float on

Sometimes, you just need to chill. Life lately has been fast-paced, always. Busy doing this, then busy moving on to that. Planning for the next project, making lists, business as usual. Truthfully, though, it’s more than the usual. It’s good to feel so busy, but it has also finally caught up to me. Trying to balance all the things — accomplishing the necessary tasks, finding time for the slightly less necessary & making room to relax. Last week, I struggled. I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water. Just treading, checking nothing off the list. It’s a slow & steady motion, this settling in and finding a new balance. I’ll figure it out. I always do.

In the meantime, Mondays have become my day to slow down. To assess the week & plan ahead. Also, to stop and take a sip (or two … or three) and savor those brief moments. I’ve spent a lot of time lately watching the light in my apartment — trying to find just the right moments when everything will coalesce.

A milkshake is indulgent. An excellent summertime treat, a fond memory of childhood. Over the weekend I adventured to a new bar just for a very grownup kind of milkshake (full of rum, oh yes). My mojito today isn’t a milkshake (there’s no milk or cream), but rather a float. Still, there’s icy deliciousness swirled in a glass. How could you go wrong?

Mojito Float

2 cups water

1 packed cup mint leaves

1 tablespoon sugar

Pinch of salt

1.5 ounces lime juice per glass

3 ounces white rum per glass

2-3 scoops lemon sorbet per glass

3 ounces sparkling water

Make the mint tea. First, bruise the mint leaves. Usually the blunt (non-blade) side of a kitchen knife, tap the mint leaves. You should notice darkened lines or spots on the leaves (bruises). This helps to release the essential (and flavorful) oils. Place the leaves in a small saucepan with the 2 cups of water, sugar and salt. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, turn off the heat and cover. Let the tea steep for at least 30 minutes. Strain out the leaves, and chill the tea. You should end up with about 2 cups of tea.

Make the mojito. In a 10-12 ounce glass, add the lime juice, rum, and 2 ounces of chilled mint tea. Stir briefly. Add full scoops of sorbet, then top with the sparkling water for a fizzy finish.

Stir or scoop. Eat with a spoon or sip through a straw. Enjoy!

from scratch

Today has been a from-scratch kind of day. Homemade pasta sauce full of bright, multicolored tomatoes and plenty of herbs. Roasted tender zucchini and baby bella mushrooms to complete the dish. And another mojito.

It feels like, on most days, I’m running around endlessly. I can’t hardly ever sit still — truthfully, even when I am sitting, I’m still running. My fingers across the keys, my eyes from one tab or page to the next, my brain thinking & cataloging plenty of things at once. It’s no wonder, then, how I can be so exhausted at the end of each day. I’m still working to find the right rhythm, catch the light at just the right time, do all the things before the day is over. Still, some things get pushed back to wait for another day.

Another Monday means another mojito. Today, still wafting through the inspiration of my weekend at farmer’s markets, I put together a fresh cucumber mojito. It’s a flavor I’ve been trying for weeks — I just couldn’t get it cucumber-y enough, until today. Freshly juiced cucumbers paired with Thatcher’s organic cucumber liqueur, which is succulently sweet and refreshing, plus mint and lime (of course).

Cucumber Mojitos

This drink is a soft reprieve, like a lilting breeze on a steamy summer day. If you can’t find the cucumber liqueur, you may omit it but remember to add a teaspoon of sugar to each glass instead.

10 fresh mint leaves per glass

Juice of half a lime per glass

2 fresh cucumbers, washed & ends trimmed

1 ounce of Thatcher’s organic cucumber liqueur per glass

2 ounces white rum per glass

Ice, for serving

Make the cucumber juice. Chop the cucumbers and puree in a food processor. Pour the puree into a fine mesh sieve set over a large bowl and use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to press out all the juice. Even when you think you’ve got all the juice out, keep pressing. (Alternatively, you can use a juicer if you have one, or squeeze the puree through a cheesecloth.) Keep the cucumber pulp! It can be used in green smoothies, salsas, or tzatziki sauce. You should have 2 – 2 1/2 cups of bright green cucumber juice.

