– Elderflower “Liquor” is bright, lemony and lychee-sweet. -

The Elderflowers are in full bloom at the bottom of our driveway and down at Wayne’s, so I thought I’d take another peek at a post close to my heart:

By the side of the road is my favorite place to find food. Why? Because I’m a sucker for free stuff. A natural swag hag. And an Elderberry bush is especially swaggish because it has two seasons: the Flower Season and the Berry Season. Two projects. One bush.

I look forward to the appearance of elderflowers all year because, along with cherries, they are the first thing I ‘put up’. They arrive in late spring, about the third week in June. Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll notice them everywhere and slam on the breaks to point it out to everyone in the car. “LOOK, EVERYONE!! ELDERFLOWERS!!” Screeech!!

– Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll see elderflowers everywhere. -

– Along with ramp coordinates and chanterelle spots, local elderberry bushes are on my GPS. -

– I just lost my contact lens back here, Officer. -

You might (like me) start sneaking around at night with your basket, your snippers and a good made-up excuse when your neighbors discover you lurking around their yard in the middle of the night. “Um…Looking for my dog!” “Lost my diamond earring!” “Making some elderflower liquor…want some?”

Honesty is the best policy in my experience – most neighbors will gladly trade a few clippings of their overgrown bush for some delicious Elderflower “Liquor”. And Thank you, Wayne & Ellie! I’ll be down tomorrow with your jar! (We’ll go over what to do with the elderberries in a couple of months including why you should invest in an Afro-pick, but for now, here’s the flowery-stuff.)

– Elderflowers have an adorable fluffy look about them. -

Elderflower “Liquor” is more or less the same stuff as St. Germain, that heavily marketed, very pricey yet delicious elixir that’s on every cocktail menu from Bix to Brix. It’s no wonder – it’s hugely delicious stuff that has a uniquely lemony, yet distinctly floral, almost lychee-like taste.

I make it in large batches and give it to friends at the start of the summer to ensure that everyone has me in mind when they have a surplus of fruits or vegetables in need of ‘putting up’. European friends, in particular, will fall to their knees. They will wonder where you obtained the heady stuff of their youth.

For me, it’s the first thing I tackle; the peas have not yet shown their pods, the cukes are far from poking out from their slumber, the fruits are still the stuff from which dreams are made, but elderflowers are right there…on your neighbor’s property.

Put your kids to work. They hate it but you’ll find it charming.

– Terrible news: you may have to taste it 10 or 12 times. -

– Who needs chewing tobacco when there’s a pinch of sweetened elderflowers in the house? -

– The best projects are the ones that get things sticky. -

This is the basic recipe for any sort of drink ‘syrup’ that you might make: lemon balm, basil, mint, Buddha’s Hand peel. Syrup, of any sort, is great for ice tea, marinades and, of course, gin cocktails. It’s not alcoholic in any way and adding some to a glass of soda water and ice is a delicious, kid-appropriate treat.

ELDERFLOWER “LIQUOR”

45 heads of elderflowers (more or less)

4 cups water

4 cups sugar

Zest of one lemon

Juice of one lemon

Optional: 1 teaspoon of Citric Acid*

*Citric Acid will make your syrup last longer in the fridge. You can buy it in the canning aisle of your grocery store or on cheese-making websites. Despite its Quentin Tarantino-esque name, Citric Acid is nice to have around. It helps with a bunch of weird cooking projects, particularly jam and other foodstuffs that require a longer shelf life, a higher level of acidity and a ‘lemony’ note.

1. Separate the flowers from the stems as much as possible (too much stem can be toxic). Put your offspring to the task. Make it sound fun – like painting a fence!

2. When the flowers are like a big, stemless fluff, put them in a heat-proof bowl or a large Ball Jar (my choice).

3. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice to the flower pile. Add the citric acid if you have it.

4. Heat the sugar and water in a pot over medium heat until the sugar ‘melts’ into the water. Let the hot sugar-water (aka ‘simple syrup’) cool down for 10 minutes then pour the syrup over your flower pile. Put some plastic wrap over your bowl or your ball jar and leave it on the kitchen counter.

Now you wait. It will take about two to three days until the flower flavor infuses intensely into your syrup. I taste it frequently, a couple of times a day, to check its progress. I try to get it at its peak.

