Category Archives: drinks

friday o’clock : salt-preserved mezcalrita


Cheers! Jen + Leslie. Photo by Vincent Ricchiuti

Two weeks ago, I was walking  fields with Doug of the Mendocino Grain Project, learning more about wheat varietals, dry-farming and grain milling that I ever thought I wanted to know.  It was just one part of a food nerd paradise weekend called Eat Retreat. I was lucky enough to be one of the 35 or so attendees chosen to attend the 3-day retreat. All attendees are food professionals of some kind, most being chefs or food makers.   The days were filled with workshops, demonstrations, and tastings, all which will get their own recap to come.

Prior to arrival, we were put on meal or happy hour hour teams, and no one will be surprised which one I ended up on. My teammates for the weekend were Dafna of Inna Jam and Tammy of Spice Hound. We were graciously provided white rye, gin, and mezcal to concoct libations. On Saturday, we made three cocktails: Aperye Spritz, Gin + Tonic, and the Salt-Preserved Mezcalrita. The latter two were served up creekside, for an impromptu happy hour that was so beautiful that it verged on Kinfolk-twee. 


Riverbed bar tending. Photo by Leslie Lindell.

bar setup

On the bar, lovely rimmed glasses waiting. Photo by Leslie Lindell


The menu. Photo by Leslie Lindell.

The idea for the mezcalrita came together quite nicely. Many mezcal cocktails are mixed at home from my extensive collection, smuggled back from Oaxacan roadside mezcal distilleries a few years ago. And a friend of mine had made a Moroccan margarita a month ago for our Mediterranean mash up progressive dinner party, using salt-preserved lemons. Then Dafna mentioned she had a bunch of preserved Meyer lemon brine from her lovely preserved meyer lemons. Boom. We were in business.  The end result was pretty killer. Very balanced; smoky, slightly sweet, salty, sour, and a touch spicy from the piment d’ville and sal de guasano. Goes down easy, especially when you’re lounging on a riverbed.

Salt-Preserved Mezcalrita

I highly recommend using Inna Jam preserved lemon brine for this. Dafna uses a minimum amount of salt in her preserved lemons, which adds just the right saltiness to the syrup. Other preserved lemon brine might end up too salty. If that’s your only option, add less brine to the syrup mixture. 

You likely don’t have sal de guasano in your pantry. That’s ok. Substitute a mixture of a cayenne or other hot pepper and salt. You’ll miss the umami of the caterpillar larvae, but you’ll survive. It is also available online. Or just skip it entirely, and rim the glass only with the lovely fresh Piment d’Ville – a locally grown version of the obsession-worthy piment d’esplette.

2 oz joven mezcal

1 oz lime juice

1 oz preserved lemon syrup* (recipe below)

sal de guasano (in small bowl)

piment d’ville (in small bowl)

lots of ice

Dip the rim of glass in lime juice. Then dip one side in sal de guasano, and the other side in piment d’ville. Plop in some ice cubes.

In a shaker, combine mezcal, lime, and lemon syrup. Fill with ice and shake until your hand is freezing. Strain into your cold, rimmed, glass. You can easily make up to 3 drinks in one shaker, as I did while playing bartender for the thirsty Eat Retreaters.

* To make preserved lemon syrup, combine 1 part sugar with 1 part hot water. Stir until sugar dissolves. You can also boil the whole lot together on the stove, but it’s not necessary. Once sugar is dissolved, add 1/2 part brine reserved from the preserved lemons. You might as well make a big batch of this and store in a jar in the fridge. Or beg Dafna to start selling it.

And of course I had to do a diagram….


Friday Wednesday o’clock : Bali Edition


If you followed any of my social internets as of late, it should be no surprise that Bali was not my favorite stop on this world tour. The reasons are many and have no place sullying this lovely cocktail post. Whatever its faults, Bali did, however, provide easy access to mangosteens AND drove us to kill a bottle of Knob Creek we picked up at duty free on the way in. Add in a little palm sugar, and you have a super easy and delicious Balinese old-fashioned that anyone can make – just follow these simple steps.

