Gingerbread latte and vanilla bean speckled whipped cream

October 21st, 2010

Summer is past. North Carolina Outer Banks, wild horses, a death, a conception, a Delaware reunion with dear friends, Myrtle Beach, a stay in the mountains, product photography in Indiana, long trips home, lots of eating out and bringing in, and very little desire to cook. I’m tired. A bit blue some days. Sick often.

But in the end, there will be a new little person, and that makes it all worthwhile!

I am pregnant – hence my long absence. Quite immediately after learning the news in August, I started feeling nauseated and near completely lost all desire to cook and even eat most days (no worries, I am definitely still eating).

Such a strange and foreign experience to not enjoy the foods I normally crave; sweets – blah, chocolate – ugh, vegetables – no thank you, cheese – gah, fruit – err…maybe citrus, bread – take it or leave it, red meat – normally nah but okay, coffee – shouldn’t, but please.

So, that’s why I dropped out of the blogosphere for the past three months. I’m in my second trimester now and starting to feel a bit better, and feeling quite negligent for not letting you all know what’s been going on.  Sometimes in life, there is only room for necessity.  This has been one of those times for me and I am thankful it is passing.

We are excited! A new life, a new love – what is more incredible or precious? Love, true unconditional love, is deeply powerful and capable of bringing wholeness and meaning in life. I don’t believe I have known love more completely than in the love I have for my son, and through that love I am urged and compelled to try to love others as unconditionally. Parenthood is life changing, and I am so very thankful to have the experience.

This latte is one of my very favorites.  Normally I drink my coffee with no sugar or flavorings, but around this time of year I start to crave seasonal flavors – ginger, molasses, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and of course, pumpkin.

I am trying to limit my caffeine intake now so I do not drink much at one time, but somehow the comfort and familiarity of my morning coffee has not left me in these appetite-less months, so I have allowed myself small indulgences here and there.

This is really a special treat if you have an espresso maker – quite like the gingerbread lattes you can get at your local coffee shops, but better, because you made it. I also included a recipe for brown sugar vanilla bean speckled whipped cream, because, obviously, this can do nothing but take the whole concoction over the top.

Thanks for checking in after so long!

Gingerbread latte
makes one 8-10 oz. beverage

2 shots of fresh espresso
1/4 – 1/3 cup fresh whole milk or half & half, steamed to total volume of 3/4 – 1 cup*
2 teaspoons full flavor molasses
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of allspice
pinch of ground ginger

Brown sugar vanilla bean speckled whipped cream
makes enough to top one Gingerbread Latte

3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon dark or light brown sugar
1/8 seeds from one vanilla bean pod*

1. Prepare your espresso maker and grounds for two shots of espresso.

2. Begin the whipped cream by pouring very cold cream (whips better extra cold) into a medium size bowl along with the vanilla seeds (split the vanilla bean in half vertically with a sharp knife and scrape out 1/8 of the seeds) and brown sugar. Whip with a handheld electric mixer until soft and “scoopable.” Set in the fridge.

3. Next, pour the half & half and molasses into a mug and stir – place mixture in the freezer or fridge while making espresso (coldness & freshness helps make greater volume and foam).

4. Warm the espresso cup in the microwave for 30 seconds to a minute (to help keep espresso hot while steaming the half & half) and make the espresso according to your device.

5. Add all of the spices directly onto the top of the freshly made espresso.

6. Remove half & half molasses mixture from the fridge/freezer and steam according to your device instructions. If you do not have a steaming device, you may heat the half & half molasses mixture in the microwave for 30-45 seconds. In this case, there is no need to pre-chill and I would add extra dairy to compensate for the steam (water) that is added when steaming milk (unless you like your beverage extra strong, as I do).

7. Add the steamed half & half molasses mixture to the spiced espresso. Finish the breve with a dusting of cinnamon and the already prepared whipped cream. If the latte is too strong for your taste or not sweet enough, add more half & half or molasses and heat further. Too weak? Add an extra shot of espresso. Enjoy!

* 1/4 cup half & half = approximately 3/4 cup steamed half & half with foam and drink will fill an 8oz. mug, 1/3 cup half & half yields approximately 1 cup of steamed half & half with foam and will fill a larger mug. I use 1/4 cup half & half or milk resulting in a strong espresso based beverage. Many times I simply heat my dairy in the microwave, rather than steaming, for an even creamier and stronger flavor profile. Using the larger milk option will result in a less strong, more standard, coffee shop taste profile.
* If you do not want to spend the money on vanilla beans for the whipped cream, just substitute a dash (1/8 teaspoon) of real vanilla extract into the whipping cream before whipping.