STRAIN THE SYRUP

When it tastes insanely delicious, strain the syrup into a measuring cup (or anything that has a bit of a ‘spout’ for pouring) and toss out the flowers. It’s at this point that I secretly plop a finger-full of cooked flowers into my mouth, but it’s not a requirement. I suck on the sugary stuff then spit out the spent flowers in the sink before anyone catches me!

POUR INTO PRETTY BOTTLES

You’re ready! Pour this yummilicious syrup into a pretty glass swing bottle. Keep a batch for yourself, but give away as much as you can part with. You’ll be rewarded tenfold when your neighbors remember that you know what you’re doing in the kitchen and that you might just turn their over-producing plum-tree into something delectable.

My favorite way to use Elderflower “Liquor” is to add a tablespoon to a martini shaker along with a measure of gin (or vodka, if you’re my husband) and ice. Shake like a madwoman while singing Happy Birthday twice then pour into a chilled martini glass. Add a few flowers on top or something else equally cute.

 

Take your boots off before you come in here!

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— Thank you for this photo, Antonella Vitale. –

1. Find and remove the tick.

No easy task: the smaller the tick the more Lyme-y they are. In June, the dreaded “nymph” is everywhere. They are about the size of your smallest freckle. I keep jewelers glasses in my bathroom and check out every inch of flesh in the house. I have found one burrowed in armpit hair. I’ve met two people just this week who’ve had the exciting ‘tick in the balls’ discovery. Look everywhere then take a shower and look again. A tick will get very…um, ew, energetic, when your blood warms up.

I keep a Tick Twister around and The Tick Keys. In a pinch, a credit card will do. The idea is to sort of ‘scoop’ the thing off of you. No tweezers. No matches. Don’t annoy it. Don’t leave its…um, ew, head in you.

2. TAKE A DOXYCYCLINE.

There is evidence that a single dose of Doxycycline taken within the first 24 hours of a tick bite can prevent Lyme disease from setting in. I am not a doctor, so everything here is my own opinion, but this is not optional for my loved ones. How do you happen to just have a Doxycycline in your kit? Call your doctor and demand a prophylactic prescription. For you. For your pill-age kids going off to camp. I stockpile Doxy so that everyone knows they can call me for a supply.

Here’s what you say when you call your doctor:

“I am deathly afraid of getting Lyme disease and I’ve heard that a course of Doxycycline taken prophylactically right away can possibly prevent it. Will you please write me (my husband, my wife, my camper) a prescription so I can have some on hand. I promise I will call you if I have to take one.”

I don’t know the answer for really young kids or pregnant women, but I can tell you this — there is no way in about a billion years that the risks associated with taking a single Doxycycline, or even a month of Doxycycline, can compare to the risks associated with even a chance of getting Lyme disease. If your doctor won’t write you a prescription, find another doctor.

Some misconceptions:

A tick needs to be on you for 24 hours in order for it to transmit Lyme disease. Okay — think about it. That’s like saying that it’s okay to share a needle with someone who has hepatitis as long as you use it really quickly. The 30-second rule does not apply here. A dirty needle is a dirty needle. IMO, that’s b.s.

You need to have the bullseye rash to get Lyme disease. Most people never have a rash (in fact, most do not realize that they’ve ever been bitten). The rash can look merely like redness. The rash can not appear at all.

You can look out for symptoms, then go to the doctor. Lyme symptoms are so freaky and so varied, that you will likely not recognize them. Lyme symptoms do not necessarily show up right away. By the time you show any symptoms, you may already have chronic Lyme that will never, ever, ever go away.

For example: your memory is a little off, the next week you see spots, then your bad knee acts up, then your shoulder bugs you and you schedule surgery, then you’re super-super-super tired and you spend a month in bed, then your thumb hurts so much you can’t sleep, then you start carrying thermometers in your purse to re-check your permanent 99.9 fever, then you lose your temper at work and get fired, then your thumb hurts again, then your vision takes a nose dive, then you go through what seems like menopause, then you could swear you see bugs in your poop, then you find yourself at the shrink’s office trying to explain all this. Shrink squints eyes, takes notes, finds you fascinating. Would like to see you the following week.  

Who recognizes this collection of symptoms as Lyme? Also, just for kicks, Lyme comes with a collection of co-infections, like Babesia or Cat Scratch Fever, so each case of Lyme has a different…um, ew, flavor. The co-infections can be worse, and harder to treat, than the Lyme.

So call your doctor and get your stash of Doxycycline, okay?

