BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Take a Trip Down Candy Cane Lane

Crisp and clean, an invigorating icy sensation greets me right as the sun begins to awake from its slumber on this early December morning. No, it’s not a fluke snow storm visiting California for the first time in years, but a wintry treat hailing from the warmth of the kitchen.

While the threat of actual flurries strikes fear into my heat-seeking heart, the oral chill of peppermint is an entirely different story. Be it pungent and herbaceous or smooth and subtle, I can’t get enough of the flavor, particularly when Christmas rolls around with an endless supply of candy canes around every corner. Those brittle sticks of red and white striped sugar are never going to inspire a frenzied Instagram fad like some popular seasonal sweets, but they’ll always be an essential element of the holiday season.

It’s never too early to get into the spirit, so a light, bright, candy cane smoothie is just the ticket, no matter what the weather is outside!

Pairing up bananas and mint together may sound like disastrous blind date, but hear me out on this one. In their unripe state, those tropical fruits merely lend creaminess and body to the blend, without any discordant flavor. Mint is powerful enough to speak above the subtle undertones anyhow, so all you’ll get is pure, bright, peppermint power with every sip. With this fool-proof formula, there’s no reason why you can’t make every day a holiday.

Candy Cane Lane Smoothie

3 Small Unripe Bananas, Frozen
2 Tablespoons Vanilla Protein Powder
1 Cup Non-Dairy Milk
1 – 2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup or Light Agave Nectar
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Peppermint Extract
1 Tablespoon Beet Powder

Toss the frozen bananas, protein powder, non-dairy milk, 1 tablespoon syrup, and 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract into your blender. Puree until perfectly smooth, taste, and adjust sweetness and minty-ness to taste, as needed.

Pour half of the mixture into a separate pitcher and set aside. Add the beet powder to the blender and puree to incorporate.

Layer the two colors into a glass to create red and white stripes, gently stirring just before serving for a slightly marbleized effect. Add a straw and drink in that refreshing wintry goodness!

Makes 1 Serving

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Another Nod to Nog

In case nine different nog options weren’t enough for you, I’ve got one more eggless trick up my sleeve this holiday season. Recipes for vegan eggnog abound, from raw, nut-based blends to cooked custards that approximate melted ice cream, and all of those approaches are welcome in my punch bowl. You can’t go too far wrong with this classic combination of sugar and spice. Even in the worst case situations, a certain “spirited” addition can erase all other culinary sins.

Truth be told, this particular formula still can’t hold a candle to my winning pick for this year’s Nog Off, but it’s an uncanny dupe for the majority of mainstream varieties. Thick and silky smooth just like the commercial formulas, this particular rendition brings more vanilla and nutmeg to the fore, without the excessive sweetness that so many brands inject.

It’s all because of an effort to clear out overstuffed kitchen cabinets that I stumbled upon leftover dregs of VeganEgg samples. Surprised to discover that no one else had yet turned this instant egg substitute into nog, I took it upon myself to fill that void. Thus, here’s one more decadent, delicious vegan nog to sip and savor this holiday season. You’re welcome, internet.

VeganEgg Nog

3/4 Cup Cold Water
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons VeganEgg
1/8 Teaspoon Kala Namak
3 1/2 Cups Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Bourbon, or Additional Non-Dairy Milk for an Alcohol-Free Option

To Serve (Optional):

Whipped Coconut Cream
Ground Nutmeg

 

Place the water and sugar in your blender first and start the machine up on low speed. While the motor runs, slowly sprinkle the powdered VeganEgg into the center of the liquid vortex. It’s essential that you do this in a blender and not by hand with a whisk, as it will clump and become a nasty, chunky, unsalvageable mess. That’s no way to get into the holiday spirit!

Continue processing while adding the kala namak, non-dairy milk, and nutmeg. Once smooth, transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan set over moderate heat on your stove. Bring to a boil, whisking periodically, and immediately turn off the heat. Let cool before placing in the fridge. It may look somewhat thin while still warm, but have faith; it will continue to thicken as it cools. Allow at least 2 – 3 hours for it to chill thoroughly.