Step 1: Spend ample time in Muslim countries, with high booze tax and shitty beer, such that you are chomping at the bit for something tasty.

Step 2: Search through each of the duty free shops at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, hoping to find a better bourbon than Jack Daniels* or Jim Beam. Successfully locate a bottle of Knob Creek. Rejoice.


Step 3: Arrive in Ubud, realize you’ve made a huge mistake in your choice of destinations, and urgently seek out mangosteens, because at least you KNOW you love them.

Step 4: Enter the Ubud market, politely demur offers to purchase batiks, junky bracelets, and penis-shaped wooden bottle openers, and make your way to the old lady selling mangosteens.

Step 5: Ask how much, wait until she pulls out 40,000 Indonesian rupiah (about $4 USD/kilo). Playfully scoff, because you know this is the tourist price, and locals pay closer to 20,000-25,000/kilo. Offer 25,000. Accept her counter-offer of 30,000. Also accept the 2 tiny bananas and 3 rambutans she stuffs into your bag with the mangosteens, likely as a peace offering for charging you so much…. relatively speaking.


Step 6: Walk along the streets of Ubud, searching for sugar while politely declining the constant offers for a taxi ride from the men lining the street. Keep your eyes on the ground, because the sidewalks are often broken, and lead straight down into a deep cement gutter.

Step 7: Locate a tiny stall selling spices, AND PALM SUGAR!! Spot a teeny tiny puck of palm sugar, smaller than an actual hockey puck. Have your husband handle this negotiation. She says it is 30,000 ($3 USD). Insanity. Husband counter-offers with 10,000 which is still far too much, but you NEED that sugar, and she accepts.

Step 8: Realize you need ice.

Step 9: Realize the closest ice would require a 15-minute walk down the street, the same street with the taxi touts and crumbling sidewalk, and that you are already drenched with sweat.

Step 10: Remember that you have your bourbon chilling in the hotel room fridge, and decide that cocktails are good even without ice.

Step 11: Make up the recipe. ***

Step 12: Sip joyfully and plan your return to Malaysia.

*yes, I know Jack Daniel’s is technically Tennessee whiskey, not bourbon. Duty free shops, however, do not recognize this distinction.

**lest you believe we are penny-pinchers, bargaining is expected here, as in most parts of SE Asia.

*** Balinese Mangosteen Old Fashioned.
Serves 2

+ 4 oz bourbon

+ teaspoon sized chunk of palm sugar (can sub in regular sugar but it will in no way be as delicious)

+ 2 spoonfuls of water

+ 1 mangosteen

Dissolve palm sugar chunk in water in glass. Stir until it mostly dissolves.

Plop mangosteen segments into second glass. Smush around with a spoon.


Divide mangosteen pulp and palm sugar water evenly into two glasses.

Add 2 oz bourbon to each glass. Top up with a bit of water to dilute slightly (or add ice instead if you’ve got it.)




Friday o’clock : Japan edition


My alcohol tolerance has taken an absolute nosedive since I came to Asia. The prevalence of bland rice lagers coupled with the fact that we’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time in Muslim countries (which have crazy-high taxes on alcohol) has meant we haven’t really been doing much drinking. Cue the violins.

After our lager-tour of Vietnam, we had a bit of a reprieve in the booze department when we arrived in Japan. Was it expensive there? Yes. Was I sick with a cold most of the time? Yes. Did we still manage to make some cocktails? Yes, indeed.


We arrived in Tokyo in late March, just as the cherry blossoms (sakura) hit full bloom. The whole country goes a bit sakura crazy. There are special sakura wagashi (little sweets meant to be eaten in traditional matcha tea ceremonies),cherry blossom onigiri, sakura mochi, sakura rice crackers, special sakura sparkling sake, and even sakura doughnuts at Krispy Kreme (no, I did not sample them. They were super pink and I don’t like doughnuts. Sue me).

We also kept seeing these bags of pink cherry blossoms in department store basements and markets. After the fifth time I picked up and put down a package, Steve finally forced me to spend the $3 and buy a package in the Kyoto Nishiki Market.


