jackalope + the bees knees

Well hello there. Long time so see. Yes I know it’s my fault that we don’t connect more. Yes I know that I promised to keep in touch. Yes I know that fourteen weeks ago I apologized for being so elusive and swore that changes were afoot. Yes I know. But here’s the thing…

I’ve been busy.

To give you an idea of what I’ve been up to I’ve decided to offer you a visual journey through the past fourteen weeks of my life. It begins with tiny little seedlings that I started in ice cube trays in the house, and ends with a shot of the garden in full growing glory. In between there’s a whole bunch of fabulous, frivolous and food-centric fun going on. Okay ready? Here ya go…

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So, besides the obvious gardening and harvesting, cooking and cocktail enjoying (really the key to managing the madness) we’ve also spent some time NYC, we’ve done some shopping at my favorite Asian market (the kids are now Yan-Yan aficionados!), we’ve roasted marshmallows on our new fire-pit and celebrated my littlest loves birthday at Monster Jam (she’s a total tough-chic). You may have noticed all the bee images, that’s because in May we became the host yard to a hive of Italian honey bees. They’re fabulous for my garden, a fantastic learning opportunity for my children and since pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food you eat, they’re my opportunity to give back to Mother Nature. Just after the bees arrived we also became the forever family to a full of spit n’ vinegar kitten. Jack was a tiny ball of fur that was initially considered just another sad story. A few weeks and a whole bunch of TLC and Jackalope (it’s how he gallops) is a happy, healthy, 2 lb 14 oz  mischief-maker and a “I can’t remember what life was like before him” part of our family.

Over the past fourteen weeks we’ve also been busy cooking up a storm on my husband’s new swanky smoker. He’s smoked everything from turkey to pit beef, ribs to red potatoes. I on the other hand have discovered that the GIANT cast iron pan a certain someone gifted me is ideal for outdoor frying– hello chicken and calamari!. Since my last post we also wrapped up baseball and soccer season (and not a minute too soon) and said so long to kindergarten and fifth grade and hello to Summer break (big sigh). Oh and then there’s work, which is crazy and exploding in the best possible way.

So you see, I wasn’t kidding. I’ve been a busy girl!

Since the arrival of the bees I’ve been thinking long and hard about honey. It’s my understanding that with a new hive I may not get honey in the first year. Okay, no biggie. This hasn’t stopped me from perfecting a honey recipe for when that real deal honey from my own hive shows up. You may be thinking honey cake or baklava, used as a glaze or drizzled on homemade yogurt; but you’d be wrong. Nope the recipe I’ve been perfecting is one with such a long and illustrious history that it was once considered illegal. A recipe in fact so perfect that it’s quite honestly “the bees knees.”

“The Bee’s Knees cocktail is a gin, lemon and honey classic that dates back to prohibition. The phrase ‘bee’s knees’ was prohibition-era slang for ‘the best’. In that time, the addition of ingredients such as citrus and honey were often used to cover the less than ideal smell and taste of bathtub gin. Improving the taste of an inferior gin may have been the goal, but the result was a fantastic concoction that can hold its own today.”

At heart I’m a wine girl. However since gin happens to be my favorite summertime spirit, I stumbled across a “Bee Knees” recipe calling for fresh basil (of which I have tons), and I find it impossible to say no to a cocktail with a fun backstory I decided to mix myself up one.

I have but one comment: I would have survived nicely during prohibition.

The Bees Knees with Fresh Basil
Daisy Buchanan may not have added basil to her “Bees Knees,” but that certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t!

bees knees

3 oz. gin
3 large fresh basil leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
3/4 oz. honey syrup*
lemon seltzer, to taste
lemon rind, to garnish

  1. Add the basil leaves to a cocktail shaker and using a muddler (or handle of a wooden spoon) bruise the basil. Add the gin and lemon juice, fill with ice & shake vigorously.
  2. Strain into a glass filled with ice, add the honey syrup and top with seltzer to taste. Garnish with a fresh sprig of basil, a twist of lemon rind if desired and enjoy!

