Tag Archives: drinks

Beware the Whomping Willows

Things don’t always turn out as you’d expect.

Dunes at Tyndall AFB

After having children I developed a sixth sense (otherwise known as Mom logic) for figuring out what might happen, then preparing for it. Part of my job as food stylist was to anticipate the unexpected. I’d pack my kit, knife bag, and various tools, but in addition I’d have plans B, C, D & E ready for when things went sideways. And trust me – they almost always went sideways.

My best friend and I are both firm believers in imagining the worst possible scenario in any given situation so when it doesn’t happen, as it usually doesn’t, anything else which might have cropped up is a cake-walk (note my husband and therapist are not fans of this last method even if I think it works for me).

The point in noting all of this is simply to say that usually I can deal with most of what life throws at me and mine. Not always gracefully, but I manage. Occasionally even with a modicum of aplomb.

So when we recently travelled to Florida for our daughter’s Undergraduate Air Battle Manager Training graduation I was feeling both excited and prepared. I’d packed:

✓ shorts, sandals, and plenty of sunscreen for the warmer weather
✓ gloves, hat, and a warm coat for the return to Massachusetts in October
✓ cards for our graduates
books and books on tape because traveling without books is the equivalent to walking around naked in public, and I categorically refuse to do either
✓ reusable water bottle (the Gulf Coast of Florida is not big on recycling)

We were ready for the adventures ahead of us and headed south happily. Shawn flew down first and was able to spend a few days with Isabelle. Since I don’t fly the train got me down a few days later, and our son Russell showed up near the end of his work week.

Member of the Doghouse and her dad

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Birthday Punch

It’s my birthday again so to celebrate I’m giving you a present. The recipe is my Dad’s champagne punch which he has served at many a holiday party. Joe’s Champagne Punch is sneaky. After a few glasses you realize this punch serves as much of a wallop as my daughter’s boxing coach dishes up in the ring. Only it’s a cocktail wallop and you don’t realize how potent it is until after you’ve had a few glasses. Whenever Dad stirs up a batch I can hear Mom warning people, “You have to be careful with this champagne punch because it goes down soooo easy!”

When my parents serve this they mix it up in a cut glass punch bowl. A few months before I got married (and well before the advent of Photoshop) I did a job where I needed to bring a wall thermostat frozen into a block of clear ice to a photo shoot. Not really food styling, but it was a job. I found a great company near Boston who had discovered how to freeze solid objects in clear ice. For our wedding Shawn and I had them make us an ice bowl filled with flowers which we used to serve Joe’s champagne punch out of.  For my 50th birthday bonfire celebration we nestled a giant stainless steel mixing bowl into a snowdrift an ladled the punch out of that. However you serve it don’t forget to warn people of its potency or plan on making your party a sleepover.

"Joe Caldwell's champagne cocktail"

My dad Joe and his LED champagne apron

Joe’s Champagne Cocktail

2 cups orange juice

2 cups pineapple juice

3 cups lemon juice

1 bottle brandy

4 bottles champagne

Simple syrup to taste

ice

Make the simple syrup by combining 2 cups of sugar with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then turn off the heat and cool. I often find my self doing this step at the last-minute in the middle of winter so I simply put the pan on the back steps to cool down. If you find yourself perilously close to party time you can also place the pan of simple syrup in a bowl filled with ice, which should cool it down quickly.

Once you’ve made a batch of simple syrup find yourself a huge punchbowl or bowl. Mix everything together except the simple syrup. Mix the simple syrup in to taste. My husband and I like the punch a little bit tart, but it really is something you should taste and decide. You can also mix it up so it’s tart, then leave a small pitcher of simple syrup on the side for guests who like things sweeter.

You can also make a small party-size batch by quartering the recipe to use just one bottle of champagne.

"Joe's champagne cocktails"

Whatever you do don’t try to save time by pre-releasing the cork cages. One year Dad thought he could save time at their annual Christmas party by untwisting all the wire fasteners on the champagne corks. The holiday festivities were in full swing when suddenly the kitchen was filled with the retort of champagne corks ejecting themselves from their bottles at random. Bubbly (yet happy) chaos ensued.