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Sparkling blackberry limeade (spiked if you like!)

August 4th, 2010

I can count on one hand the number of times Brian and I have gone out to dinner alone since Jonathan was born almost two years ago (where has my baby gone?). I know, I know, everyone says you need to be sure to get out alone with your spouse after having a child, and really, they’re right.

But here’s the thing. Aside from our traveling propensities, we’re really homebodies. Brian gardens (the sunflowers are blooming, the hops vines are over six feet now, and there is a freshly delivered pile of wood in my side yard destined for some new venture) in his free time, and I cook. Most of the time, we just enjoy doing our thing.

It’s not that we don’t like going out. We do. It’s just that we happen to live in an area that is sparse on unique, fun, non-chain restaurants. So, whenever we talk about going out, it usually ends up with us ordering sushi to-go from the decent spot not too far away (since we didn’t plan ahead and get a babysitter), or more usually, we stay home altogether and make homemade pizza that beats anything we could get eating out anyhow (I am so modest, no?).

Well, a couple of weeks ago we broke the norm. We happened to be up in the Washington D.C. area alone, together, with the rare opportunity to revisit one of our old haunts. Brian and I met in D.C. some seven plus(!) years ago now, and during our rather short courtship, we both gained at least five pounds eating out since we both had roommates, and the only way to be “alone”, was to go out. Funny how the table has turned!

Needless to say it was wonderful having a night to ourselves, eating great food someone else prepared, and revisiting sentimental memories. As it so happened as I was looking over the menu, I got fixated on a certain mixed drink. I actually do not remember the name, but no matter, the concept was simple: lightly sweetened lemonade mixed with fresh blackberries and blackberry stoli vodka.

I am not a mixed drink person. My drink of choice is red wine and usually when I try a mixed drink I am put off by the sweetness. But something about this blackberry lemonade concoction was calling my name – the waiter said he was “sure” I would love it, and if I didn’t, he vowed to bring me something different – how could I refuse?

Oh, I am so glad I didn’t – and I hope you will be too, since I haven’t been able to get it off my mind since, and have concocted this homemade version with just a couple of adjustments – I decided to use limes instead of lemons, and to make it sparkle. I love sparkle! (you can make your own carbonated anything – I’ve just discovered this – exciting!)

I made the alcohol optional so it could be an anytime drink, and finally, I tried it with muddled lavender (surprise, surprise), basil, mint, and fresh ginger (all testing completed sans vodka!). They were all interesting and alluring in their own way, but my favorites were the ginger, then plain, then the mint. I can’t believe I didn’t like the lavender best, but I have to say – the addition of fresh ginger added an aromatic spicy heat that was really quite extraordinary.

I added ice at first to try to pretty up these pictures, but I really don’t like ice in my drinks – especially in this kind of a drink where the potency of flavors is so important and I don’t want them watered down. So I took it out, on second thought.

All in all, the whole thing is pretty special, and I find it very satisfying to have made my own sparkling soda. I guess it’s good to break out of routine occasionally and experience a new thing or two!

Sparkling blackberry limeade

7 1/2 cups water
1 cup superfine sugar
6 medium juicy limes, juiced
1/8 teaspoon of active dry yeast
1 quart blackberries (4 cups)
2-3 tablespoons sugar (less for sweet berries, more for tart berries)
fresh ginger or mint (optional)
Stoli blakberi vodka (optional)
1-2 limes for serving, sliced thin

Begin this recipe at least 48 hours before planning to serve. Combine the juice from the limes, water, 1 cup superfine sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon yeast in a large plastic (not glass, as you may need to release gases as it carbonates) jug. Close container and swirl to begin dissolving the sugar. Any undissolved sugar will dissolve on its own through the carbonation process. Set the container/jug out at room temperature for 48 hours and then place in the fridge to cool before drinking.

Crush the blackberries with the 2-3 tablespoons of sugar, leaving some berry pieces still intact. Grate a couple of grates of fresh ginger into a glass or muddle 3-4 mint leaves (if using) into 1 1/2 ounces of blakberi vodka (if using) and place a slice or two of lime in each glass. Serve chilled with or without ice (I prefer without) using one part blackberry syrup to two parts sparkling limeade. If serving as a cocktail, begin with 1/3 cup limeade to 1/4 cup crushed berry syrup, and adjust to taste.

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