Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Communal Table: Don't Be a Fry Baby!

On Saturday, November 20th, I'll be presenting at this event.  The Communal Table brings art, ideas and activism right to the table.  Writers, performers, artists, scientists, chefs and friends come together to talk, listen and share wonderful meals.  This event's theme is oil and all of the food is from oil producing countries.  There will be discussions about our nation's reliance on oil and the problems surrounding it.  I will be talking about essential oils and infusing vodka with them.  Join us if you can!  This event is a mere $30!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Autumn Cocktails: The Recipes

Here are the recipes from the latest cocktail tasting.  It's hard to say which one was the favorite, everyone had their own.  I know the first to run out was the Black Dog but I suspect that's because of the homemade Creme de Cacao.  Enjoy!

The Bindi

one jigger pistachio infused vodka
one ounce milk
quarter teaspoon rosewater
one teaspoon agave nectar
one drop clove oil, 20%

Give the combined ingredients a good shake and strain into chilled martini glasses. Finish with grated nutmeg. 

Black Dog

2 ounces pear infused vodka
one ounce creme de cacoa
one drop labdanum absolute dilution, 10%
splash of soda

Give the combined ingredients a good shake and strain into a chilled martini glass. 

The Kashmere

one jigger fig infused vodka
one jigger pear nectar
two drops coriander oil, 10%
splash of seltzer

Give the combined ingredients a good shake and strain into a chilled martini glass.

 All of the essential oil dilutions can be found at

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Autumn Cocktail Tasting

Saturday, November 13th
4 - 6pm

Prospect Wine Shop
322 Seventh Ave. (btwn 8th and 9th)
Park Slope, Brooklyn

This seasons offerings include vodkas that have been macerated with dried fruits and toasted nuts.  Come and sample the The Bindi with pistachio vodka, rosewater and clove oil, or the Kashmere with fig vodka, pear nectar and coriander oil.  The Black Dog is pear vodka with homemade creme de cacao and the unexpected addition of a dilution of labdanum absolute, a sticky substance with dark amber tones.  It adds a mysterious perfumed note to the cacao.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Building a Hoop House

To extend the growing season my plot neighbor, Janet Murray, and I built a hoop house.  It was an ambitious project and we were flying without a net, so to speak.  We both did our internet research on hoop houses and cloches and we talked to some other gardeners but we discovered there's not a lot of information out there for gardeners of our caliber, that is to say community garden gardeners.  Most of what we saw was way too big for our purposes, or too precious and expensive.  We needed something fitting for your average urban victory garden.  We decided to put our heads together and build one together on her plot and share it.  I had started lettuce in late August and it was coming along nicely so our plan was to transplant my lettuce to her plot, leaving me with the opportunity to amend my soil between now and spring planting season.

It turned out to be a bigger project than we thought so it took two weekends to complete. We met on the first weekend and measured the plot and came up with a lose plan.  Then we made our trip to Home Depot and headed straight into the concrete reinforcement area.  Straight away we found the perfect material (and if either of us could remember the name of it I'd state it here!).  To make the hoop we bought four pieces of ten foot long wire reinforcements.  Our idea was to attach the wire supports to a wooden frame of 1 x 2's.  After the wire supports were trimmed a couple of feet they were attached to the frame.

Next we set it up in the plot.  Then Janet fastened a brace across the top and the plastic was laid over it.  Another brace was bolted on top to secure the plastic (and prevent it from blowing off when we're out there harvesting greens in the snow).  Then we carefully transplanted my bok choy, Amish bib, red and green oak leaf and Tom Thumb lettuces along with Janet's ginger, black raddish seedlings and Italian greens.

We're proud of our homemade cloche.  It's a little rough around the edges but I learned a lot and will be thinking about this design and how to make improvements for next year.  In the meantime I should be harvesting lettuce until the end of the year before it gets too cold and dies back.  By mid February I can start new lettuce and not long after I can start a tray of vegetables to be transplanted after the last frost.  Considering this all cost us about $30, it should pay for itself rather quickly.  I'm looking forward to a continued harvest.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Putting the Herb Garden to Bed for Winter

Harvesting and Drying Roots

I've been the coordinator of the herb garden at 6/15 Green Community Garden for ten years now.  When I inherited the job it was a rubble strewn sloping weed patch with a large comfrey plant and a whole lot of lemon balm and mint.  I organized some members to double dig it and sift out the rubble.  The soil was amended with loads of compost and it was well worth all of the labor.  The soil is gorgeous - and if you're someone who loves to garden you know that soil can be gorgeous.

This was a really good year for the herb garden.  A lot of plants have gotten more established and are coming into their full glory.  Every year we add plants and it's now looking like a full lush garden with plenty of medicinal and culinary herbs.  However, the plot needs some order.  October is a great time to transplant so fellow member Elizabeth Kalin and I have spent some time the past two weekends working hard on making next summer even better.
We moved larger plants out of the paths so we could get into the plot with greater ease.  In so doing we moved the large marshmallow plants.  When I dug them up they divided easily so I planted most of them in the back of the plot and took home some roots to dry for winter.

