Things get interesting when you’re sitting around our Sonoma County kitchen with a friend from Tampa… who is into concocting fantastical cocktails. Like this Hendrick’s gin cocktail recipe… perfect for lounging about, playing cards or sharing laughs on the patio. Recipe courtesy of Rishi Ramkissoon.
Sonoma Sweet Tart
1 ounce Hendrick’s gin
4 muddled blackberries (or any other berry)
2 dashes Peychaud’s or Angostura bitters
1 slice citrus of your choice
In a 16 ounce (2 cup) Mason jar or glass of your choice filled with ice, combine gin, blackberries and bitters. Stir well. Add enough ginger beer to fill to top of glass, then garnish with citrus slice. Enjoy profusely.
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Every summer, I grow my own tomatoes. Giddily and enthusiastically. Almost to a fault. I receive my heirloom seed catalog each winter, earmark the hell out of it and plant new varieties each year — starting the seedlings indoors during February for a late April outdoor planting. Watching them grow (quite impatiently, I might add) is a uniquely geeky pleasure since I know what comes to fruition after all the loving nurturing. The harvest! If you follow me on Instagram, you won’t really see pictures of my pets or family… but red, yellow, and green heirloom tomatoes.
Read more: Awesomely easy heirloom tomato salsa recipe
It’s damn hard finding a Pinot Noir worth drinking under $20. Really, really hard. Some might even say under $30 is challenging, but I’m not that hard core. But forget under $15… it’s normally sweetened grape juice with a touch of earthiness likely added in with wood chips. But occasionally, if you look and wish hard enough, you can find a wine treasure that you can enjoy everyday without feeling the pinch too much. I tried the Mark West 2013 Pinot Noir in a blind tasting lineup and pretty much everyone (from wine novices to wine pros) thought it was solid. Especially for the low, low price of $12.
Read more: Wine review: Mark West 2013 Pinot Noir California
The Rhone Rangers, a group of wine producers who have a passion for Rhône grape varietals, spreads the gospel of grapes like Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne… all descendants of France’s Rhône Valley that grow quite happily in areas around California. Especially Paso Robles in the south-central area of the state where the intense heat coaxes these grapes into a ripening groove. Rhone Rangers holds regular tasting events across the country to introduce wine lovers to the beauty of these often overlooked yet sublime varietals. If you see one in your town, run to get tickets.
Read more: Wine reviews: Four Rhone style wines rocking my world
If you’re still reading this after seeing “gluten-free” in the title, then welcome. Many people don’t make it this far when “gluten free” is included. During my food allergy food cleanse, I discovered that I’m gluten sensitive. I’m not celiac or anything serious but post ripping into anything wheat-based, I get bloated and feel crappy. So I started eating as gluten free as I can. And that ain’t easy in our culture. As a former pastry chef who studied and used gluten for a living, it has been a tough, lonely road. But I’m learning to bake GF (as it’s called in this world and you’ll see on labels) while trying to avoid the scary sounding ingredients like xanthan gum, which acts as a thickening agent in the absence of gluten. It’s easier than you might think and you might even feel more comfortable after scarfing a few of these down.
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Sugar is enduring a brutal smear campaign these days. With good reason. It’s condemned as the cause to everything from diabetes to cancer. It’s so pervasive in the American diet — to the tune of 90 pounds of sugar per year per person — that everyone should be reading ingredient lists and weeping. Or getting saddlebags, saggy butt or belly. Or all of the above. Due in part to the silly low fat craze of the past 20 years, sugar became the substitute to make processed “food” low fat, since sugar only turns to fat in the body once it’s not burned off as energy. Think of sugar as a fuel that must be used immediately or it will end up somewhere. Like getting settled into your fat cells. But not all sugar is bad. It occurs naturally in fruit, called fructose, but eating too much fruit could still pack on the pounds if you lead a sedentary lifestyle. And the naturally occurring sugars in milk are called lactose.
Read more: Uncover five healthy foods with hidden sugar
I possess a Daredevil-like sense of smell. I notice aromas floating in the air that few people do, from potpourri, blooming flowers the next block over, sauteed onions from outside the front door and — my least favorite thing on the planet — incense burning in a nearby apartment. Inherited from the chef-side of my family, this intense sense is both a blessing and curse, since there are also plenty of not-so-fabulous aromas floating in the air too. As you likely know, taste is heavily dependent on smell (think about when you have a cold) so my taste factor is also influenced by this, ahem, blurse. But that’s where tasting wine becomes really cool. I smell and taste a lot of things in a wine. Like green pepper(aka pyrazine vegetal-ness) in many Chilean Carmenere wines. I whiff it first, then it bursts into my mouth. Generally experienced in grapes that haven’t ripened enough, the green pepper experience in Carmenere is part of its DNA. I never warmed up to this flavor and still don’t care for it. So when I get a sample bottle of Carmenere, I’m rarely psyched. However, the Anderra 2013 Carmenere surprised me. It helps that the wine is is the Chilean project by Baron Phillipe de Rothschild. Yep, that Rothschild.
Read more: Wine Review: Anderra 2013 Carmenere and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
Have you ever read the side of a salad dressing bottle? Be in a patient mood when you do. Hard-to-pronounce words followed by a list of chemicals. My mantra is that, if I can’t pronounce it, I shouldn’t be eating it. Ingredients often look scary to me… preservatives like potassium sorbate, red or yellow coloring, thickeners like xanthan gum and moderately evil flavor enhancers like monosodium glutamate. Not to forget sugar. Plenty of sugar in them, there bottles. When I “went healthy” many years ago, I dropped the bottled stuff and started making my own. Very surprisingly easy to do, once you get the hang of it and learn what tastes good to you. And the biggest accomplishment is knowing how to dress a salad without measuring. Bonus!
Read more: 4 ingredient Dijon vinaigrette recipe for salads (or marinades)
Summer is here, allowing all of us who live in a four season climate to enjoy the things that only summer can bring. For me – bring on the shandy (or radler if you prefer) perhaps the greatest beer cocktail. Like so many drinks the origins of the shandy beer cocktail are fuzzy and hotly debated. Some have suggested that the drink’s origins are found with Henry VIII who enjoyed the beverage in times of marital discord. It’s hard to imagine this, since a few shandies could never leave one in the mood to separate your spouse’s head from her body. However, he may have had issues well beyond the mood lifting properties of the shandy.
Read more: Shandy beer cocktail: Refreshing summertime drink
With the medical professionals screaming at us to eat healthier and better and the food marketers saying their fake food fits into this category, it’s difficult to know where to turn. But I turn to real food — food that comes from the ground or from a tree and has never seen a factory or processing plant. I don’t have to worry about eating too much of it or if it’s going to give me hives or any… ahem… digestive issues. If you’re hoping to make the switch or just trying to expand your healthy food horizons, here are seven, deliciously real foods that you should and can enjoy with relentless abandon.
Read more: 7 healthy additions to a real food diet (paleo style)