A little googling told me that I’d need to soak these salt-preseved blossoms before using them any way I wanted. And I wanted a cocktail.




This cocktail is unashamedly pink, girly, and sweet. Way sweeter that I normally go for, but I’m a dry cocktail-lover, and hell, it was springtime in Japan. Had I had any access to bitters, I would have added them, and have suggested as such here. The cherry blossoms provide a surprising amount of cherry flavor and aroma to the drink, even using only a few of them.

+ three or four preserved cherry blossoms
+ water for soaking
+ umeshu (the cuter the bottle, the better. See below)
+ club soda
+ cherry bitters

Soak your cherry blossoms in ample water for maybe 5 minutes or so. They are crazy salty.

Pour two parts umeshu into a glass. Add a few dashes of bitters if you’ve got them.

Plop in your cherry blossoms, and top with chilled club soda to taste.

Ideally, eat with some sakura mochi.




Not in Japan in the springtime? The internet to the rescue. Get your preserved cherry blossoms here or on Amazon.

What else to do with the cherry blossoms? Like I said, they are crazy salty. I had a thought to maybe grind them with a mortar and pestle and make a pretty interesting salt rim for a margarita (maybe with a dash of sour cherry juice?) They can als be used in cooking and baking — see these posts for more ideas. The cherry blossoms can also be rinsed and then soaked in hot water for a cherry blossom tea.

They are also just fun to look at. Right, Steve?


friday o’clock – turning over a new (maple) leaf


2013, really? I spent the first week of 2013 ill in one form or another, kicking it off with a 40-hour migraine while in an mod beach house, followed by a cold and various stomach ailments. (really interesting stuff, right?) But that seems to be behind me now, and to say I’m really freaking excited for the upcoming year would be a vast understatement. There will be lots of travel, eating, cocktail art, and new projects.

Today I left for beautiful Cazaderos in Sonoma County for the first annual retreat for my business lady group (yeah, a new name is in the works). There will be much reflecting, planning, goal-setting, and wine-drinking in the redwoods soaking tub. In honor of the new year with this lovely group of kick ass business ladies, I’m making this as our signature cocktail for the weekend.


Turning Over a New (Maple) Leaf

This is a variation of the maple leaf cocktail, which I’ve enjoyed before but was recently reminded of it in this post by Heidi Swanson. I’ve been making them with both meyer lemon and regular old yellow lemons, and both are pretty awesome. I have a seville orange that I believe is cocktail bound as well.  I tweaked the ratios a bit from Heidi’s, and added bitters. The salt addition, however, is here to stay. If you want an eye-opening discussion of sub-threshhold levels of salt, this episode of Cooking Issues is a must-listen.

2 oz bourbon (Bulleit and Buffalo Trace both work well)
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz maple syrup
few dashes bitters
smidgen of salt

Shake vigourously with ice. Serve up with lemon twist.

Makes one delicious cocktail.

friday o’clock – balls

Yeah, that’s right. Balls.

For the last few years, I’ve been part of a progressive dinner club, where each home hosts a different course, and we traipse around the city to each home. And because who doesn’t love a theme, we… have themes! We have one coming up this Sunday, and among a list of about 10 options, I jokingly suggested balls. Which all the ladies loved (the dudes were noticeably silent in this decision making process).

So Sunday will be a ball-filled extravaganza, and I’m in charge of drinks. Because I’m insane and self-employed, the last week has me down a rabbit-hole of molecular mixology, ice trays, gelatin, and nitrous. It has been awesome.

Because I’m a lady, I’m going to keep most of my balls under wraps until the weekend, but wanted to share a garnish with you all  – carbonated cherries.

You could say that my  parents bought Steve an ISI whipped cream canister for his birthday (the kind you charge with nitrous, aka whippets – for the party people out there.) But more accurately you could say I suggested that my parents buy one for him so I could play with it. Our friend in science and drinking, Dan, has one which I’ve played with and easily convinced me to get one. You can do all sorts of fun stuff with this bad boy, like quick infusing alcohol, making warm foams, and the obvious, having whipped cream on demand.  And as I found out this week, carbonating fruit.

