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It’s Springtime Somewhere: Scented Geranium Spritz

At this late stage in the season, there’s little action occurring on the PFruits balcony. Everything’s been cut back, pulled up, or put to bed. Everything except Franklin (the) Mint, who is still doing well in solitary confinement, and the scented geranium I put in mid-season to replace the monarda that crapped out before bothering to bloom.

In addition to being gratifyingly green so late into the fall, the geranium’s feathery, leathery leaves give off such a gorgeous, complex scent–floral rose, spicy lemon, astringent pine–when I brush up against them that I felt driven to capture it somehow before the frost finally does the plant in. Having just gone out and tousled it to see get another hit of its smell, I’m now sitting here in front of the computer with my hands up my nose like Mary Katherine Gallagher, breathing in the fabulous scent.

Many people use the (non-toxic, I checked) leaves of scented geranium to flavor sugar for use in baked goods, and I’ll probably do that as well, but why infuse sugar when there’s VODKA? I mean, honestly. So, after cutting a few leaves, giving them a good wash and air-dry, I gently clapped them together in my hands to release the oils and plopped them in about a quart of vodka.

This, by the way, represents the cutting edge of herbal cocktail science. Apparently, today’s mixological cognoscenti clap or spank their herbs gently rather than muddling them so as to pull the essential oils to the surface but not break them up to the point that the bitter green plant flavors come to the fore.

Continuing this quest to pull the flavor of the oils and not of the green chlorophyll-y leaves itself, I only steeped the leaves for about 24 hours. Much longer than 48 and those bitter green flavors will emerge even if you’ve only given your leaves the gentlest of spankings. The upside, though, to all this cosseting of the vegetation is that your fabulous herbal infusions are ready almost instantly.

Then, though, came the question of what to do with it. By itself, the vodka still burned like vodka, but sparkled with the flavor/scents that the geranium did. While it was fairly obvious I’d need to add some fruit, sweetness, and a little acid to the party since the geranium’s pungency all falls fairly high on the nose, I wasn’t quite sure how to accomplish all that without drowning it out.

After much tinkering and subjecting friends to teacups with teeny amounts of this, that, and the other combination of things, I think we came up with a lovely, if slightly unseasonal, beverage. It’s lovely and delicate, with the wonderful complexity of the geranium enlivened by the sparkling water and rounded out with a touch of lemon and just a few drops of rich, fruity Chambord. Of course, it really begs to be sipped at a garden party, so unless there’s an orangerie somewhere in your general vicinity, this one goes out to all you Southern Hemispherians… at least for now.

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Feel the French Mountain Breeze with a Zephyr Gentiane

Our vacation souvenirs tend to be fairly minimalist. Without much space at home, we don’t have room for a vast collection of snow globes… which, to be honest, no one’s that busted up about. Local candy and booze, however, do always seem to find room in our homeward-bound luggage. Our recent trip to Spain netted us a ton of delicious turron, a jar of anchovies, and a bottle of gentian liqueur.

Both the nutty delicious nougat and the anchovies were from the area we were staying. The gentian liqueur, however, actually came from France and was just bottled in Spain–much to Mr. T’s irritation. Given that we were practically in France anyway, I told him it didn’t really matter. And, in any event, we now had a big bottle of liqueur to do something with.

This doesn’t seem like much of a challenge as the flavor is a quite fascinating one: green and grassily bitter with notes of artichoke first and foremost, but there’s a definite sweetness as well, with hints of vanilla and butterscotch. It is an aperitif, though, so those green bitter notes predominate. Not so much, though, that it couldn’t be drunk on the rocks by itself–which it is.

Sipping on the rocks, though, while simple and lovely, is just not the PassionFruits way. And, aside from offering a recipe for a white Negroni, in which the Campari is replaced by the gentian liqueur, the Internet didn’t have much to say, though I did learn that gentian is also a key ingredient in several types of bitters and other aperitifs–Aperol, for example. This isn’t terribly surprising given their flavor profiles and general uses. Several gentian liqueurs–Salers, Suze, and Avèze–are available in the US, if something of a challenge to locate.

We tried the white Negroni and found it a bit robust for these waning days of summer. We then fiddled around with sparkling wine and various citrus juices and garnishes. But for all our experimentation, a light combination of liqueur, a splash of syrup, club soda, and an orange twist seemed to be just right. Go easy on the syrup at first as the soda seems to mute the bitterness and allows more of the liqueur’s sweetness through. 

If bracing long drinks like the Negroni or Campari and soda appeal, then you’ll like the Zephyr Gentiane–named after the soft, west winds–very much. It’s a bit lighter, sweeter, and greener, which can all be good things.

