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Strong, Dark, Old Beer

13 Aug

A one-of-a-kind evening of strong, dark, and old beers with friends.

Some of us had been hanging on to some beers for years without quite the right excuse to crack them open… problem solved. Not a wedding, new year, baby shower, or birthday, just a casual evening hanging out with lentil soup and bread.


Goose Island Bourbon County Stout *2007*,  Westvleteren 12 and 8 eBayed from Belgium years ago, Half Acre’s special Sanguis beer brewed with oranges and beets for one specific dinner at Next, an excellent imperial porter from High Water, a 10.5% imperial stout in a can, homebrew, and more.

Flavored Cotton Candy

5 Jul

For a 4th of July BBQ, a successful experiment making cotton candy flavored with tarragon, peach, corn, and smoked tea:


For a while, hannah and I had been kicking around the idea of “savory cotton candy” (or at least, sweet but flavored with something beyond vanilla). What would that even be like? With a 4th of July BBQ approaching, this seemed like the now-or-never time to actually try it. Some searching found a few bulletin board discussions about how you might do it, but only one set of photographic evidence… and that came with no description of how.

Early on, we’d been thinking of everything from creating flavored powders from freeze-dried fruit, to infused sugar syrups, to flavored dry sugars, to dry powdered caramels created with maltodextrin molecular-gastronomy-style (we ruled out sprinkling powdered flavoring on the cotton candy after spinning it as not “elegant” enough). After some reading we understood how a cotton candy machine works: it melts sugar and spins it rapidly in a bowl with small slots around the perimeter, and the inertia (a.k.a. centrifugal force) drives tiny jets of liquid sugar into the surrounding air, where they near-instantly cool and recrystallize in long, wispy strands. To experiment, we rented a cotton candy machine from a party supply store:



This and other discussions online convinced us of something that seems obvious in retrospect: we needed to be spinning basically pure sugar, as any other starches or cellulose (fruit or vegetable matter) or significant amounts of fat wouldn’t melt at the same temperature and might burn on the heater. People also debated whether special “floss sugar” sold by cotton candy companies was necessary, or if you could use standard granulated cane sugar, with strong opinions in each direction. We tried both, and found granulated sugar worked quite well– which was fortunate as the only floss sugar we could find was already packed with artificial vanilla flavor and pink dye.

Finally, back to the question of how to flavor the sugar. Making vanilla sugar is a simple process– you just pack a vanilla bean in sugar and wait. But how to make this work for herbs, fruit, smoke? We tried packing fresh tarragon in sugar and it infused some flavor into the sugar… but it wasn’t as strong as we’d hoped. We also tried cooking peaches in sugar to make a syrup, then spreading it out on a dehydrator tray, but after a few days we still had a somewhat gummy sugar (presumably if we had enough time it would eventually dry out).

Finally, we tried soaking ingredients in alcohol– that works for infusing vodka with flavor, and we reasoned the alcohol would also be easier to evaporate out of sugar than water. Success! In particular, we soaked fresh tarragon, peaches we’d pre-dehyrdrated, fresh corn kernels, and lapsang souchong smoked black tea (trying to evoke something like “gunpowder” in honor of the 4th of July) in high-proof everclear for a few days:


Then we strained the alcohols into spray bottles and misted them over a thin layer of sugar spread out on a tray. This allowed us to have an intensely flavored yet very slightly moist sugar that we could bring back to dry overnight in the dehydrator, then grind up with a mortar and pestle:



At long last, our four flavored sugars, ready for their big day:


We rented the cotton candy machine again (this time, including the decorative cart) and spun about 40 cones of cotton candy for friends and kids. My personal favorite was the smoked tea– it was certainly the most unexpected.




Favorite sushi place: still amazing after 10 years.

21 Apr


Plate of sashimi. Friendly couple who greet me by name even if it’s been 6-12 months. No fuss, no elaborate rolls.

More Citrus Shrubs

8 Apr



After last year’s enjoyable experience making shrubs (a shelf-stable way to preserve fruit with vinegar and sugar, for mixing into soda water, cocktails, salad dressings, and so on), I’ve spent a few more weekends trying new citrus, new vinegars, and different ratios, as well as using oleo saccharums (citrus oils extracted from the peel with sugar: I posted some photos of the process yesterday).

Bergamot / Cider Vinegar Shrub

Since much of the unique flavor of bergamot is in the zest, an oleo saccharum is key. I combined the peel of four bergamots with 2/3 cups of white sugar (let sit and periodically kneaded for about 10 hours, see photos)– by the end of that time I could smell it even through the bag. I added that to the juice of 17 bergamots (about 2 cups), another 1 1/3 cups white sugar, and, by trial and error, 3/4 cups of my favorite cider vinegar (Bragg).

The vinegar flavor was a little overpowering, initially, but it’s supposed to mellow over time… and indeed, after sitting for a week it’s become one of my favorite shrubs– one spoonful livens up a glass of sparkling water.


Kaffir Lime Shrub

I’d been brought a gift of fresh kaffir limes (which I’d never seen before), just on the edge of turning brown, and knew immediately I wanted to preserve their flavor with a shrub. The peel has the same distinctive scent as kaffir lime leaves, a dry, spicy, and floral citrus.

Since they’re so knobby, they were a huge pain to peel– normal peelers or zesters were useless, so I used a small knife and painstakingly trimmed off rind and then removed pith… ending up with the peel of 15 kaffir limes packed in 1/2 cup sugar to make an oleo saccharum, plus the juice of the limes (only half a cup, quite dry), and almost 1/2 cup of a very mild neutral rice vinegar. This gave me a dry, perfume-like shrub that’s great to splash into water or champagne.

Calamansi Lemongrass Shrub


I don’t have the exact proportions written down, but this excellent shrub (probably my favorite basic citrus shrub) combined tiny calamansi (which I just sliced in half and packed in sugar, extracting both oleo saccharum and juice), additional lime juice, half a stalk of finely-sliced lemongrass, sugar, and champagne vinegar.

Meyer Lemon Peppercorn Shrub

The peel of 9 meyer lemons in ⅔ cup sugar, the juice of 18 (about 2 cups), another 1 ⅓ cups sugar, mint leaves, black peppercorns, and a mix of cider and white vinegars. Easy.

I’m looking forward to exploring further this summer once non-citrus fruits are in season…


flour + water pasta tasting

14 Mar


One of the best pasta tastings I’ve had there. The anise-ish tarragon in the beet mezzaluna! The stripes of mint in the tagliatelle with bottarga!

Simpatica Dining Hall + Bushwhacker Ciders (PDX)

1 Mar

A reservation made months ahead of time turned out to be on the evening of a special cider-themed collaboration with Bushwhacker Cider. How fortunate.

Kitchen and dining room:


The chicories with leek ash and egg (no photo) were amazing.

Chestnut soup with fried Jerusalem artichokes:


Pickled quail egg, salmon roe…


Gin-barrel-aged cider. And Alice (their granny smith cider) on tap.


Butter turnips. Excellent rutabaga. And sure, some pork.



PDX Food: Apizza Scholls

28 Feb

Apizza Scholls: still one of my very favorite pizzas in the US (New Haven style), up there with DiFara’s in Brooklyn and Pizzaiolo in Oakland. Amazing crust texture (thin, pliant, slight crunch), balanced tomato sauce… yes.

apizza scholls


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