*To make honey syrup; combine equal parts honey to heated water and stir until honey is dissolved, let cool.

**adapted from aviation gin

dinner + drinks

It’s come to my attention that a few of you may be under the impression that I live a sort of charmed life. That woodland creatures twitter at my backdoor, my children frolic quietly and happily in the other room, dust bunnies don’t gather in my corners and mealtime is the most relaxing time of the day. Ummm. Yeah. No. The reality is… my half Jack Russell/half South Carolina swamp dog catches all the birds, bunnies and moles that visit my backyard and “plays” with them until their playing days are over. My children seem to constantly complain, bicker and need me to supply them with endless sources of entertainment. Try as I may my house is ALWAYS dusty. And dinnertime is pretty close to the most frustrating time of my day. (Trying to get myself and two kids out the door by 8:15 every morning wins that award!) In fact here’s a little sample of the what goes on at a typical Greco family meal:

DINNER: Grilled Pizza
COMMENT FROM SON: “You’re the best cook! Is there more pizza?”
COMMENT FROM DAUGHTER: “I don’t like pepperoni!” “You were just eating it out of the bag while I made the pizzas.” “Well… I don’t like it now.” (Said with arms crossed and a little humph at the end.)
COMMENT FROM HUSBAND: “This is my favorite way you make pizza.”

DINNER: Vegetable and Chicken Sausage Frittata
COMMENT FROM SON: “Did you have to put so many vegetables in it?”
COMMENT FROM DAUGHTER: “I don’t like the red peppers” “You love red peppers and ask for them in your lunchbox all the time.” “Well… I don’t like them now.” (Said with arms crossed and a little humph at the end.)
COMMENT FROM HUSBAND: “Hmm, not bad. I told you that cast iron pan wasn’t too big” (He bought me the pan. It’s giant.)

DINNER: BLT Linguine
COMMENT FROM SON: “The sauce makes my lips feel like I have on ChapStick and next time can you leave out the green stuff?”
COMMENT FROM DAUGHTER: “How many bites do I have to eat to get ice cream? Is this enough? Is this enough? Is this enough?”
COMMENT FROM HUSBAND: (No comments but he did have seconds. I’m guessing he skipped lunch.)

DINNER: Grilled Cuban-Style Pork Loin
COMMENT FROM SON: (No comments. No complaints. I’ll take that as a thumbs up).
COMMENT FROM DAUGHTER: “I love this! Look what a good job I’m doing on dinner!”
COMMENT FROM HUSBAND: “This is the only marinade you should use for pork.”

DINNER: Turkey and Cheddar Paninis with Bacon
COMMENT FROM SON: “BACON! I LOVE BACON!”
COMMENT FROM DAUGHTER:  “I don’t like the bread.” “It’s the good Trader Joe’s panini bread I always get.” “Well… I don’t like it.” (Said with arms crossed and a little humph at the end.)
COMMENT FROM HUSBAND: “Bacon? Are you feeling all right?.”

So you see, my life really is no different from anyone else’s. And while the grass may appear greener on my side of the fence, be careful where you step because it’s been a few days since I’ve been out to pick up the dog poop…

Pisco Twilight
This is the perfect warm weather drink and just
boozy enough to make less than stellar dinner reviews a smidge less annoying. 

pisco twilight2

3 fresh strawberries, diced
4 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 fresh lime, diced
20 ml (4 tsp./.7 oz) Agave nectar
60 ml (12 tsp/2 oz.) Pisco*

  1. Add to a cocktail shaker the strawberries, basil, lime and agave. Using a muddler (or handle of a wooden spoon) muddle together all the ingredients until the strawberries and limes are really smashed.
  2. Add the Pisco to the shaker, cover and give a few shakes. Strain into a rocks glass, fill with ice and garnish with a lime wedge, fresh basil and a strawberry.