Marshmallow root is a mucilagenous plant that is very soothing for inflammation and ulceration of the stomach and small intestine.  It's also useful for dry cough as it soothes the throat and expectorates.  It is also the source of the original marshmallow confection.  Commercial marshmallows substitute gelatin for the root.  I've searched far and wide  for a recipe and will try my hand at making the real thing this winter (to have with hot cocoa).  In case anyone feels brave and wants to try it:

Marshmallows from Real Marshmallow Root

1/4 cup dried marshmallow root
1 and 3/4 cups sugar
1 and 1/4 T gum tragacanth
2 cups water
2 egg whites, whipped,
2 t rosewater or orange flower water to taste

Simmer the toot in 1 and 1/2 cups of water for about 20 minutes.  Soak the gum in 1/2 cup water.  Stir the gum vigorously and plop it in the blender and cover and wait until the cooking root has made a slightly mucilaginous tea.  Strain out the root liquid into the blender and blend the root liquid with the gum paste very thoroughly.  Put this into a saucepan over a very low heat and stir.  It will be rubbery and will soften a little.  Add the sugar and whisk for a few minutes.  Quit when a candy thermometer reads 215.  Whip for two minutes.  Add the egg whites, beating a bit more to blend.  It will be very sticky.  "Pour" into a powdered sugar pan and wait to dry.  They are crunchy on the outside and melting on the inside when they're done.  Refrigerate.  (Recipe from

We also dug up some angelica root.  The angelica plant has been a great source of amusement this past summer.  It was actually the original source of inspiration for making herb infused vodka.  The plant is an umbelifer in the same family as celery.  The stalk and leaves have a similar flavor and aroma but with a twist.  I discovered that it is the main ingredient in Chartreuse.  Angelica is good for indigestion, anemia, coughs and colds and is said to be warming.

Angelica root
The plant is in it's fourth year so this season it went to seed, which I collected in late summer.  Now it was time to process the dried root.  First I scrubbed it clean with a small vegetable brush and let it dry.  Then I began to untangle the massive thing and begin slicing it.  It's taken several days but I believe it's thoroughly dry now and ready to be stored in a jar for future use.  I make a cologne for men from an old recipe called Carmelite Water.  Carmelite nuns made it for King Charles the V of France in the 14th Century.  It calls for angelica root and I'm so pleased I'll be able to make it with a root I've grown and processed myself.

Angelica seed
Angelica root

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Custom Perfume Blending Workshop

In this three hour workshop students will learn the basics of blending and formulation to create their own custom perfume.  In a lovely intimate setting each student will gain an understanding of basic techniques and the raw materials used to create their own fragrance.  Participants will leave with a quarter ounce bottle of their creation.  No prior knowledge is necessary.

Saturday, November 6th
1 - 4pm
Park Slope, Brooklyn

Class is limited to five students
Cost:  $150, includes all materials

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Infusing Vodka with Dried Fruits and Nuts

An Infusionary Tale

I've spent the better part of the last month brainstorming, shopping, experimenting and finally beginning to imbibe some fruit and nut infused vodkas.  After my summer cocktail tasting at Prospect Wine Shop working with herbs and summer fruits, my attention turned to the flavors of autumn and what I'd like to be drinking come October and November.  Here it is mid-October and my labors are starting to come to fruition, so to speak.

I began with nut vodkas, knowing that they had to steep longer that fruits or herbs.  My favorite nut is a toasted hazelnut so that kicked off the project.  I toasted them myself in a dry cast iron skillet on a carefully watched flame.  You have to pay attention it never smokes and that the nuts are turned regularly so they don't burn.  After a while you can hear the skins crackle and they start to release their aroma and get a bit golden colored.  When they get to the desired color transfer them to a bowl to cool thoroughly.  Once you can handle them rub the skins off one by one.  Now they're ready to be chopped.  As you can see these are a labor of love.  The end result is worth it.  Use about a quarter of a cup of chopped hazelnuts to one cup of vodka.  Shake them daily and let sit for about a month before filtering.

Toasting hazelnuts

I also made toasted walnut, almond and pistachio.  The walnut was good, nutty but wasn't distinctively walnut.  The almond was similar, maybe should be tried without the skins, but was much improved with a splash of pear nectar.  The pistachio, however, is divine, although I noticed that it can't age for too long or it can take on a soapy note.

Then I moved on to dried fruits.  Pears were a certainty and it turned out beautifully.  I had three kinds of figs to test:  organic Turkish,  pajerero and black mission.  The black mission fig vodka is a winner and is a beautiful purple color.  The fruit releases it's sweetness without being cloying so they're nice to sip alone or can mix with juice without getting too syrupy.  I used roughly about one third cup dried fruit to one cup vodka for about five days.