Please forward this or post with the buttons below.

— These are the aliens that will live in your body 24/7 if you get Lyme. –

–…um, ew. –

Take your boots off before you come in here!

 

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Scapes on the Konro

June 19, 2015

— Mastering half-Lotus helps with grilling on the traditional Konro. –

 Chef Tyler Viggiano always has something up his sleeve. Who can forget the time he used newspaper as a flavor? It’s always a surprise, offbeat, delicious and educational.

For dinner, I was told to bring green things, of which everyone knows I have a lot. I also offered to bring my 5 crépinettes from Fatted Calf in Napa, which I lovingly smuggled into New York (the crépinettes, not the calf) in my luggage from my California freezer to The Muddy Kitchen – they’re that good.

– Meat patty plus fat. What’s not to love? –

— Crépinette gets its characteristic ‘crépiness’ from the layer of caul fat that surrounds it. –

There were 5 of us, so the math was perfect. Chef Seamus Mullen had stopped by earlier on his way to Wanderlust, and as much as I would have liked Chef Mullen at our dinner table, he would have made 6. I was only too glad I didn’t have to share my caul-wrapped meat patty. Sorry Chef M. 

Chef Tyler was staying at his Auntie Rose’s, which is one of my favorite spots in the world. We all happily put up with the ghosts at Rose’s, whose wreaked havoc is minimal, in order to enjoy what the property has to offer.

— Chef Tyler-San at the helm of the Konro. –

Chef Tyler was eager to bust out his Konro, a Japanese yakitori grill. The Konro had been acquired through nefarious means, according to Chef. The story is safe with me, but needless to say there is some pissed off drunken yakitori chef with raw meat on sticks running around Manhattan somewhere.

Garlic Scapes never had it so good. –

I also fell in love with Binchotan, a kind of artisan charcoal. The aroma it gives off is nothing like the conventional charcoal-grill-junk I’m used to: burnt oak, cedar sauna with an after-waft of hinoki soaking tub.

As if we were all transported momentarily to the Japanese countryside, Chef Tyler effortlessly grilled the garlic scapes I had brought along with the season’s last crop of asparagus from my beds and some new potatoes they had in the larder. 

— One thing comes off, another goes on the Konro. –

We also picked wild milk thistle from the field below Rose’s. What we didn’t eat straight from the stalk, Chef threw on the Konro. I’d had milk thistle tincture before, which is a great detoxifyer but a far ways from tasty. Foraged as young flower bulbs, milk thistle tastes a bit like a fiddlehead fern or a sweet young asparagus shoot. The floret looks like a tender broccoli sprout and grills up perfectly over the super-heated, designer charcoal. 

— Milk thistle growing in Rose’s field. –

— The young buds are yummy raw or cooked. –

— The ‘milk’ oozes out from the stem. –

— Detoxifying in the field. –

—- For just a moment Chef Tyler makes the Hudson Valley look impossibly…Japanese. –

As usual, the night at Rose’s table was filled with stories of ghosts – who’d seen what where, who’d heard what when, clanking of this, glowing of that.

— A salad on every table. –

— We all agreed that crépinette juice goes with everything. –

— Let the ghost stories begin! –

It was a delicious night had by all. And as usual, I was glad to be sleeping at home, a few miles away, in my own bed.

— Clink, clank. Clink, clank. –

Take your boots off before you come in here!

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— There are only two parking spots at Turtle House and both of them are on the water. –

Turtle House is where my husband’s best and oldest friend, Frankie, once called home. When Frankie wasn’t hanging out with us at The Muddy Kitchen, or at Rose’s down the way, Frankie was at Turtle House looking out onto the crystal clear waters, reading in the hammock and enjoying his piece of magical paradise. 

— The only way to get there is to pull up and tie off. –

Once you step off your boat and onto the dock at Turtle House, you understand why Frankie never wanted to leave.

— Simple beauty everywhere you turn. –

It’s impossible to imagine Turtle House as a “house” per se; it’s more like a compound, a collection of rooms to sleep, rooms to shower or bath, spots to eat, to sit, to run the radios, a place to dock the boat, a rock to dive off of. 

— There’s not much difference between indoors and out at Turtle House. –

— If you squint, you might be able to see the nearest house, Croft’s place across the way. –

Turtle House is perched on a hill, which is on Stocking Island, which is a boat ride across from The Chat & Chill, which is a boat ride across from Exuma, which is somewhere in the Bahamas. There’s no real address, just a lot of pointing to a spot beyond some sailboats, a few warnings about shallow water here and there, and requests to bring over some rum if you have it, or a few bottles of beer, a loaf of bread, whatever.

