Tag Archives: Vinegar

Cherry tarragon shrub syrup

Once again, it looks like I spoke too soon. No sooner did I finish wailing about the end of summer than we were hit with a heavy heat wave. This weekend was dry and blue and deeply, deceptively hot. So I drank all the icy drinks I could find.

Lately Sam and I have been into shrubs. (Not shrubberies. Shrubs.) A shrub is an an alcohol-free cocktail of sorts, built on an old-school mode of preservation: fruit vinegar. We first stumbled across this at the Oregon Berry Festival, where there was a stand selling deeply colored syrups and mixing tiny sample drinks for passers-by. A cheerful, motherly woman poured a few drops into a paper cup from a bottle labeled “drinking vinegar,” added some sparkling water and a tiny ice cube, and handed it over. We tasted, and we believed.

I know this sounds strange–every time I say the words “drinking vinegar,” people wrinkle their noses and hunch up their shoulders. So don’t think of it as vinegar, exactly. Think of it as “shrub syrup,” a tangy-sweet potion of fruit and vinegar and sugar, to be drizzled into a glass of cold fizzy water and enjoyed over ice. A good shrub is tart but not biting, with a solid hum of fruit and just enough sweetness to cut the acid from the bubbles. You can easily vary the sourness of the drink by adding more or less syrup, as you see fit.

This particular syrup came about more or less by accident. It started out as a straightforward infused vinegar, and a leftover use-up: I had the pits and dregs from a bag of cherries, and the remnants of a bunch of tarragon. So I combined them in a bowl, poured over some hot vinegar, and let them steep for a couple hours. The resulting vinegar was lovely and fragrant, but extremely subtle; I tried using it in salad dressings, but none of the cherry flavor came through. So I decided to mix in some sugar and turn it into a shrub syrup. It was a wonderful decision.

A tablespoon of this syrup, stirred into a glass of iced fizzy water, makes a shrub that is light, sweet and aromatic. There’s a whisper of cherry and a hint of licorice, and the whole glass is tinted a very pale pink. There’s a touch of vinegar-tang, but really, it just tastes like a slightly upscale Italian soda. It was the perfect thing to sip under an open window with a fan on full blast.

cherry tarragon shrub syrup

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The unbearable lightness of food

Well, not unbearable.  In fact, pretty damn appealing.

Fact is, there are days when I feel compelled to do fancy things with food.  And then there are days when it’s ungodly hot outside, and I’m staring down the Workweek from Hell, and standing over the stove with an elaborate plan and a spatula sounds like torture.

Guess which kind of day I’ve been having lately?

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The willy-nilly sandwich

I was a Theater major in college (playwright, not actor, don’t go all diva-shaming on me now).  One of the pieces of advice most pressed on us in our lessons on craft was the importance of research.  When you’re creating a character, you have to go as deep as possible into every nook and cranny you can find, and pull together all the context and factual evidence and analysis you can muster.  You have to create this fully-fleshed conception, right down to tattoos and breakfast cereal and all sorts of pieces that the audience may never hear of.

And then when it’s go time, you throw it all away.  You set aside all that exacting work, and leap into the unknown.

It’s not a stretch to say that I live my whole life this way.  I’m about the opposite of spontaneous.  I’m shy and neurotic, and I overthink everything.  I spend days planning what I might say in a phone conversation, and weeks thinking up a single night’s meal.  But more often than not, when the time comes for action, I end up ignoring all my well-laid mental plans and making it up as I go along.

Seems to have served me all right so far.

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Salad days

Back when I was a wee ‘un, just old enough to be a help in the kitchen rather than an underfoot pest, the very first thing my mother taught me to do was make salad dressing.  More specifically, she handed me a bottle of olive oil, a bottle of vinegar, and a spoonful of mustard, and said, “Mix these, please.”  So I did, and the rest is…well, you know.

Making vinaigrette was my introduction to home cooking, and it’s still one of my favorite things to do.  Homemade vinaigrettes are mind-bogglingly quick, impossible to screw up, and way more flavorful than anything that comes from a bottle.  Salads are also a fantastic way to practice being creative in the kitchen.  I could write volumes about this stuff.  In fact, I’m about to, so bear with me.

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