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A Taste of Vienna: Gurkenlimonade

On a recent trip up to New York, I dragged Mr. T to the Neue Galerie for a little visit with Gustav Klimpt and some pretty tea sets. Mr. T, usually game for such cultural attractions, wanted to take a nap instead, so we first detoured to one of the gallery’s two cafes for a restorative bit of cake.

He settled on a piece of linzertorte and an espresso. I was entranced by the idea of gurkenlimonada, a lemonade with cucumber. I also just like the word: “gurkenlimonade”. Tee hee.

And it was delicious. With a refreshing flavor that matched its sprightly green color (theirs was greener than mine was… still working on that…) it was just the thing to perk us up for an afternoon of gallery hopping. It’s quite a delicious cooler on its own, but makes for a fabulous end-of-summer cocktail with a slug of gin–a cucumber-heavy one like Hendrick’s would be just perfect to take the sizzle off of hot Indian Summer day.

One word of warning, though. Do this pretty close to a la minute. It tastes lovely, fresh, and cucumber-y when combined together, but as the  mixture sits it gets a little… pickle-y. Not a bad thing, really, but not as good as it is when freshly mixed.

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Hot Day Chill Out: Watermelon Riesling Cooler

When life (your misbehaving refrigerator) gives you lemons (semi-frozen watermelon), make watermelon Riesling cooler! Really, that’s about it. It was hot on Monday, I was pissed that the fridge had frozen my watermelon–after totally defrosting the freezer over the weekend–guests were due in 15 minutes, and there was a bottle of Riesling within arms reach. Done and dusted.

Fortunately, this off-the-cuff pitcher came out quite well–cool, sweet, bright, and totally refreshing.  With lime to tease out the wine’s acid, a little St. Germain for a round, floral sweetness, and mint for a sprightly, green herbaceous note. An imminently sippable summer tipple–and so good I’ve made it again since.

Not too heavy, not too sweet, and not too boozy–it’s just the right thing to take the edge off after a hot day at the beach, or a not-so-hot day at the office when you WISH you were at the beach.

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Party Planner: “Oh Baby Baby, Baby Baby” (Shower)

“Salt-n-Pepa’s here and we’re in effect/Want you to push it, babe”

Ok, I was going to let go of the Salt-n-Pepa thing, but how perfect is “Push It” for a post about a baby shower? I’m going to suggest that they play it in the delivery room… This may be why I’m neither a medical doctor nor have I played one on TV. Anyway, yes, our friends are having babies and we’re hosting the shower on Saturday night. I thought I’d review the ramp-up today and share any new recipes I deem blog-worthy next week.

At the behest of the sassy-britches mother-to-be, this is going to be a co-ed, evening shower with no silly games. Or, more accurately, a cocktail party with baby gifts. Having thrown both this kind and the more traditional girly brunch-type shower I find both have their merits, though the cocktail party does have some additional benefits.

First, it enfranchises the menfolk, which I think is a good thing. They’re going to be changing diapers, too, so having them at the shower is a nice way of easing them into the whole parenthood thing. Secondly, the shower is probably one of the last hurrahs of unencumbered adulthood… why blow it on brunch when you can have a cocktail party?

For this particular party, I’d originally planned out a Greek/Med menu–spanikopita triangles, baked feta, etc–but then I realized that I’d not only done that two weekends in a row, I’d done it for the guests of honor two weekends in a row. NEXT! Given that they’re both Asiaphiles of the first water, I moved further into the East for inspiration.

And, since it’s ridiculously hot right now, I wanted mostly cool (if still spicy) things. Mid-July is NOT the time to be deep frying nibbles for 20 people. And thus, my notional menu follows. (Note to guests, I reserve the right to change things around or punt on things…)

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Fit for a Royal Wedding “Tea”: Earl Grey Vodka

So, in case you’ve not heard, Prince William and his lady in waiting, Kate Middleton, are getting mawwied in April. Though neither royalist nor republican (small “r”, people) myself, I did think that a royal wedding-watching party would be fun. And what better way to celebrate that with a “tea” party? I’m still debating whether to go traditional (finger sandwiches, Victoria sponge) or literalist (tea-smoked duck, green tea roulade), but I have decided that guests will be required to wear hats–best hat wins a prize direct from the Buckingham Palace gift shop courtesy of Mr. T’s mom.

In addition to hats, however, a tea party also requires tea. But since I’m not really a fan of hot tea, and this is going to be at its root a cocktail party, regular old PG Tips in the ancestral teapot was not going to cut it. Instead, I’ve just put up a big bottle of Earl Grey vodka–a more spirited libation in keeping with our slightly less beholden-to-protocol festivities. Having made it before for a St. George’s Day party several years ago, I can say that this is a delicious elixir shaken on its own with a twist, or with a bit of cranberry juice for a punch, or further enlivened with a bit of champagne or sparkling water and a bit of simple syrup.

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