Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle: Cruzan Mojitos

The aging room (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Everything I might have learned on the rum tour I promptly forgot at the tasting session, where our Hawaiian shirt-bedecked tour guide shot generous splashes of Cruzan rum into plastic cups. Coconut, mango, guava, raspberry, some scary-looking molassesy black label concoction, cream rum… If only we hadn’t gotten there right before closing time. Though maybe that was for the best.

Cruzan rum is manufactured on a smallish plot of land on the western side of the island of St. Croix. The whole walking tour takes about fifteen minutes, from the office across a pebble-strewn lawn to an open warehouse with giant bins of fermenting alcohol, past a tower, storage facility, and trucks. The occasional chicken clucks past, and the whole operation looks more like grandpa’s moonshine still in the backyard than a legitimate rum factory which turns out something like 575,000 opaque, tropical cases of rum each year.

The fermenting house is really a raised platform built around large metal vats of water, yeast, and sugarcane in various stages of fermentation. The smell of raw alcohol sweetness, like mashed apples and burnt sugar, is overwhelming, especially in the heat.

From these vats, where thefermenting liquid spends about two days, the mash is transferred to a tall tower where it undergoes something called five-column distillation. In this process, the mash is pumped through a series of columns which remove aldehydes, esters, and other various trace compounds. This process also removes fusil oils, light oils formed during fermentation that accumulate during distillation and are often blamed for hangovers.

Barrels of rum (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
In the distillery (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We say, “So we can drink as much Cruzan as we want and not have a hangover?” Our tour guide says, “I’m not saying that.”

After fermentation and distillation, the rum is cut with rainwater and placed in handcrafted wooden barrels for aging. Around 23,000 charred oak barrels of maturing rum line the shelves of an extensive aging warehouse, where the rum just sort of hangs out for at least two years – and up to twelve – thinking about who it wants to be. » Continue reading this post…

That’s When I Gave Up My Writing Career to Make Tacos

Tacos (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Here’s something I’ve gotten really good at, as the title implies: making tacos. I’m not really sure what inspired these beauties, but I have a feeling a conversation with a coworker of mine started the whole thing. I was raving about my first trip to La Isla, a tiny storefront on Flushing where you can get a half chicken, rice, and beans for $5.25. Whoa, right? Enough chicken, rice, and beans to last for four meals anyway. I was talking about maybe making tacos when she mentioned this Honduran crema she makes for her family – sour cream mixed with heavy whipping cream and a little bit of salt to taste. Yes, please.

The whole delightful combination on a corn tortilla: diced tomatoes, slivers of jalapeño, shaved cabbage, a bit of melted cheddar, and cilantro on rich, salty rice and black beans mashed with juicy chunks of roasted chicken and topped with crema.

So it’s not traditional or authentic – but if it’s good, does it have to be?

Taco fever (Eat Me. Drink Me.) » Continue reading this post…

Don’t Play With Your Food. But Think About It, Do.

Rack of lamb (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A scene from this year’s Easter fête: all of us, except mom, standing over two racks of lamb, discussing raw meat’s lack of visual appeal. Gross, disturbing, almost human-looking. An actual carcass. Mom was busy bleating in the background, “You killed my baby. I’m going to come get youuuuuu….” She refused to come any closer and did not participate in the subsequent lamb-eating, to be sure. But the rest of us were fascinated by the lamb. It was covered in filmy plasma from the fleshy strip of base up through the gangling, sawed-off ribs knocking against each other, and it gave off an earthy smell, like blood and dirt. Horrible, raw, food for Hannibal.

The cooked lamb was benign. Delicious to be sure, buttery soft and pink near the bone, tasting of rosemary and mustard on its crisp, fat-browned crust. Less like dead baby lamb and more like dinner. Perfect, delicious, dead, baby lamb.

Roast rack of lamb (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

What a contrast with the raw lamb, which made even a meat eater like me uncomfortable. The feel against my fingers of placental slime, the bones’ raw clack, the way it looked like the ribs ripped out from a child’s back.