Black mission fig vodka
 After filtering them I got a better idea of what works and what doesn't and made more of the tastier things and drank the rest with friends.  Now it was time to play mixologist.  I took a good look at my essential oil collection and made up some new dilutions to play with.   I've added cardamom, clove, honey absolute, labdanum and sandalwood to the dilutions collection.

I have a lot of experimenting to do but the drinks are starting to take shape for the next tasting on Saturday, November the 13th, between 4pm and 6pm, Prospect Wine Shop, 322 Seventh Avenue between 8th and 9th Streets in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  Check out their website at for information on other tastings or stop by to peruse their extensive selection of fine wines and cocktail fixings.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


I've developed a real passion for mixing cocktails lately.  It all started with a phone call from my local watering hole.  They were trying to conjure up a new summer cocktail with cucumbers and asked me to come down and help out.  I had such fun collaborating on that drink and it got me thinking about the ingredients from my apothecary. 

Infused Vodka

First I started experimenting with infusing vodka with herbs from my local community garden.  I began with angelica which is in the celery family but with a twist.  It's one of the main ingredients in Chartreuse.  It's been a big hit at garden parties this summer. After spending quite a bit of time on the internet reading about infusing vodka I was surprised by how quickly the vodka took on the flavor.  Although I had read that it took weeks to infuse, some were ready in less that 12 hours.  I tried to filter them before the herbs released their bitterness.  Simply chop up the herbs (I used about six or seven six inch stems of plant material per cup of vodka, discard any brown or damaged parts) and place in a clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid and cover with vodka, shake and test in about eight hours.  I tried my hand at lemon verbena, lavender, chocolate mint, lemon thyme, tomato leaf and basil. Angelica was done quicker than most but I hardly left any of them in longer than 24 hours.  The exception was the vanilla.  Vanilla pods can be sliced and scraped, chopped and added to vodka (I found one pod per cup worked) and leave for at least a month.

Take good notes while you're working. That way you can repeat your efforts when you finds something you really like.

I realize that all of the herbs I worked with might not be available to everyone. Look over the herb selection around you and see what's reasonable. Other herbs would be lemon balm, rose geranium, fennel, shiso, citrus, berries, etc. I made one with cucumber and mint that was interesting, but it might be better in white rum. I also tried a couple of chocolate vodkas.

I took a good hard look at my essential oil collection and came up with a few that might lend themselves to a good cocktail, yet not so ordinary that you couldn't just get the original material (such as orange or peppermint). I've made up dilutions that can readily be mixed into cocktails. A bottle holds about 90 drops and in general you use one drop per drink.   You can purchase the dilutions from my website:

Then it was a visit to the food coop and local bodega to contemplate juices. What I've come up with are three cocktails that my good friends were happy enough to help me hone.  

Summer Crush

1.5 oz. lemon verbena infused vodka
1.5 oz. passion fruit nectar
one drop petitgrain essential oil, 10% dilution

Give the combined ingredients a good shake and strain into a chilled martini glass. 

The Silk Route

1.5 oz. apricot nectar
one drop jasmine absolute, 5% dilution
one drop coriander co2, 10% dilution

Give the combined ingredients a good shake and strain into a chilled martini glass. 

The Sprite

1.5 oz. basil infused vodka
one drop yuzu essential oil dilution, 10%
one drop black pepper essential oil dilution, 20%
1.5 - 2 oz. tonic water

Shake with ice and pour into a short glass. Garnish with a fresh basil sprig. 

More Drink Ideas

At another garden gathering I brought an assortment of infused vodkas for everyone to sample. I also bought four bottles of seltzer and put a tablespoon of rosewater in one, orange blossom water in another, rosemary and chamomile waters in the last two. Guests mixed and matched concoctions and I got a chance to sample quite a few. It would be hard to pick one combination! The flavored seltzers on their own were lovely and refreshing.

And one more cocktail!

After my initial experience with the "Cujito" at Barbes I stopped back in to mix up some more magic. In a collaboration with bartendress Hannah Cheek came the Bloody Hell.
The Bloody Hell 

Muddle a few sprigs of mint in about a tablespoon of creme de cacao. Add two ounces of white rum and two drops of blood orange essential oil dilution, 10%. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Outrageous.

Disclaimer:  I must unfortunately dampen the mood of this cocktail page by a standard discalimer. These recipes and instructions are purely a tale of how I spent my summer.  I don't recommend any of this.   Please use caution and discretion.  Make sure to know the effects of any herb or essential oil before you begin.  Essential oils are intense concentrations so use carefully.  None of this is FDA approved.  Use only the amounts specified, never use synthetic oils, do not drink essences directly from the bottle, keep away from small children, be cautious of allergies, do not ingest if you are pregnant or nursing.  And of course never get behind the wheel of a car after imbibing alcohol. 

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