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Some time ago, my sister-in-law, K, posted a recipe for Almond Milk on her blog.  The first few times I made it myself I flipped back to her recipe, but after a few batches I found that I was able to remember the simple and delicious recipe without peeking.  Now I keep homemade almond milk in my refrigerator almost all the time.

What makes this recipe so wonderful is the simple list of ingredients and the ease with which they can be combined to make a flavorful and healthy drink.  Almonds, water, a bit of sweetener (I use agave nectar or maple syrup) and vanilla, and a pinch of salt, whirled in the blender and strained through cheesecloth,

and there you are — creamy, smooth, slightly sweet and nutty — the perfect glass of almond milk.

For me, nothing tastes better on homemade (or any other kind) granola.

Here are the details:

Almond Milk

1 cup whole almonds (I use organic)
4 cups water
2 tablespoons agave nectar or maple syrup (you can add more or less sweetener to taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender.  Blend at the highest speed for about 2 minutes, until all of the almonds are pulverized.

Pour through a strainer lined with cheesecloth.  Gather the cheesecloth and squeeze until all of the liquid is extracted.

Pour into a jar and refrigerate.  Almond milk keeps, refrigerated, for about 3 days.

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With spring firmly underway here in the Northwest (despite a few cooler days this past week) my thoughts inevitably turn to fresher foods and lighter drinks.  The other night S and I were out for sushi at our newest local favorite sushi place, Masu Sushi, and S decided to try their seasonal drink — a cantaloupe martini.  I had a sip and it was so tasty that when I saw ripe cantaloupes (from Mexico, I have to admit) at Whole Foods on Saturday I had to buy one and try to make my own version of the drink at home.

After a few juicy minutes spent peeling and chopping, I tossed some chunks of cantaloupe into the food processor, whirled them around until I had a smooth, salmon colored puree that shook (over ice) with lime juice, vodka and a dash of simple syrup. Voilà! a new spring favorite was born.

Cantaloupe martini
Makes 2 generous drinks (or 3 smaller ones)

½ medium (approx 7”) cantaloupe, cubed
4 ounces vodka
1 – 2 teaspoons simple syrup
juice of 1 lime, and additional lime wedges for garnish
ice

Puree cantaloupe in a blender until smooth.

Pour cantaloupe puree, vodka, simple syrup (use more if you like a sweeter drink, or if the cantaloupe is not sweet enough for you on its own) and lime juice in a cocktail shaker with ice.

Shake vigorously.  Pour into pretty glasses and serve garnished with lime wedges.

I am already dreaming of sitting on the deck, sipping one of these and watching the sun slowly set behind the pine trees.

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New year, new cocktail

Just before the holidays I read a book about New Orleans food called Gumbo Tales. Written by Sara Roahen, former food writer for The Gambit, the book tells the story of Sara’s experiences with food (and drink) in New Orleans before and after Katrina.

It’s a great book and I highly recommend it to any of you who like reading about food (or who are planning to visit New Orleans in the near future).  It made me long for a trip there myself.

There are a lot of chapters in the book that left an impression, but the one that has made the biggest change in my eating (or more accurately, drinking) habits is the one called simply “Sazeracs.”

Before reading this book I had never heard of a Sazerac, a drink that, according to Wikipedia (source of all accurate information), is one of the oldest known cocktails, originating in pre-Civil War New Orleans.

Always on the lookout for a new drink to test the skills of Portland’s many talented bartenders, and made truly thirsty by Roahen’s descriptions of the beverage, I started ordering them around town; and liking them.  So far I have had great versions at Toro Bravo, Clarklewis and Beaker and Flask.

Last night I decided to make my own.  I started (in the liquor store parking lot!) by reviewing a few recipes on my iPhone.  List in hand (I needed Rye or another “American Whiskey;” Absinthe, Pernod or Herbsaint; and Angostura Bitters — I had a small bottle of Peychaud’s Bitters and a lemon at home already), I made my way into the store.

The biggest dilemma was what whiskey to buy.  Despite some recipes that said NEVER to use Bourbon in a Sazerac, the Rye selection was very limited so I decided Bourbon would have to do.  I bought a bottle of Black Maple Hill Premium Small Batch Bourbon.

There was no Absinthe or Herbsaint so I ended up with Pernod, a lovely, green, anise-flavored liqueur.

The Pernod (1 scant teaspoon) is used to “rinse” a chilled glass. The other ingredients:  2 oz Rye or Bourbon, 1 tsp simple syrup, 4 dashes Peychauds bitters and 1 scant dash Angostura bitters, are mixed gently in an ice-filled cocktail shaker before being poured into the Pernod-rinsed glass.  Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

Sit back, take a sip and imagine you are in New Orleans.

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