The ISI charger takes both nitrous and carbon dioxide chargers, so you can also use it as a soda siphon. Or you can follow these easy steps (adapted from Al Dente blog) to carbonate fruit. What’s it like? An intense tingling cherry soda inside a cherry. Awesome right?

As for what’s in this pink cocktail? You’ll have to wait until after the ball party.


friday o’clock – a date with bourbon

hello hello. The past month has been incredibly full of cocktail experiments and frantic illustrating (including another cookbook, a CD cover, and blog logos).

Over the last few weeks, my friend Dan and I have been geeking out over cocktails, particularly infusions made with his spiffy ISI charger. The method allows one to rapidly infuse liquor with your spice, fruit, or other flavoring of choice using whippits, uh, I mean nitrous chargers. We’ve made Chinese five spice, szechuan peppercorn, celery/celery seed, and urfa pepper, all with great success. (The five spice in a manhattan is a treat).

But I like old school infusions too — fill a jar with fruit, add booze, wait. My stock of japanese ume plum bourbon is perilously low, so another infusion was imminent. A trip to Palm Springs a few months ago inspired me to finally make date infused bourbon. The bar at TWO on Hawthorne Lane in SF (may it RIP; it’s now fancypants Benu) used to feature a Manhattan variation, made with date bourbon, and subbing in nocino (walnut liqueur) for sweet vermouth. The result was nutty, sweet and warm. Rest assured it will be the first drink I make once this infusion is ready (oh, about 2 weeks from now).

Date Bourbon

  • 15 dates
  • bourbon to fill  (likely a little less than 750ml)
  • jar

1. Wash and pit the dates. (I know some folks skip this step, but there are sometimes bug eggs and/or worms in dates. See??

2. Add to jar.

3. Pour in bourbon. ( I used Bulleit, because this is was TWO used)

4. Wait (2-4 weeks, tasting periodically until it tastes right to you)

5. Strain into clean jar.

6. Drink.

friday o’clock : Rye Gin Manhattan

Has it seriously been 5 MONTHS since I’ve done a cocktail post? Wow. Rest assured, I have not been abstaining from imbibing during the same period.  Here’s one of my new favorites.

First of all, St. George Spirits is awesome. They are based in Alameda, and  until the last few years, have focused pretty exclusively on creative infused vodkas (think Buddha’s Hand citrus and chipotle. yeah.). They have a great tasting room and tour and if you’re in the Bay Area, you need to get there now.

Despite the fact that their vodkas are delicious, vodka is pretty much my last choice when it comes to liquor. Thankfully, St. George Spirits has added absinthe, a single-malt whiskey, a bourbon, rhum agricole, and a series of gins to their line-up. (The fact that the St. George Spirits gals were super nice, bought a lot of my art, and kept Steve and I well-lubricated at the La Cocina gift fair in December doesn’t hurt my opinion of them either. )

Last week I picked up their Dry Rye Gin and decided to whip up a version of the classic Manhattan, swapping the traditional rye with the rye gin. The result? Absolutely nothing like a Manhattan. Much more spiced and peppery. The rye gin on it’s own is super complex, with 2x the juniper as in normal gin. The spiciness and bite of rye is present and welcome. Oh, and pretty freaking delicious.


Dry Rye Manhattan

  • 1.5 oz St. George Spirits Dry Rye Gin
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth (I used my trusty Caprano Antica, but I think a less complex vermouth would suit this better and not overpower the gin)
  • few shakes of bitters
  • amaro cherry (because they are delicious)

Combine all ingredients, except cherry in a glass with ice. Stir for about a minute until thoroughly chilled. Strain into a chilled low ball glass.* Pop the cherry in.


