La Grande Orange cocktail recipe

Our mint patch is taking over the backyard, horror-movie style. It’s kind of scary how fast that stuff grows, but I let it stay because I really love having fresh mint on a whim.

Especially for cocktails.

Especially for this cocktail: muddled mint, dry gin, orange liqueur and honey syrup.

I’m calling it La Grande Orange (borrowing the name from one of my favorite Phoenix restaurants) because it has Pierre Ferrand’s dry curacao — a really lovely orange liqueur that is not at all like the blue stuff of the same name that goes into slushy beach drinks. Echo the orange flavor with a splash of San Pellegrino Aranciata, an fancy-feeling orange soda that is great to have on hand for cocktails and to offer to non-drinkers.

La Grande Orange cocktail

LA GRANDE ORANGE

Makes 1 cocktail

3-4 fresh mint leaves
1 ounce honey syrup*
1.5 ounces dry gin (try The Botanist, a small-batch gin)
1 ounce Pierre Ferrand dry curacao
Club soda
San Pellegrino Aranciata (optional)

In an old-fashioned glass, muddle mint leaves with honey syrup. Add ice, then gin and curacao. Top with club soda, a splash of San PellegrinoAranciata (optional) and a twist of orange zest (optional). Mix gently.

*To make honey syrup: In a bowl, mix 1 cup of honey with a 1/2 cup of boiling water and stir until honey is dissolved. Let cool, then store in the fridge for up to a month. Making honey syrup is an extra step, but absolutely worth it when it comes to flavor. And, once you have it on hand, you’ll use it all the time.

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Roasted grapes, your new favorite thing

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Here’s a little something that’ll change your life: Roasted grapes.

If it doesn’t change your life, it will at the least change your cheese plates. After a half-hour or so in the oven, grapes become an entirely new, delightful, fancy thing … somewhere between grapes and wine.

I’d never thought to roast grapes until I was working on a story about brunch for After40, a women’s magazine in Indianapolis. The chef at the center of the story, Deidra Henry of Taste in Indianapolis, told me that they’d blow my mind. (If you flip through the lastest issue online, you’ll see the story starting on page 20.)

I tested them on some girlfriends one night recently, and Deidra was right: Roasted grapes were a surprise hit. Intriguing, with amazing flavor that makes you go back for more.

And, like roasting vegetables, they couldn’t be easier to make.

Drizzle grapes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 350° for at least 25 minutes, until grapes are soft and shrivel-y. Remove from oven and drizzle with reduced balsamic vinegar, if you have it, or regular balsamic vinegar. Serve with soft cheese and crackers. Et voila.

Want to know more? Here’s my overly-detailed companion guide:

With scissors, snip a grape bunch into individual-size portions. I love the presentation of a full bunch, but breaking it up is easier on guests. Roasted grapes are soft and slick, so they’re not as easy to pluck off the stem as fresh grapes.

Place the grapes on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roll the bunches around a bit — gentle, now! — to coat the grapes evenly.

Roast in a 350° oven for at least 25 minutes, until the grapes are soft and a bit shrivel-y. I let mine go for 35 minutes. I like veggies super roasted, so I figured I’d want grapes the same way. Some ended up overdone, though.

Remove the pan from the oven and splash the grapes with balsamic vinegar — go light on the vinegar, because the grapes will already be pretty juicy from breaking down in the oven. Even better — drizzle reduced balsamic vinegar on the grapes.

Transfer to a serving dish, alongside some soft cheese and crackers.

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Starting seeds indoors for the garden

Thank you, big, fat snowflakes falling on March 13, for reminding me that winter is never leaving. You were pretty in December, and now you are hideous. Meanwhile, I am trying to force spring by starting seeds — indoors — for my garden. On the aforementioned snowy March 13, I planted seeds for arugula, kale and blushed butter oak lettuce. Two days later, I had this!

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Just kidding. But I do have this!

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I decided to start my garden indoors this year for the first time because I’ve been taking a master gardening class and this seems like something a master gardener is supposed to do. Here’s the thing, though: In class, we’ve learned about pests and plant diseases and all that, but we’ve skipped over some really practical information, like how to start seeds indoors.

I’m going to show you what I did so that you can correct me where I’m wrong.

I’ve been consulting two helpful books:  Gardening Wisdom and Know-How for general seed-starting instructions and Guide to Indiana Vegetable Gardening for planting info on individual vegetables. I made a chart of the things I want to grow, and dates for when each vegetable can be started indoors and then transplanted to the garden.

Essentially, you work backwards from one important date: Average last frost date, the date when the threat of frost has passed. That date varies by region — I live in southern Indiana and decided to use April 20, which is probably a bit conservative. I’m not a particularly risky gardener yet.