* Pisco is a colorless grape brandy produced in winemaking regions of Peru and Chile.

**adapted from capel pisco cocktail book

the almond milk rescue

I was still on a high from last weeks pretzel success and feeling rather invincible when I decided that this week I would make another attempt at baking “the perfect crusty loaf”. Going back to work has seriously affected the amount of time I have to cook, so when I found a recipe that actually read “1. Mix together all the ingredients in the morning before you go to work. 2. Leave it in the warmest spot in your kitchen and allow to rise for 6-8 hours. 3. When you come home from work…” Are you kidding?!? I had joked that 2014 might be the year I finally achieved baking success, but I didn’t actually believe it. So before I left for work one morning I followed the recipe directions (seriously, I did!); mixed together the ingredients, left the covered bowl in a warm spot, said a quick prayer to the baking gods and hustled myself and the kids out the door. Flash forward eight hours to the biggest epic fail of my baking career. BIGGEST. EPIC. FAIL. After an eight-hour rise the dough was still fairly flat, I gave it a quick knead and attempted a second proofing only to be left with a big sticky mess to clean up and to top the disastrous attempt off nicely—the loaf stuck like glue to the bottom of my brand new dutch oven. Sigh… Calgon take me away.

It seemed a little early for a glass of wine and while I love coffee; freshly ground, freshly brewed, strong coffee, if you know me then you know that the only time of day I actually drink it (or anything caffeinated for that matter) is in the morning. If I need something warm and soothing later in the day then its usually a cup of decaf chai tea with a splash of milk—I love the creamy, spicy warmth that comes with chai. I’ve recently started making green smoothies again which means that I have always have almond milk in the house. I started tinkering around with other ways to use almond milk and discovered that when you heat it up and add lots of spices to it you wind up with the perfect warm, smoothing chai-type drink. Sure it won’t make you the queen of all bakers, but it will warm you from the inside out and offer you a few moments to regroup before the next “perfect crusty loaf” recipe comes along.

Warm Spiced Almond Milk
This recipe also works with regular milk, however I actually prefer it with the almond milk.

almond milk5

2 cups almond-coconut milk
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. Chinese Five Spice
1/2 tsp. real vanilla extract
2 tsp. honey

  1. Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat over a medium flame, stirring frequently, until the milk is hot but has not yet begun to simmer.
  2. Stain milk mixture through a fine mesh strainer and into a large mug and enjoy!

drinking in the last of summer

Goodbyes are never easy. Even when you know they’re coming they’re often tuff to take. But it seems to me that every time I say goodbye to something, the opportunity to say hello to something else usually follows close behind.

Goodbye carefree youth… Hello modern maturity.
Goodbye cute but destructive puppy… Hello (slightly) better behaved dog.
Goodbye Summer… Hello back-to-school!

Yeah, it doesn’t get much better than that last one does it? I thought I would give you a few recipes to properly celebrate summers end and the beginning of a new school year. Cake? Candy? Cookies? Nope… Cocktails!

Truth be told I’m a wine drinker with the occasional beer thrown in for good measure, but there’s just something about summer that calls for a mixed drink. This summer I was introduced to five cocktails that were so delightful I thought I’d pass the recipes along to you. Perhaps you’re already familiar with some of them and will agree with me that they’re worth trying, or perhaps they’ll be new to you as well— either way, here are my newly discovered favorite cocktails:

Limoncello & Gin with Fresh Thyme; the perfect summer combo with a fresh herbal note. Campari Shandy; a lovely balance of bitter and hoppy. Pisco Sour; the Peruvian National drink. Stormy Coconut; a riff on the classic Dark & Stormy. And Redneck Margarita; deceptively simple and refreshing.

So while it’s once again time to say goodbye to the lazy carefree days of summer and hello to the hustle, bustle and woeful hours of homework; these cocktails are the perfect way to toast the new opportunities September will also undoubtedly bring along with it. Cheers!