*Do you like my glass? Yeah you do. Mid 1960s. Picked a set up in a Palm Springs thrift shop last month.

friday o’clock – pineapple pisco-jito

pineapple mojito

It’s Fleet Week here in San Francisco, which means two things: 1) jittery nerves from forgetting that the deafening rumblings are the Blue Angels, and not an attack, and 2) beautiful weather. It’s odd, but Fleet Week and Pride Week are always blessed with warm sunny weather.

And that means it’s time to raise a glass to the weather gods. Last week, I served this cocktail at our monthly Biz Ladies meeting. The Biz Ladies group is an awesome group of fellow makers and biz owners who meet once a month to spitball ideas, share advice, and well, just generally interact like co-workers. The group includes Samantha of Noteify, Kendra of Kendra Renee Jewelry, Sharon of Casa Murriguez, Alana of Etta + Billie, Marja of Lemonade Handmade Jewelry, Liz of, and Giselle, owner of Rare Device. Oh, and Steve was an honorary “biz lady” for the evening.

For food I used this recipe for short rib chili to make “frito pie”, and a jicama, avocado, and grapefruit salad.

pineapple large

Oh, and if you’re wondering why it is a pisco-jito …. I found some pisco at Trader Joe’s, and well, I just had to buy it. :) I based the recipe on this one on yumsguar. It’s awesome because you can make it ahead of time, which is great for the muddling-intensive mojito.

Pineapple Pisco-jito

by the pitcher-full, makes 8 drinks

  • 2 cups Pisco (or rum, if you’re feeling traditional)
  • 1 cup mint leaves
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 lime, in quarters
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • 1 cup club soda
  • 4 pineapple spears

1. Using a wooden spoon or muddler in a bowl, crush the mint with the sugar and lime quarters until the sugar starts to dissolve.

2. Add half of pineapple and crush into mixture

3. Add 1 cup of the club soda and stir until the sugar dissolves completely.

4. Strain the mixture through a coarse sieve into a pitcher.

5. Stir in the lime juice and rum. ** You can chill the mixture now, and serve it later**

6. Fill glass with ice and add a mint sprig to each. A

7. Add chopped pineapple to glass.

8.  Pour the mixture over the ice, top each glass with club soda and serve.

Serves 8.



friday o’clock

It's about Thyme, Sidecar top


It’s time for a cocktail, am I right?

A few weeks ago when Steve and I embarked on the Great San Marzano Canning Experience 2011, we procured a bottle of lemon juice. Apparently lemons vary considerably in acidity, so most canning recipes suggest using bottled lemon juice. The recipe only called for a few tablespoons, so we’re left with a mostly full bottle of lemon juice. Oh, and I had bought thyme to make the mythically delicoius Zuni roast chicken. What to do?

Make one of my favorite cocktails of all time. This was one of the first cocktails I ever drank, and it is still awesome. Many recipes use a 1:1:1 ration of brandy, cointreau, and lemon juice, but my tastes lean away from something so cointreau heavy. Using less means that you need to make up for the loss of sweetness with simple syrup or gum syrup, but the result means a cleaner lemon-y cocktail. But play around with the ratios to your taste.

And the thyme? Crazy good.


It's about Thyme, Sidecar ingredients


It’s About Thyme, Sidecar

makes 1

  • 2 oz Brandy
  • 1/2 oz Cointreau
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon gum syrup (this stuff is amazeballs. Use whenever you’d use simple syrup, especially in citrus based drinks. Gives a smooth mouthfeel. I have a locally produced one from Small Hand Foods)
  • few springs of thyme
  • sugar and salt*


1. If you’re using fresh squeezed lemon juice, take a wedge of lemon, cut a notch in it and rub it on the rim of your glass. If you’re usingbottled juice, it is messier, but pour some juice on a shallow bowl and moisten the rim of your glass

2. mix equal parts salt and sugar on a plate or shallow bowl, and dip your moistened rim (yeah, I know) into the mix.

3. Combine all other ingredients in cocktail shaker, including a spring of thyme. Shake it. Shake it good.

4. Strain into old-fashioned glass. Add a sprig of thyme to be beautiful.
It's about Thyme, Sidecar


*very untraditional I know, but adding the salt gives this a little something special. You want to be special, right?