Assemble the mojito. In a 10-ounce glass, muddle the mint leaves until bruised. Add the lime juice. Fill the glass with ice and pour in the cucumber liqueur, rum and cucumber juice. Stir gently to mix.

This recipe is for one serving. Since mojitos are quick & simple to prepare, I usually just make individual servings as needed. The recipe, however, can easily be doubled or tripled to prepare a larger pitcher amount for a party (or a lovely lazy weekend).

Cheers!

 

Duly noted: I was not compensated to feature Thatcher’s organic artisan liqueur in my post today. I purchased it because I was curious, and I wanted a cucumber mojito. As always, the opinions and writing are my own.

settling in

On Saturday, I was awake before the dawn. Part of my new job involves setting up a booth at local farmer’s markets & this weekend was my first foray into prepping & working at the market in Piedmont Park. I’m not usually much of a morning person, but I secretly love waking up before the world. The air feels different, the earth is damp, streetlamps are still lit. To me, it’s a sort of magical time before the rush, the begging of plans to be made & completed, begins. There was no real sunrise to see from where I stood, just a broadening glow filling up the day.

The market on Saturday was great fun, but it didn’t leave me much time for exploring — except when I needed to venture off in search of chalk. While I love the idea of farmer’s markets & I live in a city with plenty of markets throughout the week, I rarely wake early enough on Saturdays to make it to the market before closing time. This morning, though, I woke early enough to enjoy a leisurely morning before venturing off to Grant Park. I went with one goal — fresh, heirloom tomatoes. I left with a great deal more.

I have so many lists of things to do, things to remember. Sometimes, it’s refreshing and exciting to go off the book and be spontaneously inspired. The stand where I picked up 3 pounds of tomatoes (right on the dot, exactly) also had a wide variety of pastured, grass-fed meats available. The bratwurst I sampled was amazing — juicy with a crisp skin but soft and tender inside. So, I picked up some bone-in pork chops. Another vendor, Zocalo, was selling fresh salsas. Tempted, I picked up the salsa verde (it’s our best seller, he said). Normally, I’m not a fan but the sample had me swooning. Today was the last day for fresh picked Georgia peaches (WHAT?! Already?) from Pearson Farm, so I grabbed a bag of those too. Even though they were tucked gently in the bottom of my shopping bag, I could smell them all the way to the car. (Those are probably the most delicious, succulent & juicy peaches I have ever, ever eaten.)

So, tonight I threw together a dinner inspired by the market. Fresh, crisp green beans, a quick millet pilaf and the pork chops (oh, those chops) marinaded in that salsa & grilled.

Salsa Verde Marinade

This marinade is something thrown together quickly. It’s incredibly thick & flavorful. Since it is so simple, the ingredients can easily be doubled (or tripled) to accommodate more than two pork chops. I left the marinade on the chops when they went on to the grill. While I think pork is the perfect pairing, this sauce would be equally delicious on grilled chicken. If your local market doesn’t carry a freshly-made, preservative-free, salsa verde try instead to make your own or use your favorite green salsa. (Or order some straight from Zocalo. Seriously.)

2 bone-in pork chops (3/4 – 1 inch thick)

1/4 cup Salsa verde

1 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

salt & pepper for the chops

Generously sprinkle salt & pepper on both sides of the chops. Mix together the marinade ingredients & spread a thin layer in a casserole dish large enough to fit the chops. Rest the chops on top and evenly spread the remaining marinade on top. Let the chops sit for 1 hour. When you’re ready to grill, simply place the chops over direct heat & grill for 1 minute. Then, flip the chops & grill for 1 more minute. Either turn the heat of your grill down to medium, or move the chops to a cooler spot & continue grilling for about 7 minutes. Let the pork chops rest for at least 10 minutes before digging in.