Limoncello & Gin with Fresh Thyme
(makes 1 cocktail)

limoncello&gin

3 large sprigs fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
1 tbsp. (.5 oz.) key lime juice
3 tbsp. (1.5 oz.) gin
3 tbsp. (1.5 oz.) homemade limoncello (or store bought)

  1. In a cocktail shaker, gently muddle the thyme with the lime juice (if you don’t have a muddler you can use the handle of a wooden spoon). Add the gin, limoncello and several cubes of ice and shake.
  2. Strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice, garnish with another sprig of thyme and serve.

*adapted from fine cooking

Campari Shandy
(makes 1 cocktail)

shandy

3 tbsp. (1.5 oz.) Campari liqueur
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) pale beer (such as an IPA, Landshark or PBR)
1 lime wedge

  1. Pour the Campari into a tall glass. Add the beer and stir gently to mix.
  2. Squeeze the lime wedge into the glass and enjoy.

*adapted from food 52

Pisco Sour
(makes 1 cocktail)

pisco4

1 egg white
1/2 cup (4 oz.) Pisco
2 tbsp. (1 oz.) simple syrup
2 tbsp. (1 oz.) key lime juice
Angostura Bitters
ground cinnamon, to garnish

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add to it the egg white, Pisco, simple syrup, and lime juice. Shake vigorously for 1 minute.
  2. Strain into a rocks glass, add a dash or two of Angostura bitters to the center of the foam, sprinkle with ground cinnamon and enjoy.

*adapted from oh! calamares restaurant

Stormy Coconut
(makes 1 cocktail)

stormy

3 tbsp. (1.5 oz.) dark spiced rum (I used Kraken)
1 tbsp. (.5 oz.) key lime juice
1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp. (.5 oz.) simple syrup
1/2 cup (4 oz.) coconut water (NOT coconut milk)

  1. Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker, top with ice and shake.
  2. Fill a glass with fresh ice, pour in strained cocktail and enjoy.

*adapted from foodista

Redneck Margarita
(makes 1 pitcher)

margarita

1 12 oz. can frozen limeade concentrate
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) tequilla
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) Sprite soda
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) pale beer (such as an IPA, Landshark or PBR)
wedges of lime
salt for glasses, optional

  1. Pour limeade, tequila, soda, and beer into a large pitcher (you can use the can from the limeade as your measurement tool). Stir until well-blended and limeade has melted.
  2. Salt the rim of two large glasses and fill with ice. Add the margarita mixture, garnish with lime wedges and enjoy.

*adapted from jennifer bogart

little loves lemonade

My husband and I hold a garage sale every year and last weekend lemonade standwas it. At past sales we’ve sold everything from bikes and bassinets to the kids barely broken in winter boots and a first generation iMac. We’ve become something like pros at hawking our junk and keen negotiators with the hard-core pickers always looking for the best price. But this last sale was unlike any other we’ve ever held in that the kids decided to participate. How… with a good ol’ fashioned lemonade stand of course!

My little loves (that’s them at their stand) sold cups of homemade lemonade and mini chocolate-chocolate chip muffins to nearly everyone who visited our sale, not to mention a few unsuspecting individuals just out for a walk. They worked hard promoting their product and played the cute kid card big time— it totally payed off for them. Their little enterprise was such a huge success that not only did they sell out of 4 gallons of homemade lemonade and 48 mini muffins, but they did so way before the garage sale was over! Not everyone bought from us, but almost everyone bought from them.

So if you’re contemplating a garage sale over the next few months I highly recommend encouraging the kids to run a lemonade stand as well. And if you’ve got some Amway products, Girl Scout cookies or a little Avon you’re looking to move fast, I just may have the salespeople for you!