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Some vegetables do well in cool temps, and those are the ones you start indoors first, and transplant into the garden first. I decided to start with arugula, lettuce and kale.

Here’s how it went.
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Prepare your mise en place. It’s just like cooking. Think through the process and set out everything you’re going to need. Your hands will get dirty and it’ll be annoying if you have to stop to wash them in order to collect more materials.

Clockwise, from top left:

Potting soil: In Gardening Wisdom and Know-How, I read about mixing your own soil for starting seeds. I ended up buying a pre-mixed variety that had all of the components I read about. I wanted to try concocting my own, but this was just easier.

Plastic trays: These do not have drainage holes, which is what I wanted for this stage. When the seedlings are big enough and have roots, I think I’ll need to transfer them to their own little containers that have drainage holes at the bottom.

Ruler: To make rows for the seeds and to make sure you’re dropping seeds every half-inch, or inch, or whatever the seed packet says about spacing.

Seeds: Read the instructions on the packets before you get started.

Garden trowel: For mixing soil and water together in the bucket.

A big bucket: For mixing soil and water together.

Hot water: (Not pictured) For dampening the soil.

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Prepare the soil. Scoop the potting soil into a large bucket and pour in hot water. Give it a good mix, and add more water as needed until the soil is wet but not waterlogged. When I squeezed a handful of soil, no water dripped out.  The guy who was helping us at the garden center said using hot water is key.

Here’s a fun fact: You know those little white balls in potting soil that look like bits of Styrofoam? They’re actually “popped” volcanic ash, a natural substance, according to Gardening Wisdom and Know-How.

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Fill the trays with soil, packing it in evenly with your hands. The soil should come up nearly to the lip of the trays.

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Using a ruler, make a long well in the soil for a row of seeds. The seed packet will tell you how deep the well should be. I’ll be honest, I didn’t measure. I bet all of mine were about 1/4-inch deep.

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Tap the seeds into one hand and sprinkle them into the well with your other hand. If, like me, you’re nervous about your ability to space the seeds evenly according to the directions on the seed packet, lay the ruler next to the well for guidance.

Cover the seeds by gently pushing the misplaced dirt back into the well and giving it a good pat down.

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Cover the trays in plastic wrap. You’re basically creating a mini-greenhouse, and it’ll help keep moisture in. You want to keep watering to a minimum early on, because you risk washing out the seeds. Planting in wet soil and covering the trays in plastic wrap means you shouldn’t have to water until the shoots are up. At that point, remove the plastic wrap.

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Make sure the trays are getting 16-18 hours of light every day. Jeff rigged a simple light setup in the basement by suspending a lamp from the ceiling. He screwed metal hooks into wooden beams in the ceiling, and bought extra chain so that the light could hover right over the plants. I can adjust the length of the chain to accomodate the plants as they grow. The lamp will come with a short length of chain, but you’ll need to buy extra since you’ll want the lamp to hang right over the plants instead of near the ceiling. Use 30- or 40-watt bulbs in the lamp.

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And two days later, this is what I got! I think this — the sprouts stage — is the easy part. Soon, they’ll grow into true plants, and I’ll need to keep those alive in my basement for a few more weeks. Then, I’ll have to acclimate them to the outdoors by setting them outside for a while each day — this is called “hardening off” — before transplanting them to the garden.

Best of luck to my little sprouts!

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A peek at After40

I’m 31, but I write and style for a magazine called After40 — it’s a women’s magazine in Indianapolis. Our March/April issue is out, and you can flip through the whole thing right here.

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The name After40 isn’t great, but the magazine itself is great — and, it’s getting a new, better, more inclusive name starting with the next issue.

I style the fashion features (and the cover!). I often get asked how those things come together, so here’s a quick explanation: For our photo shoots, I request sample clothing from some retailers’ corporate offices and borrow other items from retailers’ local stores (that’s called a “pull”). Unlike national magazines, I’m expected to return the samples, so, no, I don’t get to keep a thing. Sometimes I’ll get to pick items from what’s called a look book, a visual preview of an upcoming collection, but other times I tell the retailers what I’m looking for — say, a blush dress and a printed pencil skirt — and hope for the best.

Am I thinking about a 40-year-old woman when I’m gathering the clothes and planning outfits? Yes and no. I keep 4 people in mind: me, plus three real, stylish women I know who are between 40-60. If I can see one of us wearing an item or an outfit, it makes the cut. I try to make sure there’s a good mix of classic, aspirational and trendy clothes and accessories in each feature.

Here’s our main fashion spread from the March/April issue — it focuses on the pretty neutral and pastel colors that are everywhere right now. We often use real women in our shoots, but for this one, our model Brenda flew in from Chicago, and she was a total dream to work with. My favorite piece from the shoot was the “twofer” dress from Loft — it’s the yellow-and-beige colorblock dress below.