— Self-sufficency is key when your world is so far away from the real world. –

There’s nothing to do at Turtle House and nowhere better to go. You’ll soon lose the need to know what time it is. You’ll quickly forget why clothes are all that important. You’ll start playing cards, reading the books on the shelf and appreciating the company of nice people.

— Wealthy German fantasy meets beach living? Maybe. –

— Sunscreen and flip-flops are a necessity no matter who’s coming. –

We heard tales of the original owner of this enchanted place: wealthy German scion? A reclusive rockstar? An eccentric hippie? Like most legends, it’s hard to know the absolute truth. Maybe. Any of those things might have been true. The relics of bygone eccentricities were everywhere.

— The view from Frankie’s bedroom. No real need to ever leave. –

— The ‘pool’ is never very far away. –

Frank’s friends and relatives gathered together at Turtle House as if Frankie was still there. Food was plentiful and made by lots of hands. The kitchen was always buzzing and full. Even in Exuma and with Frankie long gone, the Viggianos know how to represent. 

— The Viggianos represent. –

— No one ever goes hungry with Rose around. –

Rose always has a smile and a plate of something for everyone to share. Even when the cupboards were practically empty, somebody whipped up something delicious. And vaguely Italian.

— Of course it is the Bahamas. –

— Rum. The national beverage. – 

Soon the celebrations had us loading back onto the boat and ferrying across the way a few at a time to the local (and only) eating and drinking establishment. The ride there didn’t suck.

— Lunch is just a short ‘drive’ away. – 

No need to call ahead about the dress code at the Chat N’ Chill. Bring plenty of cash though; the sign promises the “Chat” for free, but they charge more than you’d think for the “Chill”. 

— The Chat is free. The Chill costs about $10 a pop. –

— They know from ceviche at the Chat N’ Chill. –

Luckily if I were stuck on this semi-deserted island forever, they make  something I could eat all day, every day, for the rest of my life and be happy. When you put these magical two words together – conch + ceviche – you know the key to my heart. They pull the conch fresh from the sea at the Chat N’ Chill and only make it a few batches at a time. The waiting is where the chill comes in, especially when you’re hungry. The chatting comes in handy too.

— No shortcuts here. –

— Conch ceviche, the spécialité of the island. –

CRACKED CONCH CEVICHE

This recipe presumes that someone like your personal sous chef can pull your conch fresh from the waters off your desert island, but if you don’t have a sous chef like that or conch as fresh and briny as they have off Exuma, I recommend a trip to the Chat N’ Chill. There is no substitution. 

Ingredients:

8 ounces fresh conch (preferably Bahamian, preferably pulled from the waters mere minutes earlier)

1 lemon + 1 orange + 2 limes freshly juiced

1/2 red onion, minced

½ sweet pepper, minced

½ jalapeno, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the conch in small chunks. Add the citrus juices. Add all the vegetables. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

— Digesting lunch takes lots of time and little effort. –

— And the short ride back to Turtle House. – 

— Frankie’s sentiments at Turtle House loom large. –

— No real need for anyone to know about this place. –

Take your flip-flops off before you come in here!

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There’s a New Trout Guy in Town

April 27, 2015

Filling the pond with trout is one of the magical things we do here each spring. I like to think of trout as a gateway livestock. If I start with trout, I might soon be plucking eggs from beneath my flock of chickens, racing piglets through the orchard, and knitting sweaters from my freshly shorn [...]

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My Dream Dribber

April 22, 2015

Now I love diamonds as much as the next diva-slash-farmgirl, but sometimes it’s the simplest things that make my heart race. I’ve been dreaming up a Dream Dribber for years now and I’ve been whispering its specs into my husband’s ear each spring, usually after I’ve done all my planting. But this year the whispering, the [...]

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Fabulous Friday!

April 3, 2015

Ouch! In a good way.

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Will Trade for Garlic

March 23, 2015

I grow enough garlic each year to feed all of Sicily, but it still never seems to be enough. Garlic is worth its weight in gold around these parts. I can’t give away even the finest specimens of my fancy heirloom squashes, no one gives a rat about my Striped Green Zebras or a fistful [...]

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