Classic Homemade Lemonade
This is lemonade is super easy to make and tastes nothing like the powdered stuff in a can. Give it a try once and I promise you’ll never go back!

lemonade2

Lemonade
2 cups simple syrup (see recipe below)
2 cups fresh lemon juice* (about 12 lemons)
4 cups water

  1. In a large pitcher stir together the fresh juice and simple syrup. Add the water, tasting as you go, until the lemonade is as sweet/tart as you like it.
  2. Serve in tall glasses garnished with a sprig of mint or a slice of fresh lemon and enjoy.

Simple Syrup
2 cups water
2 cups sugar

  1. Add the water and sugar to a pan and heat. Stir frequently, until sugar fully dissolves and the syrup becomes clear, about 4-5 minutes.
  2. Let cool and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

*When lemons are on sale I buy and squeeze enough for 2 cups of juice, but when they’re not I use half fresh juice and half bottled. It’s slightly less amazing than entirely fresh squeezed, but still miles better than the “just add water” canned stuff.

*adapted from whats cooking america

Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins
These mini muffins are truly the perfect one bite chocolate fix. However the same recipe can be used for full sized muffins, simply adjust the baking time.

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup water
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tbsp. red wine
1 tsp. vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine flour, brown sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and mini chips in a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the egg, water, oil, wine and vanilla. Add oil mixture to flour mixture and stir until all the ingredients are fully incorporated.
  3. Place the liners in the muffin pan and lightly coat with cooking spray. Add a dollop of batter to each prepared muffin cup and sprinkle a few mini chips on the top of each.
  4. Bake mini muffins for 12-14 minutes (full size for 18-22 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan before transferring to a wire rack.

*adapted from cooking light

lean, mean + super green

I believe in eating real, delicious and satisfying food. If you’re going to eat chocolate; eat the best you can find. If you’re going to buy bread; buy something that will do more than keep your sandwich ingredients out of your lap. And if you’re going to try to lose a few pounds; do it with healthy for you food. Not frozen, processed, microwaved, artificial everything substitutes. Blech!

In the quickly approaching year since my last birthday I’ve noticed that my pants are not as loose as they once were, and that my energy levels are not exactly olympic. I honestly don’t care about growing older (gracefully, not kicking and screaming is my plan) but I do care about feeling older. Right about the same time as I was deciding how exactly to handle this tight pants predicament of mine, my college friend and fellow blogger Lynda Layng Tama (www.healthyhobokengirl.com) posted a recipe for a Banana Almond Smoothie. Smoothies— I had a light bulb moment— smoothies could be the answer!

Her recipe was both easy and delicious. But, you know how I love to tinker with perfectly good recipes… I googled, researched and talked about smoothies with my health conscience friends. I tried multiple recipes, swapping and tweaking ingredients as I went until I found a combination that had enough protein in it to keep me from feeling hungry and enough good fruits and veggies to keep me feeling healthy. During my recipe research I discovered something called Spirulina powder. Spirulina is a simple blue-green algae that is apparently the ultimate superfood! It is reported to be: “a complete protein source; to contain 26 times more calcium than milk, to increase your immunity and metabolism; it is a natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, is loaded with vitamins and minerals; rich in essential fatty acids and claims to aid in the healing of allergies, ADD, hypoglycemia, diabetes, high cholesterol, fatigue, anemia and digestive disorders.” Even the ancient Aztecs used Spirulina and called it the ‘sacred power plant’. They believed it contained the energy of the sun and had amazing rejuvenating and vitalizing properties. Wow, that’s quite a resume! And who am I after all to question the Aztecs!?! So even if only half of it’s reported benefits are true, it seemed like a worthwhile addition to my smoothie.

Since I can’t start my day without some serious coffee, I decided to have my smoothie in place of lunch. (Lunch for me is usually a hurried affair anyhow so why not drink my smoothie while continuing to get stuff done?!?) Yes the spinach and Spirulina make this a frightening shade of green, even a green lover like me will admit that, but it’s really pretty tasty. Don’t get me wrong, my children have agreed to taste it but will never request a glass of their own, my husband calls it toxic waste and can barely stand to watch me drink it and it will never take the place of a lovely Niçoise salad, but it’s not so terrible either.

