If you’ve been around A Sweet Spoonful for awhile, you already know a few things: 1) I like strong drinks and 2) I don’t often accept freebies or do giveaways on the site. With this next post, one of those things has changed. While I just don’t see the relevance or need for plastic batter bowls that store batter in the handle (what?!), towels specially designed to sop up red wine, or acid-resistant bud vases (hmmm)–I do see the need and relevance for vodka. So when the kind folks over at SKYY vodka wrote to me to introduce their new Ginger infused vodka, I told them to send one on over. Quickly. It’s been a tough few months.
In thinking about how I wanted to mix it, I kept thinking how great it would be to pair it with fresh lime juice and mint. I didn’t add any sweetener because, in addition to liking strong drinks, I dislike syrupy sweet ones. So if this has a bit too much of an edge for you, add a dash of simple syrup. But honestly, I think you’ll like it. It screams outdoor patios and freshly mowed lawns. There’s a drink out there called the Moscow Mule, which is basically vodka, fresh lime juice, and a few glugs of ginger beer. My recipe is in the same family but it’s more like the Stiff Mule: we’re not messing around here. I think I’ll call it that.
O.k., now onto the snacks because, I don’t know about you, but when you start mixing up cocktails, there needs to be a little something to much on. My mom recently bought this incredible narrative cookbook called Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. Have you seen it? It’s written by Martha Hall Foose and in it she details her experiences living in the South and some of the traditional (and not so traditional) recipes she’s come to love from the Mississippi Delta. In all honesty, I haven’t come across a cookbook I’ve been this excited about in a very long time. So I dove right in this afternoon with recipe that looked like it’d pair well with the Stiff Mule: Martha’s Yazoo Cheese Straws. Legend has it that Mary Margaret Yerger began her cheese straw business modestly. Now, 79 years old, they pump out 3,000 pounds of straws a day. That’s a lot of cheddar, my friends. The recipe is flawless. I did make a few adaptations, mixing in a bit of white cheddar and sprinkling sesame seeds on top for a little extra crunch.
Have a great weekend. I’ll be working, but hopefully you’re doing something outside or in the kitchen or creative or new. Cheers to whatever it is you’re up to, and cheers to stiff drinks and delightfully salty snacks.
This recipe asks that you let the cheese come to room temperature before combining it with the butter because the dough will be much smoother. And if you don’t have a cookie press lying around, just form the dough into 2-inch round logs and chill until firm. Then slice into 1/8-inch thick disks and proceed with directions from there.
Slightly adapted from Screen Doors and Sweet Tea
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Prepare a cookie press with the star attachment or an another narrow attachment of your choosing.
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the cheese, butter, salt, pepper, and dash of hot sauce by pulsing until well blended. Then add the flour and pulse until a ball of dough forms. Press long strips of the dough 1 inch apart onto ungreased cookie sheets (I used a Silpat just to be safe). Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges just barely begin to brown.
Remove the cheese straws and let cool completely. Break in half if you’d like (not all of the sesame seeds end up sticking). Store in an air-tight container.
Muddle the mint in a little glass with a pinch of sugar and a few drops of water. Then add to the cocktail shaker along with the other ingredients, shake vigorously, and pour into glass. Garnish with a few sprigs of chopped mint.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.