There’s nothing dangerous in ground beef or pork cutlets, nothing to fear from a link of sausage or a sliver of cold honey-glazed ham. But a rack of lamb is visceral. The other day, in my yoga class, as we folded into half-pigeon, the instructor said, “You’re opening one of the largest joints in your body. You might feel a release of raw emotion. Just breathe into it.”

How ridiculous, I thought. A flow of emotion held captive in my hip? And then I made a rack of lamb and realized that some stretches take us places we’d rather not go and unless we breathe, we’ll never understand where we were. » Continue reading this post…

Broke Eating 101, a Blog Post for Cedric

Some things on hand (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Last night at work, I found myself talking about food. Again. This happens to me often, usually because I bring my own lunch and when someone asks me what it is, I can’t just say “pasta.” I have to say, “bowtie pasta with a sauce of crushed tomatoes, garlic, olives, capers, and onion topped with grated Sicilian black pepper cheese.” And then, invariably, we start talking about food, or I launch into some rhapsodous description of what I made for dinner last night. And, invariably, it’s the same few people who walk in on me, talking about food, again, and say, “Lyz! You’re always talking about food!” I mean, maybe. But I have other hobbies. Really, I do.

But last night, after going on a foodie spiel, I was asked by a co-worker my advice on cooking cheaply and healthily for yourself. He was taking notes. No one had ever taken notes. But, since there’s no better way to make yourself an expert than to just present yourself as one, I launched into an avalanche of advice. Really, I’m no expert (I lied, I’m sorry, forgive me), but I think I do manage to make delicious food for very little money.

And so, in the interest of sharing, here are some basic tenets on my approach to cooking and how I manage to live on mostly nothing.

The Kitchen’s Golden Rule
Banish your fear. Fear is your worst enemy in the kitchen. You don’t need to measure things exactly, you don’t need to use parsley or caviar. Don’t be afraid to experiment and don’t be afraid to not follow a recipe exactly. If you don’t have an ingredient, substitute something else – it might sound strange, but it could be delicious. (See: the other day, I was making a mango milkshake, but was out of yogurt and used sour cream instead and ohmygoditwasamazing.)

Start With the Basics
Some things are easier to make than others. » Continue reading this post…

Good News for Your Sweet Tooth: Blueberry Crumble Pie

"Pie" (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lately, I just can’t seem to get enough sugar. I want pudding, bread with peanut butter and honey, chocolate granola, jam and butter, cheesecake, and Nutella on anything. (Speaking of Nutella, anyone manage to catch its most recent commercial, where a doting mother/consumer is touting it as a … health product?) The problem is this: I rarely crave sweet foods, and I happen to never crave them at the grocery store, so I never have sweet foods on hand to munch on when those cravings strike.

The other day, the pain was particularly bad, and not only bad, it was specific. I wanted pie. I wanted pie bad.

Anette and I had just finished making a delightful lunch out of nothing (as usual), and I mentioned my craving. She said, “I have some frozen blueberries,” and in a flash I realized I could make pie. Or I could make something almost like pie.

I want to share this recipe with you because it was so ridiculously easy. We whipped it together in about ten minutes and then just sat back and relaxed while pie magic happened in the oven. So if you, too, find yourself pie-less, you can change the facts of your life with things you probably have somewhere. » Continue reading this post…

Eating Blind

unsicht-Bar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have developed an irrational fear of flying. It’s impractical. Its source is unknown. But there it is. I have become the person that grips the edges of the seat and dons a horrified expression at a hint of turbulence. I am the one frantically slinging back seltzer and wishing I knew a good Hail Mary.

I’m in a plane now, and I’m thinking back to the other times in life where I have been as paralyzed. Once, on the Appalachian Trail, caught in a raging lighting storm coming off the Blackstack Cliffs, shaking in lightning position, crouched low on one foot and singing the chorus to Amazing Grace over and over again, feeling hailstones hit my back. Once, flying through terrible winds, the plane plummeting and soaring like a whipped rag, with three failed landings. And once, eating at unsicht-Bar, the blind restaurant in Berlin.