It’s still too soon for me to claim I’m down a pants size or that I’m able to run marathons because of my “Super Green Smoothie”. However I do feel both mentally and physically better prepared to handle whatever gets thrown my way, and for that I’m delighted.

Super Green Smoothie
You could use any type of berry in this or even some fresh mango, whatever fruit you like most. What I wouldn’t do is omit the banana (even if you’re not a banana lover) because it really helps to give it a little “non-green” flavor.

smoothieALT

1/2 cup plain almond-coconut milk
1/4 cup plain whole grain rolled oats
1/2 cup sliced strawberries (about 4 large)
1/2 ripe banana, frozen
1/2 cup non fat Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp. Spirulina powder*
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 ice cubes
1 tbsp. almond butter
2-3 tsp. honey
1 handful fresh kale, spinach or dandelion greens

  1. Throw all the ingredients in the blender and give it a whirl.
  2. Sip, enjoy and feel like an Aztec warrior!

*You can purchase Spirulina powder at any health food store but before you do, I encourage you to do a little research of your own and discover what a superfood it claims to be.

limoncello— boozy sunshine

Many years ago, long before children were even part of the discussion, my husband and I used to meet friends for dinner a few times a month at a small Italian restaurant in Manhattan. Back then we had nothing but time and spent many a long evening at that restaurant eating, drinking and enjoying our young lives. It was on one of these carefree evenings that I was first introduced to the Italian liqueur Limoncello. The restaurant made their own and after dessert and coffee the owner would often bring over a bottle, pull up a chair and join in on the conservation. Ahhh, those were the days…

Around the same time I made my first trip to Italy. Perhaps it was the idyllic train ride to Florence, while listening to Andrea Bocelli and reading Frances Mayes or the melt in your mouth gnocchi that we encountered upon arriving, but we couldn’t help but feel fortunate to be able to experience such a perfect vacation. Amazing sights, amazing sounds and amazing food. And as good as my NYC limoncello had been, it couldn’t compare with the nectar from the motherland.

A lot of years have passed since those carefree Italian dinners, but sometimes on a quiet evening, with a conversation of “remember when’s” and a little homemade limoncello, it feels like not so long ago.

Limoncello
I’ve heard limoncello referred to as sunshine in a bottle. Sweet, boozy sunshine.

26 thick-skinned lemons
1 1.75 ltr. bottle good quality vodka
2 cups sugar
4 1/2 cups water

  1. Gently wash and dry the lemons under warm water. Using a microplane, remove the lemons’ yellow zest, taking care to avoid the bitter white pith. (Save the zested lemons for another use.)
  2. Place the zest in the glass jar with a lid and add vodka. Cover the jar with plastic wrap and then seal tightly with the lid. Let the mixture steep until the peels begin to lose their color and the liquid turns bright yellow and very aromatic, at least three weeks but up to 40 days.
  3. After the lemon zest and vodka have steeped, combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool completely (this step can be done ahead of time and refrigerated).
  4. Pour the sugar syrup over the infused vodka. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  5. After the limoncello and simple syrup combo have sat overnight you’re finally ready to bottle your liquid sunshine. Strain the limoncello through a mesh strainer lined with a layer of moistened cheesecloth (to remove all traces of peel) and into a clean jar or bowl. Be sure to squeeze the last drops of liquid from the zest. (I did this three times.) Now line the mesh strainer with a coffee filter and strain the limoncello once more to collect any fine lemon residue and oil. (This step is the key to crystal clear limoncello. If you don’t do this final filtering you’ll end up with a cap of lemon oil in each of your bottles.)
  6. Using a funnel, pour the finished liqueur into clean bottles and seal tightly with a cork or cap and store in the refrigerator.* Or… pour yourself a glass, sit back and enjoy the fruit of your efforts.

*The longer the limoncello is allowed to age in the refrigerator the smoother it will become.

*adapted from imbibe magazine