, which was a third a bunch of Italian parsley, a few (five?) big leaves of green kale, a large Braeburn apple, and two small lemons, plus ice cubes and filtered water:

Frothy goodness!

One of my tips for making more nutritional smoothes is that you should generally blend up as much of the fibrous parts of veggies as you can, in addition to the part you’d normally eat. So for kale and parlsey, this means you don’t discard the stems (though you can trim the very end bits off if they’re scuzzy). And for lemons, you cut them like this:

IMG_3940

Actually, you can be even less aggressive than I was. I just accidentally cut through to the pulpy part, but an ideally butchered lemon would be opaque pale white with all zest removed but no juicy bits poking through if you know what I mean. I first learned of green smoothies from Green for Life by my mom’s pal Victoria Boutenko. Victoria posited that you could even eat leafy parts like carrot tops and other veggie greens that usually get discarded in our country. I’ve tried it but never with a proper blender, which makes a HUGE difference; so I can’t attest to the carrot top thing (nor the Carrot Top thing, if we’re honest) but I bet it’d be lovely.

Here are my prep tips for an awesome green smoothie that won’t gross you out:

  • Include ice cubes. Both in the blend and in the glass you drink from. I find that green smoothies are WAY less ick-inducing when they’re really cold! I also often use some frozen berries both for fiber and flavor, and they have the side benefit of chilling things down a bit.
  • Use a Vitamix. You just have to. You’ll never get truly smooth-ish smoothies with a regular blender. See if you can find a used one on Craigslist or at a yard sale; my mom did this for me and saved hundreds!
  • Add more water than you think you need. You may want to make your smoothie more concentrated, but more water makes it blend more easily and heck, it keeps you hydrated!
  • Don’t use powders/boosts/etc. Just don’t. There’s a place for that crap, but in my opinion it’s not in a smoothie like this. The ingredients in what I’m describing are so pure and healthy that they shouldn’t need a helping hand from some chalky powder that’s just going to diminish your final product.
  • Start on Low, wait until all the bulky bits have been grabbed and are starting to spin in the slushy form, and then kick it up to high. If you need to, use the blending stick to poke your produce through the hole in the lid (I KNOW; that’s what she said). Poke as much as necessary, but be careful because liquid can spew out around the poking stick once everything is blending properly. I don’t even want to hear the jokes that might come from this.
  • Consume rapidly, ideally within a couple hours. They get gross if you leave them, even refrigerated. And they start to taste really different and not in a good way.
  • Stir before you sip! I like to use these metal spoon straws, which are also excellent for many a melty dessert. (I definitely don’t just eat kale, after all!)
  • Rinse your equipment right after. Even our badass dishwasher can have trouble getting dried smoothie-blend-bits from the inside of our glasses, blender carafe, and reusable straws if I don’t stay on top of the rinsing. Which just looks super gross to the next person who uses that item. So be diligent!

I’ve been doing much better home-food-wise ever since I got back on the green smoothie train. I know they look scary, but I urge you to give them a try! Heck, come over and I’ll make you one. :)

A.M. Revelations at Brick House #4

J, while cutting up nectarine for breakfast: “Man, I hate when your nectarine doesn’t separate nicely or cut open nicely!”

Me: “Yeah, did I ever tell you that nectarines are crazy, and that there are like eight different varieties (clingstone or freestone, tasty or bland, different colors, yada yada) and that a given nectarine seed won’t necessarily produce nectarine of its own type, it’s just a crapshoot as to what variety you get?”

J:  “Yeah, I remember you telling me that, it’s crazy!”

J:  “… It’s kind of like children, though.  You don’t really know how they’re going to turn out either, you just have to wait and see what you wind up with!”

Rivers of Acidophilus

The other day (Friday, to be specific), I purchased a bottle of organic peach flavored kefir* from the Metro Market. Friday was April 21st. On Tuesday, I opened the bottle, tasted it, noticed it tasted funny, read the expiration date, and saw that it was April 10th. Yech.

So last night, I let the Metro folks know, and they gave me a free new bottle with a far-away expiration date, and all was as it should be.

Until this morning.

I shook the new bottle of kefir, opened the seal it and poured it, but I could tell from the look that I hadn’t shook it enough so I re-capped it and shook it again. Really. Hard. Cap pops off, bottle escapes from my hands, kefir explodes ALL over my kitchen. I whine at roommate who is busily working really hard under an incredibly stressful deadline to pretty please give me a hand. She being the awesome person she is helps while I whip off my yogurt-splattered outfit and change. I came back down and mopped up sticky peachy culturedness from all surfaces of my kitchen. My knees still smell like peaches.

What is it that kefir has against me? Maybe I really, really, really need to heed my naturopath’s urgings to go off of dairy entirely? But I really LIKE kefir! And until recently, I thought it liked me!

Anyway, I realize this story is kind of pointless. But in case anyone notices that I smell kind of fruity, well, I would’ve missed my bus if I did a better job of removing kefir from my legs, and let’s just say by now I find it nicely moisturizing. TGIF, folks.

*Kefir is a sorta hippie-ish, super-cultured yogurt-like substance that is usually a little runnier than yogurt. The brand I always buy is liquid. It is NOT, however, like one of those foul Dannon drinkable yogurt abominations, for the record.