Monthly Archives: August 2009

Summer Spice

This past week I was up with Ms. ChinaNob in Mendocino County, which was equal parts Marin County coastal headlands, Wine Country vineyards, and pot smoking hippie meets seen better days logging towns.  Throw in some redwood forests, just picked roadside organic farm stands, and 100 degree weather in the valleys, and its a place I really want to go see again.  Unlike the long since ruined by the snooty-snoots wine scene in Napa, this is probably the first time I did a free wine tasting that involved around 15 different wines poured by the winery’s marketing manager who most likely was getting stoned a few minutes earlier in his Grateful Dead Dancing Bears VW Bus parked outside.

Beyond the excellent wines, hiking and hot springs, the area also boasts some fantastic farms selling just picked peak of season produce.   It was a week of mouth-watering peaches, strawberries, apples. pears, and the like.  This recipe with its muddling of fresh strawberries and light flavor, reminds me of summery lightness of the place.   I’ve seen it in a few different places titled a Strawberry Ginger Martini – which I have renamed as I refuse to a call cocktail a [BLANK] Martini just because it is served in an angular cocktail glass!

Summer Spice

2 oz. Canton ginger liqueur
1 oz. gin
2-3 strawberries
1/4 fresh lime, squeezed

Muddle strawberries with lime juice.  Add gin and ginger liqueur.  Shake with ice and strain into glass.


This is what a cheese shack on a frozen lake in Vermont looks like.

Vermont Shephard

China Clipper

The fog is melting and it’s getting warm again.    This tends to bring on an urge for rum and fruit – preferably in a glass with lots of ice.  Or even – blended.  (Hey, there’s nothing wrong with blended drinks – Cocktail nerds are allowed to enjoy their frozen, slushy pina coladas just like everyone else, whether ironically or not!)

However, this cocktail does not involve a giant mug of ice nor does it require any blending.  I first came across it at the Bay Area’s high temple of tiki drinks.  Its creator published the recipe and since it involved making a weird syrup, I couldn’t resist.  Seriously, Five-Spice Syrup?!?!? It’s an interesting and summery tipple, but in the future, I think I would dial back the syrup to 3/4 oz. as it came out rather sweet, overwhelming the rum.

China Clipper

2 oz.  aged amber rum (Cruzan Estate Dark, Appleton V/X, Lemon Hart 80, or similar)

1 oz. fresh lemon juice

1 oz. Five Spice syrup *

Shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass.  Garnish with lemon twist.

* For Five Spice syrup, combine one rounded teaspoon of Five Spice powder with 2 cups sugar and 1 cup water.  Bring to boil then remove from heat to steep for 10 minutes.  Strain off scummy bits and bottle.

Courtesy of Martin Cate, Forbbiden Island.

White Russian

Sometimes you need to go old school – and not in the classic sense, but in the “I don’t want to admit I own platform shoes and a leisure suit from the 70’s” kind of way.   Or in my case, that I used to own multiple pairs of Doc Martens and wear way too much flannel.  But like The Dude, life is too short to worry too much about the state of one’s wardrobe, especially when drinks are in order.  However, this doesn’t mean that a “classic” like the Big Lebowski’s Caucasian can’t get a little updating every now and then.

White Russian

1 1/2 oz. Kahlua
1 oz. vodka
1 – 2 oz. sweet cream*
shaved chocolate

Combine Kahlua & vodka with ice, shake and strain into cocktail glass.  Top with float of sweet cream.  Garnish with shaved chocolate.

* For sweet cream, combine 2 oz. heavy cream, 2 pinches of raw sugar & 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract in cocktail shaker with a few chips of crushed ice and the spring from a Hawthorne strainer.  Shake lightly to dissolve sugar and get a bit of froth – but NOT to a whipped consistency.  Good for White Russians & Irish Coffees.

Recipe courtesy of Alberta Straub.

Lemon Cucumber and Tomato Salad

Ms. ChinaNob was generous recently and brought home a bounty from the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market.  One of her finds was this weird but cute vegetable/fruit looking thing called a Lemon Cucumber.  (I suspect the cuteness aspect is why she bought them – she’ll kill me for saying that.)  Apparently, its a variety of heirloom cucumber that dates to 1894.  Its a bright yellow in color and round – hence the “lemon”.  However, cut it open and the insides look like a cucumber.   The skin was thinner than a regular cucumber and can apparently be eaten early in the season if the skin is pale yellow.   I am not a huge fan of cucumbers and generally only eat them muddled at the bottom of a Pimm’s cup.  However, the lemon cucumber was really sweet and mild – if you don’t like regular cukes, I highly recommend it.  I gobbled mine down.

Lemon Cucumber Salad

1 lemon cucumber, peeled and sliced
1 heirloom tomato, sliced
handful of fresh basil, chiffonade
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1-2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
cracked pepper to taste

Arrange lemon cucumber and tomato slices on plate.  Sprinkle basil on top.  Drizzle oil and vinegar.  Crumble feta cheese.


I think the paths of obsessive cocktail geekery eventually lead all to the same point. Namely, after you’ve fully rounded out your home bar to the point where you frighteningly have individual shelves for your ryes, rums, gins and so forth, you find yourself daydreaming about making your own booze – or the closest thing thereto.  While California’s cornucopia provides options like Meyer lemon, Buddha’s Hand citron, or Seville orange for some kick in the pants limoncello, there is quite a lag between initiation and gratification.  So while waiting for the two month soak of my orange tincture to finish for a batch of DIY Amer Picon, I decided to experiment with summer strawberries.

The Ferry Building Farmer’s Market is always a go-to place for the frou-frou-est in fresh organic produce.  One of my favorite vendors is Swanton Berry Farm near Santa Cruz.  In addition to growing some of the sweetest, tastiest, juiciest California Certified Organic strawberries on the planet (and the best strawberry jam I have ever tasted), they also get mega-kudos for being the first organic farm in the country to sign a labor contract with the United Farmworkers of America AFL-CIO.  Tasty berries and labor-friendly to boot!

I took a pint of Swanton’s berries, sliced them and put them in a jar with a bottle of Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond 100 Proof Rye Whiskey.  The berries did battle with the R100 for a little over a week until the red in the berries had completely leached out leaving the fruit a ghastly white.  It was actually quite cool looking.  I strained the liquid a few times in cheesecloth to remove as much of the loose organic matter as possible and bottled the now cherry red colored whiskey.   Needless to say, it tasted like a summery, boozy strawberry pie.


2 oz. strawberry-infused rye
1 oz. sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica)
2 dash rhubarb bitters
orange peel & strawberry slice, garnish

Combine rye, vermouth and bitters with ice and stir.  Strain into glass and garnish with orange peel and strawberry slice.