Pour the nog back into the blender and add the vanilla and bourbon, or more non-dairy milk if you’d like to keep it non-alcoholic. Blend once more until creamy and ladle into glasses. To serve, top with whipped coconut cream and one last sprinkle of nutmeg. Cheers!

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

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Mary Me

How one of the most beloved brunch pairings ever became associated with a murderous ex-queen of England is beyond me. Countless were condemned to an early death under the rule of Queen Mary I, leaving her with few friends to raise a glass with. Complicating matters is the fact that the tomato and vodka mixer didn’t appear anywhere in history until the 1930s when vodka began to flow from Russia following the second world war, many centuries after her own demise. Numerous early mixologists claim to have invented the original cocktail, and just as many stories behind the gruesome name exist- None particularly compelling. Attempts at uncovering the truth end up looking about as murky and opaque as the drink itself.

No one needs help understanding the modern Bloody Mary, on the other hand. Instantly recognizable and ubiquitous across the globe, you can rest assured that if there are spirits on the menu, the bartender can undoubtedly fix you the bold red brew. Like pizza and sex, even the bad ones are pretty good.

That all said, there’s no reason to settle for sufficiency or fall into a boring routine. Though incredible simple in composition, each separate component can be tweaked to yield a brave new blend.

Vegetable Juice: Tomato will always reign supreme and for good reason. Naturally balanced with the delicate nuances of savory, salty, sweet, and sour, it’s tough to beat such a carefully calibrated blend. Tradition shouldn’t put a damper on your creativity though; there’s plenty of room for a fresh perspective, and this foundation ingredient is where you’ll make the biggest impact. Shake things up, with or without a proper cocktail shaker, by looking farther afield. Either solo or in concert with pure tomato juice, consider carrot, celery, tomatillo, or beet.

Alcohol: While generally mild spirits that play well with others are your best bets here, more robust beverages can become a more prominent piece of the puzzle, defining the character of the drink. Vodka or sake are your best bets for simplicity, and tequila or gin can provide a refreshing change of pace. You could even turn it into more of a spritzer or cooler with champagne or dry white wine. For a virgin drink, use still or sparkling water.

Acid: Bright, astringent notes are essential for lightening the overall mix, delivered via citrus or vinegar. Lemon juice, lime juice, rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or balsamic vinegar are all excellent options.

Umami Sauce: For lack of a better title, this is your secret weapon; the component that most people will overlook but miss sorely if it doesn’t make the final cut. Vegan Worcestershire, store-bought or homemade, is the default option, but you should definitely consider soy sauce, coconut aminos, or vegemite/marmite for the job, too.

Spice: Heat preferences are highly subjective so dial it up or down according to taste, taking the potency of your selection into account. Add a touch of warmth or a blazing inferno with horseradish, Tabasco sauce, sriracha, wasabi paste, crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, or paprika.

Salt: Salt is salt, right? Not so fast. Seasoned salt can jazz things up, and celery salt could lend an extra vegetal zest. Smoked salt is also fabulous for adding another layer of depth and meaty aroma.

Garnishes: If it fits in or on a glass, it’s a valid garnish option. The sky is truly the limit (just take a cursory look through Google Images if you think that’s an exaggeration) but classic, mostly highly recommended options include: coarse salt rim, celery stalks, pickled okra, jalapeno, or green beans, lemon wedge, cucumber spears, asparagus stalks, olives, or sliced radishes.

With these suggestions in mind, select your favorites and follow the Basic Bloody Mary Blueprint:

1/2 Cup Vegetable Juice
1/4 Cup Alcohol
2 Teaspoons Acid
1/2 Teaspoon Umami Sauce
1/8 – 1/2 Teaspoon Spice
Pinch Salt
Pinch Ground Black Pepper
Ice (Optional)
Garnishes (Optional)

Mix everything up, adjusting individual components to taste. Serve over ice (or don’t) and garnish as desired (or don’t.) You really can’t mess this one up, I promise.