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Here’s another piece from the March/April issue that I styled. This one’s on layering for spring:

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I also styled a pretty fun feature on spring nail polishes! I used an eye dropper to create the polish blobs. I tried and liked them all, but the jade color is my favorite. You really do need three coats, though.

 

 

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I also did stories on loafers, emerald jewelry and brunch. Check them out!

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Monday bites

In which I reveal my spirit pasta and the other tasty things I’ve had in the past week:

Best thing I made: Stir-fried Cabbage (recipe via Food52)

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I saw this recipe mentioned in a tweet one day last week, and though its main ingredient is cabbage (no one gets excited for this) and it calls for a handful of spices I don’t have (my No. 1 reason for turning down a recipe), I was totally sold and I made it that same night. It was sweet and spicy and earthy, and unlike anything I ever make. My kitchen would like to extend a warm welcome to fennel seed and garam masala. Just days later, I used the garam masala to make a flavored popcorn for the Oscars. Who am I?

So with this recipe, I substituted green cabbage for red cabbage because I like the latter better, and I’d make it that way again. Also, next time, I’d probably cut back on the oil.

Best thing I ordered: Paparadelle with braised beef from Bluebeard in Indianapolis. After Bluebeard’s James Beard award nomination last week, going there for dinner on Saturday night felt like the right thing to do. And it was. Homemade paparadelle is my spirit pasta.

Best thing I drank: Old Tom and Tonic, also from Bluebeard.

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One of three gin and tonics on Bluebeard’s menu, this one has celery shrub. Shrubs are old-timey vinegary syrups that bartenders are playing around with again, and it did make that gin and tonic taste like celery in the best way — kinda briny. It might sound a little weird, but not as weird as this: Later that night, my friend Casey sent me a picture of cocktail he was sipping in Miami. The rim of the glass was garnished with yam flakes.

Which has jumped the shark: Craft cocktails or sweet potatoes?

Worth recreating at home: Beet and blood orange salad from Feast, one of my favorite Bloomington spots. Roasted beets, blood oranges, avocado, walnuts and wide, thin carrot shavings, with a champagne vinegar dressing.

 

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Venn diagram: Me and James Beard

Just when I think I’ve eaten at a lot of great restaurants all over the place, the James Beard award semifinalist list comes out, as it did today — a robust list that makes me feel like I haven’t been ANYWHERE.

On our last trip to San Francisco, I opted to return to Pizzeria Delfina and try the outstanding mainstay Zuni Cafe, instead of claw my way into buzzy James Beard-approved places like State Bird Provisions and Bar Agricole and Aziza. I feel like we’re in Chicago every other month, and somehow I haven’t been to Blackbird, Spiaggia, Next or Schwa. The last time I was in Southern California, how did I miss Pizzeria Mozza and M.B.Post?

At least I don’t have stress over the picks from NYC, because I’ve never been. (What!?)

But before I blame James for making me feel so behind, it turns out that I have been to a handful of the restaurants on this year’s semifinalist list. So, things aren’t so terrible after all. On a Venn diagram, here’s where the James Beard crew and I overlap:

BLUEBEARD (in Indianapolis; Best New Restaurant semifinalist): This is going to sound anti-Indianapolis, but the first time I walked into Bluebeard, I felt like I was in a restaurant in another, cooler city. This little gem could have easily been looked over by the James Beard crew, but I’m cheering for it and for Indy. In the most recent winter issue of Edible Indy, we featured a story on Bluebeard that talked about the owners’ holiday food traditions, and we ran their recipes for oyster stew, meatballs and bread pudding.

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Photos by Kelley Jordan Heneveld. Top: Bluebeard’s bar; Middle row: Dining room looking into the courtyard and husband-and-wife co-chefs John and Abbi Adams; Bottom: Abbi’s bread pudding.

CLYDE COMMON (Portland; Outstanding Bar Program): This bar, attached to the Ace Hotel, hits all the hipster high notes. Jeff and I went a couple of years ago when we were in Portland for a craft distilling conference. Barrel-aged cocktails were getting popular, so Jeff ordered Clyde’s Barrel Aged Negroni. Now, I feel like I see those everywhere.

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HIGH WEST DISTILLERY AND SALOON (Park City, UT; Outstanding Bar Program and Best Chef: Southwest): A spot so nice, James nominated it twice! I love this place to pieces. Please win! High West is both a restaurant and a distiller of whiskey and other spirits. Having dinner here has become an annual tradition when we go to Park City for Sundance, and I have to say, it’s the whole package. The classic cocktails are the best possible versions of themselves, the more creative drinks are always well-balanced and the mountain-modern food is incredible. Given Utah’s somewhat prohibitive liquor laws, I think it’s doubly-amazing that High West is up for this award.