slow & fast

Another Monday here, and almost gone. Summer days seem languorous but the sun always sets too soon (because I have to much to do). The last week was incredibly full. Head-spinning, feet-numbingly full. New things to learn, new foods to tempt, and definitely not enough sleep. I am so grateful to finally have a job and I enjoy sharing my food knowledge with others, and, oh, the light in that place. But, I’m still adjusting. After a long day on my feet (oh, my poor, aching feet) I barely have the energy to cook or eat before collapsing into sleep. I have ideas aplenty, but I seem to be running out of time to execute them.

I started Mojito Mondays as a motivation to blog regularly. It’s working, but I’m starting to worry that this regularity is making me seem quite the lush. Truthfully, with the exception of a very occasional glass of wine, I have only had the time to drink on Mondays as I’m whipping up a quick mojito recipe to share here. This is a delight for me, as there is something new and exciting that requires my immediate attention (and tasting) on Mondays.

I create recipes almost every day. Sometimes just thinking, during those (rare) slow moments of the day, or sometimes just throwing a few things together in a pan and hoping for the best. I am hoping to find a new balance in the coming days so that I can share what’s going on in my kitchen. There’s a lot to hope for, a lot to plan, and much to bake. Every day is a new adventure.

Coconut & Thai Basil Mojitos

The flavor of this mojito is subtle. No cloying sweetness, just a hint of mint. The sweet richness of coconut tinged with the light licorice flavor of fragrant Thai basil. This herb is beautiful, with bright green leaves and purple stems. It smells & tastes of anise and works equally well in desserts as in curries.

20 fresh mint leaves

20-30 fresh Thai basil leaves

2 teaspoons coconut sugar

1 lime, juiced

1/2 cup coconut cream *

1/2 cup young coconut juice (or coconut water)

5 ounces rum

Splash triple sec (optional)

1 cup lemon-lime soda

Ice, lime wedges, and additional mint or basil springs for garnish

In a small pitcher, muddle together the mint leaves, basil leaves and sugar until the leaves are chopped. Stir in the lime juice and continue to muddle gently until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the coconut cream, coconut juice, rum and triple sec. Top off with soda — I used Perrier, which is a bit more dry. The mixture will be foamy. Strain the mojito into glasses filled with ice and garnish, if you want. The flavor of this mojito improves over time so, if you can, mix up a pitcher and let it chill for a few hours. Strain over ice whenever you’re ready to enjoy.

Makes 3 servings

* Note: To make coconut cream, simply place a can of full-fat coconut milk in the refrigerator for a few hours (preferably overnight). Gently open the can without tilting or shaking and scoop the thick cream out, careful to leave the coconut water in the bottom of the can. I prefer to use Arroy-D brand coconut milk as it contain no additional gums or thickeners. They also sell coconut milk in cardboard cartons, so no worries about those BPA-laden cans.

Cheers!

a new beginning

Lately, I’ve felt sequestered in a state of anticipation and delay. Always waiting. It feels, at least recently, that I’m constantly waiting for something, or someone. Puttering around. Checking the clock or my inbox. Peeking through the oven door. I’ve been waiting so long, for so much. Waiting to start a new project, for a book to come in the mail, for the tomato sauce to sufficiently reduce. Waiting for someone to determine if my companionship is (at least) sufficient, waiting to find out if I impressed enough people (this time) to secure a job. A real job (with a real paycheck). The oven timer dings, but the cupcakes need two more minutes. No, wait, five. Watching those minutes tick away.

I found myself waiting so long that I almost lost my (mediocre) sense of direction. Where to go, what to do next? Too many things on the stove, too many things on my to-do list. Flurrying through them all as fast as I can. But, finally, some good news. I have a job. (Insert a rowdy chorus of applause & cheers, of course.) Not just any job, but a foodie job with Bella Cucina. For now, I’m stationed at the prepared foods/retail location, Porta Via, in the Virginia-Highlands neighborhood of Atlanta (one of my favorite neighborhoods, truly). Perhaps, though, this job will offer room for advancement & a chance to combine my two loves, new & old, in a professional setting. Maybe, one day, I could write about food. For a living.