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Quenching the Burn

There are things I will spend money on and things I won’t and that list has changed over time. For instance  BK (before kids) my list of things I would indulge in included items like Peter Fox boots, going to Scotland for the weekend, and getting my hair colored, things that are definitely not on my current list of things I’ll spend my hard earned cash on. In fifty years I’ve come to realize that every person has one of these lists and no two people’s “will spend money on/won’t spend money on” lists are the same. My current list of things I will spend money on includes bees, books,  yarn, and glassware.

"glassware in pie cupboard"

Part of my glassware collection...

On my list of things I usually don’t splurge on is going out to eat. While I love having other people cook for me, if my family suggests that we go out to eat I often say no. I’d rather spend the same money towards many more equally delicious meals at home. My favorite local restaurant is definitely way too expensive to frequent on a regular basis and having worked in the food industry for much of my life I am acutely aware of the cost of what your are served when you dine out (both labor and ingredients). This is not to say that I think restaurants make much money from the food they serve (because they don’t for the most part) but I know if I were given the same ingredients and a little time I have all the skills to make the same dish at home, especially since I don’t charge my family for my time.

My two exceptions to this preference of not splurging on casually dining out are Indian and Chinese food. I have a few recipes from each cuisine which I love to make, but they are not things I make with any great frequency as they are time-consuming to prepare. Thinking about preparing an entire meal from those cuisines makes me want to crawl into bed and take a nap. So for those two particular cuisines eating out seems cost-effective (you might totally disagree with me–I’m just talking about my list of things I choose to spend my money on).

"mango lassis"

Mango Lassis

Of course there is always an exception with an exception. While I’ll happily go out to eat Indian food for dinner, I detest paying for Mango Lassis. It’s not that I don’t like mango lassis–I love mango lassis. I could drink four of them in one sitting. At $4 a pop. My kids could too. So could my Mom. The only one in my family who doesn’t long to swig Mango Lassis down by the gallon is my husband because he stays away from dairy. In the old days those of us mango lassi lovers used to nurse a single lassi through an Indian meal while dreaming of endless pitchers of the creamy sweet concoction.

"mango lassi ingredients"

The ingredients for mango lassis

Until I found out what exactly was in my favorite Indian restaurant drink–yogurt, pureed mango pulp and ice. That’s it. Some of the fancier Indian restaurants add a splash of rosewater, but I can live without that culinary flourish. Once I realized the trick of making them my challenge became how to track down mango puree. Initially I found a source in little India in New York City. I would go there with a backpack and $30 and stuff eleven cans into my backpack at which point I would proceed to stagger around the city until it was time to get on the train and take my treasure back to Massachusetts (the cost of shipping would have doubled what I paid for them hence my acting like a mango puree pack mule).

Fortunately the days of trekking to Little India are gone because the International Food Market in Hadley carries the main ingredient. It’s easy to load up on mango puree when I decide to cross water (the Connecticut River) on a loop to shop at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Target. Now I can have my own pitcher of mango lassi for less than it would cost me for two glasses in a restaurant. Life is sweet!

Mango Lassi

30 ounces Alphonso sweetened mango pulp (one can)*

16 ounces yogurt–I love Environ Acidophilus Yogurt, but any unsweetened yogurt will do

1 tray’s worth of ice cubes

This recipe makes more than will fit in my blender at one time so I do it in halves. I pour 1/2 the can of mango pulp, half the yogurt, and half the ice cubes into my blender. Push the ice crush button and cover your ears. When the ice cubes are no longer visible pour into glasses or a pitcher and repeat with the remaining ingredients.

"Mango Lassi in blender"

Ready to rip...

"russell drinking a mango lassi"

Russell enjoying a mango lassi

Note: The last few days have been the first royally brutal day of summer–94ºF and so humid I started to melt as soon as I walked out of our house. For truly hot days or truly hot dishes a mango lassi is a great way to beat the heat. When you eat something super hot you instinctively grab for a glass of water, but that will not help. If you are truly on fire from the inside-out water will not subdue the flames you have ingested–instead you need starch or dairy. So grab a bowl of rice or a mango lassi to quench the burn. A mango lassis also seems to work wonders counteracting those crazy hot days of summer though the same cannot be said of a bowl of rice.

*If I am shopping at an hour when the International Market is not open I will buy a few bags of frozen mango chunks from Trader Joe’s, then add some honey to sweeten the lassis as I puree everything in the blender. The texture will not be as creamy as with the alphonso mango pulp from a can, but it’s a respectable alternative.

"frozen mango chunks"

Trader Joe's frozen Mango Chunks

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