It’s dark inside and I never get great photos, but trust me, this place is so handsome.

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FOREIGN CINEMA (San Francisco; Outstanding Restaurant): This place holds a special place in my heart — I ate dinner here a couple years ago with my best friend’s then-boyfriend, who told me over mussels how he planned to propose. Also, one of those mussels I ate was icky and I haven’t eaten one since.

SAM FOX of Fox Restaurant Concepts (Phoenix; Outstanding Restauranteur): In Phoenix, there’s no restauranteur hotter than Sam Fox — his rise has been so golden and the company’s growth so exponential, it’s almost unbelievable. When I lived there, it wasn’t uncommon for me to go to a Sam Fox restaurant two or three times a week: Sauce for pizza and wine on a weeknight with my friend Casey; Blanco for tacos and margaritas with a group on a Friday night; Olive and Ivy for many memorable brunches. His restaurants are cool, fun, easy and good. He’s in your head before you even finish asking yourself where to go for dinner tonight.

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fox2Photos from foxrc.com.  Top: Tacos at Blanco; Bottom: True Food Kitchen.

STEPHEN McCARTHY of Clear Creek Distillery (Portland; Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Professional): On top of being one of the most respected craft distillers in the country, Stephen McCarthy found a way to put a whole pear inside each bottle of his pear eau de vie. I think the competition is over in this category, folks. This guy is the real deal.

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untitled (87 of 155)Top: Whole pears inside pear eau de vie (the pears actually grow inside the bottles, which are inverted over the fruits when they’re very young and tied to the branches); Middle: At the distillery; Bottom: Inside the distillery.

DAVID TALLENT of Restaurant Tallent (Bloomington, Indiana; Best Chef, Great Lakes): I think this is the 7th time that David Tallent has been nominated in this category, and it’s starting to feel like an always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride situation. I really, really hope this is his year! Sometimes I can’t believe that we have this top-notch restaurant here in little Bloomington. Tallent keeps our food scene sharp, and for that I am grateful.

David’s wife, Krissy, is equally awesome as the pastry chef at Tallent. For the most recent winter issue of Edible Indy, I asked her to share a favorite dessert recipe. She made Gingerbread Waffles with Caramelized Pears and while sampling them I told her to please, please never leave Bloomington.

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On becoming a Master Gardener

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Someday, when I’m retired and have nothing to do, I’ll wonder why I was in such a rush to become a Master Gardener at 31 years old.

But here I am, enrolled! One class under my belt! I enlisted my friends Jessica and Jana to go through the program with me, so it’s us and a bunch of sweet retired folks with decades of experience who are probably very curious about why we are there (we want your heirloom seeeeds!).

They call us all interns. But after finishing 14 weeks of horticulture classes, passing a final exam and volunteering 35 hours in the community, my name and “Master Gardener” will be etched on a metal pin that I can wear (… where? …) and maybe the eggplant plants that historically refuse to grow in my garden will finally give me some respect. We’ll see.

The Master Gardener program is offered all over the country, and though the topics are specific to your region, the idea is to learn about horticulture and apply it to any kind of gardening: ornamental, vegetable, floral. (Ornamental and floral might be the same thing, I’m not sure. The first class was mostly about how to get your volunteer hours and where to find the bathroom.) We will learn about soil management, pests and pesticides, best practices, etc. We will not learn about mushrooms — our instructor was very clear about that.

She was also clear that becoming a Master Gardener is not a certification, it’s something you do for personal improvement. So, you know, don’t try to start a landscaping business by slapping “Master Gardener” on your business card.

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On our first day of class, we did introductions. One woman said she’s increasingly concerned about the produce she finds in grocery stores, so she’d like to grow as much of it as possible for her family. Others have been longtime gardeners in other parts of the country and are used to, say, the fertile, black soil of central Illinois, but are thrown by the hard clay soil of southern Indiana. Their hairs are grey and their voices are soft. Gardeners are a gentle people.

There were a lot of jokes about clay and gumbo soil and we all had a good laugh. Garden humor!

Why am I taking the class? I have a lovely little garden and I take pictures of the plants and produce like they are my children. I want to grow the best food possible.

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Also, our yard is beautifully landscaped (and documented), thanks to the previous owner, and I want to learn to care for it, and give it my own spin wherever possible.

Finally, I hope that learning more about horticulture will help me become a better food writer. I’m pretty comfortable talking to chefs, but I think I could do better when I’m on assignment with farmers.

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And, when I said in my program application that I was excited for the required volunteer hours, I meant it. I’ve tried a few volunteer organizations in the past couple of years, but I haven’t found one that I love. I hope that changes.

When I learn something cool about seeds or soil or sun, I’ll let you know, right here!

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