Makes 1 Drink

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Wave of the Future

If you can blend it, you can milk it. Once defined and dominated by soybeans alone, the very nature of non-dairy drinks is hotly debated by enthusiasts and detractors alike, struggling to find commonalities that might link that vast array of plant-based sources crowding out the antiquated plastic jugs of cow juice. It’s not just the sales figures that are booming, but the unparalleled variety and access that consumers can now enjoy, just as easily opting for an almond, hemp, or oat mustache instead. New blends are still popping up rapidly, before you can even empty your first frothy glass. Now, along with those nutty and beany staples, the lactose intolerant can stock their fridges with banana milk.

Banana Wave presents itself as a game changer seeking to disrupt the industry, but the whole truth is less likely to make real waves. Built upon a foundation of bananas, soymilk, and gluten-free oats, in that order, it’s more like a thin blended smoothie than a true dairy substitute, bearing a viscosity similar to a simple protein shake.

Surprisingly subdued in flavor, the initial impact was less sweet and potent than anticipated, perhaps to placate drinkers that might not be entirely on board with a fruity intrusion. Flax oil, though a welcome change of pace from lower quality canola or safflower, contributes a discordant note and slightly mineral aftertaste. An impressive battery of vitamins and minerals bolster the nutritional profile, proving that it has more to offer than the average watery mammalian formula. Undeniably smooth and creamy, it certain still has its charm. I could see this being a great grab-and-go snack, if only it was packaged in single-serving cartons. Overall, it’s a great concept that hasn’t yet realized its own full potential. I’m looking forward to the day when I see Banana Wave on the shelf, right alongside the heavyweights battling it out for non-dairy dominance, but I don’t think it’s quite ready to roll with the punches just yet.


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Beeting the Odds

To everyone who survived 2016 in more or less one piece: You deserve a drink. Each passing year seems especially intense right as we prepare for the next, the most news-worthy events still fresh, stinging wounds that have yet to heal. It’s the immediacy, the fact that we’re still so close to it all, that each lurid detail snaps to mind with painful clarity. That said, this one struck me as a particularly difficult slog, through all the losses, ugly politics, and general malaise that the entire world is still struggling to overcome.

Impossibly, inexplicably, some facets of these tragedies give me hope. The worst can also bring out the best in people, and I’ve seen some incredible acts of kindness, courage, and inspiration as a result. There’s still so much to celebrate, and I sure as hell am not going to let anyone stop me from moving forward with optimism, no matter the situation. The key here is community, supporting one another in the darkest of days, which is why my festive drink of the season is one made for a crowd.

Beets sound like a terrible idea for a cocktail, granted, but their natural sweetness and mellow earthy flavors ground the mixture in a comforting, satisfying way. Brighter citrus flavors lift up the taste buds, singing with unexpected harmony, elevated by the effervescence of champagne. The essential inspiration for the combination came from Stirrings, in the form of a challenge to use their mixers in new and innovative ways. This is my entry into the contest, and I’m looking forward to raising a glass with all of the other celebratory entries sure to come. You can keep up with them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Stirrings can be found at Bevmo, Total Wines & More, Draegers, Mollie Stones, Hi Time Liquors, Pacific Ranch Market, Daniels Market, and Bristol Farms stores.

In the face of these challenges and unresolved, unsettling cliffhangers, I turn to 2017 and say: Bring it on. Do your worst. If we could manage this past year, we can tackle anything. So join me in raising a glass to celebrate the successes and failures alike, to move forward to a brighter New Year. After all, I have faith that with such perspective underneath our belts, it can only get better from here.

Beet to the Punch

1 Cup Stirrings Lemon Drop Cocktail Mix
3/4 Cup Golden Beet Juice*
2/3 Cup Orange Liqueur
3 Cups Hard Apple Cider
3 Cups Champagne or Sparkling White Wine
Spiralized Golden Beets, to Garnish (Optional)

*To make the beet juice without a juicer, start with at least 2 cups of raw, peeled golden beets. Chop them roughly and place them in a high-speed blender with just enough water to allow the blades to spin freely. Puree completely, until entirely smooth. Pass the resulting blend through a very fine-mesh sieve or nutmilk bag and extract as much liquid as possible. Discard or reserve the pulp for another use.

Combine all the ingredients in a large punch bowl with a ladle for guests to help themselves. Serve over ice. Garnish individual glasses with spiralized beets, if desired.

Makes 10 – 14 Servings

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