Today was my first day on the job, and it was a thrilling, busy day. I love just diving right in to a new adventure. I left with my head spinning, full of new directions, lists, and things to remember, and also a huge smile on my face. Another accomplishment, another endeavor that dovetails so perfectly with my new goals & interests. So, today, a toast: To a new beginning, an exciting adventure, a job to do.

Cheery Cherry Mojito

1 cup fresh cherries, pitted

1/4 cup coconut sugar

Juice & zest of one lime

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves

1.5 ounces of rum per serving

4 ounces of ginger ale (or soda) per serving

Sliced limes, for garnish

Ice, to serve

Make the cherry syrup Combine the pitted cherries, sugar, lime juice & zest, and chopped mint leaves in a bowl. Stir until everything is evenly distributed & the cherries are coated in mint & sugar. Refrigerate until the sugar is dissolved, at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight. Once the cherries are sufficiently macerated, pour the mixture into a food processor. Process until smooth. Strain the mixture into a fine mesh sieve placed over a bowl. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to press on the mixture, straining all of the juice. Discard the fibrous leftovers. You should have about 1/2 cup of minty cherry syrup (enough for 3-4 mojitos).

Make the mojito Fill a glass with ice. Add 1.5 ounces of cherry syrup. Add 1.5 ounces of white rum. Top the mixture off with your soda of choice (ginger ale is perfect). Stir and enjoy.

Cheers!

honeydew, honey you

I introduced Mojito Mondays last week. Truthfully, while I always wish my weekends would last forever, this mojito could not come soon enough.  It was a long Monday (as, of course, Mondays are most likely to be). I spend my days writing and, while I absolutely love the reality of saying that, it is fast-paced and exhausting work. As soon as I walked through my front door, greeted by the curious, furry face of my best feline friend, I started cubing melon and muddling mint. After a long day, mashing some mint in a tall glass really takes the edge off. Plus, the fragrance is delightful.

This mojito rendition is clean & clarifying (well, as much clarity as rum allows). Smooth, sweet honeydew paired with crisp mint and tart lime. Delightful deliciousness, in a tall glass. The drink is even better, a cold comfort really, when the dinner you have planned, the dinner that inspired you (onceandforall) to put together your grill, ended up chewy and tough and tasting of foot. Well, at least there’s a decent mojito.

Honeydew Mojito

1/2 of a honeydew melon, seeded and cubed (remove and discard the rind, of course)

8-10 mints leaves per glass

1 tsp. coconut sugar per glass

1 ounce lime juice per glass

1.5 ounces of rum per glass (or more, to taste)

Ice, to serve

Lime slices or wedges, for garnish

Place the honeydew cubes in a blender with about a quarter cup of water. Process until smooth and frothy. You should have a little more than 2 cups of puree. Muddle the mint leaves with the sugar in each cup until bruised and finely chopped (as in my first photo above). Stir in the lime juice and rum and top off with the melon puree. Stir to combine and add ice.

I made each mojito individually, but if you’d like to serve a group quickly, this recipe is easily adaptable for a pitcher. Simply add 3-4 servings of lime juice, rum, sugar & plenty of mint to the blender with the honeydew. Easy peasy.

If you do not feel like juicing fresh limes, I recommend this bottled juice. It’s organic & preservative free!

Cheers!

dinner tonight

It’s hot here. (It’s hot everywhere.) So tonight, I ignored my stove & oven & whipped up a flavorful, veggie-full salad: red leaf lettuce paired with baby spinach & arugula, a little bit of chopped purple cabbage, julienne carrots, sliced green bell pepper, sliced cucumber, diced avocado, tender grilled zucchini & tomatoes (on the side). Topped off with grilled chicken & homemade summer ranch dressing. Cool & crunchy on a hot, HOT day.

