Watermelon agua fresca (Agua de sandia)

Here’s why you won’t want to go to a 4th of July party without watermelon agua frescas:

  1. Watermelon agua frescas let you eat loads of watermelon without leaving your hands sticky and probably without dripping pink juice on your shirt
  2. The kids and teetotalers more responsible people will love that there’s a special drink for them (that is…until you spike it, which we will do tomorrow)
  3. A big ole batch takes 10 minutes of prep (but still feels special!)

What’s an agua fresca?  It’s a mixture of of blended and chopped fruit that’s macerated in water and sugar.  Before we moved to California a couple years ago I had never heard of them, but thankfully I quickly learned that agua frescas can be found at just about every taqueria and burrito joint in the area.  Now, whenever it’s hot, I try to keep one constantly at hand (that is, when I’m not eating sorbet).  I think the last time I was in LA I drank about 40 gallons of the stuff.

There’s a lot of recipes out there, but many of them are a bit too sweet for me.  Agua frescas need sugar (for the fruit maceration part), but I think it’s best if it’s kept to a minimum.  If that’s not your taste, though, you may want to bump up the sugar.  You can sample as you go along and see what seems right to you.  Bear in mind, though, that the drink will taste sweeter after the fruit has some time to macerate than it does immediately after you make it (during the maceration process the watermelon leaks out its yummy goodness).

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Drinking John Dalys

This week we’re kicking off a weekly summer cocktail post.  From now until Labor Day, Alex and I are going to share a cocktail recipe every Friday.  Here’s a super easy summer favorite to get things started.  This one’s particularly apropos on the heels of last week’s US Open (golf, that is).

While, I’ll have to admit, I don’t really watch golf, I do like golf-related drinks.  Take the Arnold Palmer, a mix of ice tea and lemonade, which can be found on the menu of pretty much every restaurant and poolside club house across the US.  Why Arnold had this drink named after him is not well known, but what is well known is that Arnold was both a very talented player and an upstanding golfer — a real class act.

John Daly, on the other hand, could swing a club with the best of them, but was a hard-hitting, partying kind of guy.  He used to show up to the golf course wearing outrageously bright outfits, drinking beers and smoking cigarettes.  So, while it’s unclear why the Arnold Palmer is called an Arnold Palmer, it’s only fitting that if you take an Arnold Palmer and add vodka, it should be called a John Daly.

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Cheladas are the best non-margarita Cinco de Mayo drink. Without a doubt. They’re super easy, cheap and fun.

What is a chelada? Well, there’s not one answer. At its simplest, a chelada is beer mixed with lime juice, served over ice with a salted rim. But, I’ve asked a few Mexican friends and it seems that the contents of a chelada are very regional. In some places, a chelada also has tomato juice, Worstershire or hot sauce. In other places, the term michelada is reserved for the hot sauce version and chelada refers to the lime-only version. Regardless, in Mexico, cheladas and micheladas are very common. As far as I know, though, they haven’t really caught on in the States (minus the Budwieser michelada-type clamato drink). And they should!

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Food and Fleury in Napa

After our recent trip to Tres Sabores and Buehler, we couldn’t wait to follow it up with another trip to Napa. Alex happened to be working in the area (and staying in a nearby hotel), so it was almost by accident that we ended up spending a full day in Napa. Unlike other weekends in wine country, we had no plans, didn’t really feel like drinking much wine and felt great about taking it easy.

We woke up and rolled into town to grab coffee and cupcakes breakfast at Oxbow Public Market. Ritual Coffee Roasters has a storefront there (the same Ritual Coffee that I tried out in the Mission) and Alex wanted to give their coffee a go. He ordered a pour over coffee, begrudgingly paid ~$4, but loved the coffee. I focused my efforts on a latte and a carrot cake cupcake from Kara’s.

After Ritual, we got sidetracked by Whole Spice. I’m pretty sure they aren’t affiliated with Whole Foods, but I think that is the association they might be going for.

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A springtime day trip to Napa: Tres Sabores and Buehler

Now that I’m in the final throes of the semester, it seems difficult to believe that just a few weekends ago we were running around carefree in Napa.  But, we were!  As I was suffering through a round of papers today, I thought I’d look back over pictures from two recent Napa trips and pretend that we were still out in the sunshine among the budding vines with glasses of wine in hand (nevermind my advisor peering over at me from his office).  Here’s some pictures from our first trip.  I’ll have a post from our second trip later this week.

Our springtime adventures in Napa started on a chilly and beautiful day a couple months back when my friend, Christina, was visiting.  Alex, Christina and I drove up to check out a few vineyards recommended by our friend Phoebe (I was so happy to have recommendations — I always feel a little lost in Napa).  Based on Phoebe’s tips, we ended up scheduling tours at Tres Sabores and Buehler.  She knew we love having a good tasting experience (read about our wine preferences here) and she assured us both would be loads of fun.  She was right!

Tres Sabores

Tres Sabores is an organic vineyard that uses sheep to mow the weeds between the vines and guinea hens to eat the pests from both the ground and the sheep.  Sheep = extremely cute.  Especially when they nuzzle together.