What all of these experiences have in common is the sort of fear that grips the bottom of your stomach and wriggles up through your chest, shortens your breath, makes you know a panic attack is just around the corner. And there is helplessness. You are not in control.

unsicht-Bar is fashioned around the concept of blindness. Diners eat a four course meal in complete blackness, and the restaurant is staffed entirely by the blind. In the marble lobby, on plush lounge chairs surrounded by candlelight, you are given a menu whose dishes include such enigmatic delicacies as “The Frisian nobility is on fire and looking for acquaintanceship with the French underworld to practice love things.” It’s charming. We thought eating blind would be fun.

After making our dinner choices, we were introduced to our waiter, Harald. Harald instructed us to grab on to the shoulders of the person standing in front of us. I watched my mother grab on to Harald and Elisabeth grab on to my mother. » Continue reading this post…

Totally Bizarre Thing I’m Kind of Obsessed with Right Now

Mozzarella with butter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Mozzarella with butter. Not mozzarella and butter. Mozzarella made with butter. It sounds gross, I know. It even looks gross. And eaten cold, um, well, it’s butter. Which is kind of gross.

But melted together on a pita or bagel or pile of potatoes, it’s amazingly delicious. Melted mozzarella is the stuff dreams are made of – it’s the cornerstone of pizza and cheese sticks and anything requiring gooey, stringy, hot cheese. And melted butter makes everything especially bad for you, which is a euphemism for extremely delicious. As the saying goes, more is more. Skeptics be damned, mozzarella and butter is not too much of a good thing.

My mother and I found this interesting specimen at an Italian deli on Grand St. (and corner of…Mulberry?), where they also sell the most phenomenal Sicilian Black Pepper Cheese and excellent prosciutto and whose next door neighbor is a charming, wonderful, amazing pasta shop where is made the most charming, wonderful, and amazing pasta (pumpkin ravioli! black pepper and cheese tortellini! tomato basil linguine!). We are curious people. And buy weird food – just because we can. And what is weirder than mozzarella with a chunk of butter cradled inside?

Mozzarella with butter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The last time we were at the shop, we opted for the traditional mozz, but after we had made our purchase, we overheard a pregnant lady raving about the mozzarella with butter. At the time, I remember someone remarking, “Oh, trust the pregnant lady, they eat a lot.” But in retrospect, mozzarella and butter strikes me as just the sort of pregnant lady craving everyone disparages. I’m thinking pickles and peanut butter. Together.

Although, maybe mozzarella and butter is like that too. But in a good way.

Anyway, anyway, anyway. I just got sort of excited about it right now – I made a “pizza” for dinner with pita, butterella, oregano, jalapeño, sundried tomato, and salami slivers which was just great. » Continue reading this post…

Breakfast is Beautiful

Egg-in-pita with avocado (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have been trying to write this post for a while. I’m not really sure why it’s so hard for me to articulate what I want to say, because really, it comes down to this: breakfast is great. And sub-points: breakfast is great because of the epic struggle for supremacy between variety and ritual.

Sub-point A: Variety

Today, for breakfast I am eating a pita fried with two over easy eggs and topped with cilantro, avocado slices, and hot sauce.

But it could just as easily have been oatmeal.

Oatmeal and coffee (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There are so many breakfast options. Toast, pancakes, waffles, cold pizza, bagels with cream cheese, herring and crackers, biscuits, bacon, homefries, hashbrowns, cereal, müsli, grits. Let’s not even get into eggs.

Breakfast burrito on crepe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

With all those delightful choices, how could you limit yourself to the same thing every day?

Sub-point B: Ritual

Most people breakfast alone. The unspoken rule is that plus one makes brunch. This could be because brunch is festive (this, in turn, could be because it’s still faux pas to have bloody marys with breakfast). Or it could be because we each have morning rituals, performed in solitude, to gather energy and sanity for the rest of the day.

When and how I make breakfast is a part of my silent, calm morning time – the actions themselves rituals. I’ve been waking up early recently to do writing in the morning when my brain is fittest (post-college, I realize that I’m a morning person). So I wake at 8:30, crawl down from my loft, brush my teeth, sit at my desk and try to form my first coherent thought, pick the clothes up off the floor from where I threw them the night before, and go make breakfast. Then, I sit here looking out at the freshly fallen snow (Editor’s note: see how long I’ve been trying to write this?! » Continue reading this post…

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