My homemade summer ranch dressing recipe was also beautifully published in the June issue of Pregnancy & Newborn magazine, along with a collection of delicious summer salads. (For a sneak peak, visit my portfolio!)

slow & steady

Inspiration descends only in flashes, to clothe circumstances; it is not stored up in a barrel, like salt herrings, to be doled out. Patrick Voss

The week, like all weeks, moves swiftly … crossed out boxes on a calendar accumulate, projects are assigned & completed, dinners made & eaten. I have wanted, desperately, to hole up in my kitchen & make a mess. Well, many messes. There is much on my to-do list — techniques to research & learn, dough to knead & rise, strawberries to macerate, and tomatoes in waiting. So, today, another step. Cleaning out the refrigerator by eating leftovers for dinner while tomatoes sizzle and roast in the oven. Now, a jar of freshly pressed tomato juice sits chilling and waiting to be reduced. Later. Soon, there will be homemade ketchup.

monday, meet rum

So. I had big plans for this blog. A new, dedicated folder on my laptop. A notebook brimming with ideas and a head full of dreams (literally. I dream about food). And then, I was overwhelmed. Also disappointed by the lack of sunlight beaming through the windows in my sunroom, making photographing food ever so difficult. (This is the consequence of having beautiful trees and green, green ivy just outside my windows all year round.) But! Just like everything else, I have to start somewhere. Some time.

I’m starting here. It might come in bursts, or meander like a snail in summer’s heat. But I have a plan and it starts, like every week, on a Monday. With mojitos.

A mojito is a wondrous thing on a hot summer day. Tart lime, cooling mint, rum. Oh yes, the rum. If I had to define myself by a particular libation, it would be a mojito. Starting this week, and for the weeks to come, I’ll be muddling up a new mojito recipe every Monday.

Every new start deserves a toast. Cheers!

Classic Mojito

20-30 fresh mint leaves, rinsed and dried

1 large lime, cut into chunks

1 tbsp. coconut sugar

4.5 ounces silver rum

1.5 ounces triple sec (recommended: Stirrings)

1 12-ounce can lemon-lime soda (recommended: Blue Sky natural soda)

Ice, to serve

Slices of lime, mint leaves, for garnish (optional)

In a small pitcher or quart-sized mason jar, muddle the mint leaves with a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon, until bruised. Add the coconut sugar and lime chunks and continue muddling until the lime has released its juices and the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the rum and triple sec. Add the soda and pour into glasses full of ice. Garnish with a slice of lime and additional mint leaves. Drink & enjoy!

Yields: 2-3 servings

Please note: I have not been compensated for my recommendations above. I have included these products in my mojitos because they are products I enjoy, made with natural sugar.

run and run as the rain comes

Thunder rumbles, a sure sign that something’s rolling in (or maybe it’s really just the hum of burgeoning traffic building on the highways nearby). Raindrops tumble through the ivy leaves, persistently green and roping around the trees behind my apartment. My bedroom window faces these trees and, at night, this sound is a perfect lullaby. But now, as I look up I still see patches of spring blue sky. Now is not the time for rain.

Recently, I’ve been waking to bright sun breaking through the horizontal blinds in my bedroom. The room glows on these mornings and, though I still struggle to relinquish the cozy comfort of my bed, the sunshine makes me cheerier. This morning, though, was gray. A faint, foggy, slate-colored morning. Blegh. So, when the sun came out in the afternoon, I cheered (internally, of course, so as not to interrupt everyone else in the office with my childlike enthusiasm at the passing of rainclouds, the revelation of light though the windows). Hallelujah. The sunshine lingered and the muggy warmth enveloped me, bathing me in the true possibility that spring is finally (finally) coming out of hibernation, and so too should I.

The scariest moment is always just before you start. — Stephen King