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After a couple weeks on the road eating and drinking a bit too much, we’re trying to make this week extra healthy.  So far, there’s been lots of salad, roasted veggies, hummus and lentils (…and a couple ice cream sundaes…oops).  Now we’re moving into smoothies, our go-to when we want to put ourselves on a healthy path.  I love, love, love our smoothies for packing a big vitamin and fiber punch.  We also mix in enough veggies that they’re substantial, while reasonably low in calories.

To make a smoothie, I start with the same base every time (with a little variation here and there):

  • 1 orange
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1/3 – 1/2 banana (I like just a touch for creaminess and potassium, without giving the smoothie too strong of a banana flavor)

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Light and refreshing Green Tea and Mint cocktails for St. Patty’s Day

After my failed attempt at green food dye, I was ready to leave the realm of green food products behind.  Especially for St. Patrick’s Day.  But then I found a leftover bunch of mint in my fridge and I started thinking…

Inspired by my experience with homemade grenadine, I stripped the mint leaves off, gathering about 2 c of mint, and tossed them in my blender.  I added 4 oz of vodka and 2 T of sugar (just enough to add a hint of sweetness, without being particularly sweet), and then blended for a couple minutes.  I let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes, giving the mint a bit of time to infuse through the vodka, and then strained it through one layer of cheesecloth (leftover from the ricotta!).  The straining was little annoying since the cheesecloth had to be cleaned off several times, but maybe that’s the price paid for fresh mint syrup.  From start to finish (including “steeping” time), the mint syrup took about 20 minutes.

With my new fresh mint syrup, I started thinking of cocktails from modern mojitos to lemon-sake martinis.  Eventually, though, I decided to play up the green theme with some green tea (I happened to have a bottle that’s been sitting around from Trader Joe’s, though typically I would steep my own).  So, here’s a fresh and light recipe that’s sure to win over anyone who’s resistant to green drinks on St. Patty’s day.  Like me!

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Hurricanes for Mardi Gras!

I love using Mardi Gras as an excuse to drink Hurricanes.  Of course, you can drink them at any time of year, but Mardi Gras is mixed up with New Orleans in my mind, and no drink is so quintessentially New Orleans as the Hurricane.

The original Hurricane came about post-prohibition at Pat O’Brien’s, a restaurant on Bourbon Street (which both my grandmothers used to go to while they were in college at Newcomb).  The short version of the story is that, at some point in the 1940s, Pat O’Brien’s ended up with an absurd quantity of rum and developed a rum-passionfruit-lemon drink that was served in a large hurricane glass.  Here’s a comprehensive post about the back story (and while you’re on that blog, check out their Liquor Cabinet tab…holy cow!).

Unfortunately, though, the Hurricane that is widely available today around New Orleans isn’t good.  At all.  It’s insanely sweet and a bright, bright red color.  It tastes a lot like liquid cherry Jello (which is so recognizable that, even though I haven’t had cherry Jello in about 20 years, I knew the flavor immediately!).  Here’s a to-go package of the mix that’s found around New Orleans (amazingly, my friend Sara had this at her house in Berkeley):

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Homemade pomegranate grenadine

This is one of those must-do recipes.  It takes about 2 minutes of effort and is a ridiculous improvement over anything you can buy in the store.  Your cocktails will taste a bazillion times better (at least!) when you use real grenadine, rather than the red-dyed corn syrup that masquerades as grenadine.

I say real grenadine because the original version of grenadine was made from pomegranate juice, not cherry.  The word grenadine comes from the traditional French word for pomegranate, granade. Somewhere along the way, cherry replaced pomegranate in the most widespread grenadine syrups.  Now there are few grenadine syrups with any fruit in them at all.

Here are the ingredients of Rose’s grenadine: High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Citric Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Red 40, Blue 1.

Yuck, right?  So, let’s make our own.

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Starr Ranch Winery and Crooked Road (part 3 of 3)

This is the last post in a 3 part series on drinking wine in Paso Robles.  If you missed parts 1 and 2, you may want to start there.  Part 1 is an overview of Paso Robles as a wine region.  Part 2 tells you about all the wineries we visited during our trip.  This final part showcases Starr Ranch Winery, one of the wineries we visited on our trip.

Our last stop of the day on Saturday was Starr Ranch Winery.  Before going to Paso, while we were researching where to visit and scouring every corner of the internet, this winery didn’t come up much.  We found Starr Ranch because of a conversation at Turley — the sweet woman who was pouring for us mentioned we could find her son, Ryan, making wine there.

Starr Ranch was scheduled to close at 5:00p and we pulled into the driveway at about 4:55p.  In the rush to get in the door, I only took terrible, blurry photos.  So, instead, here’s a picture of the Starr Ranch property that’s shown on their website (though, this is pretty much how it looked for us, too).

The path up the driveway and through the hills around the winery was gorgeous.  Next time we’ll try to picnic somewhere around there.

We walked into a big barn, down a corridor lined by wine barrels, and up to the tasting bar just as a group of people were finishing up.  We nervously asked the woman behind the counter, whom we later found out was owner Judy, if we were too late.  She shook her head and happily agreed to pour for us.

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