Eat Me. Drink Me.

Why We Eat. Why We Drink. Why We Write.

Category: Drinks


by lyzpfister

I find it hard to wake up before eleven.

No.  That’s not true.  I find it hard to get out of bed before eleven.  I toss about on my lumpy mattress, attempting to free my sinuses from whatever invisible congestion has beset them from about 8:30 on, snatching fits of sleep, more like consecutive naps, until finally, at eleven, I insist to myself that I must roll out of bed.

It’s because I lack goals, I tell myself.  Joblessness does not suit me.  Instead of using the wide, white expanse of day to do something productive, like apply for jobs or submit stories and poems to literary journals, I fritter away the day doing things like… untagging myself from Facebook pictures.  Of course, it isn’t all waste.  I do often manage to do one good thing a day – one submission or application, putting together a portfolio – so there is a general swell in the direction I need to go.  But out of all of the hours in a day, how little I have to show for them.

I need a project, I said (as though applying for jobs were not a project enough).  And since I have been meaning to make liqueurs, have even had the jars from Ikea sitting ready, for months, I decided that liqueur-making would be just the thing.  And just for fun, I’d make a batch of homemade mustard too.

I first became fascinated with homemade liqueurs a few summers ago while visiting my grandfather on the Schwabian Alb in the south of Germany. There, nothing goes to waste, and the strawberries and rhubarb are turned into jams, the dense purple clusters of elderberries into juice, and bright red raspberries into liqueur.  I have been meaning to make my own since then, yet only once managed a successful bottling when I was overcome by the abundance of mulberries hanging on the tree outside my Brooklyn apartment.  And even then, one small sample glass and I’d shipped myself off to Germany.

At a Goodwill in Pennsylvania, I found a lovely old book called Liqueurs for All Occasions, a fancily scripted tome with aging amber-hued photographs whose opening recipe is for Absinthe. There are some really lovely recipes in the book, some quite intriguing like English walnut, or a cream marsala which calls for eggs. Some of them call for ingredients I’m not sure where to find – like fuller’s teasel (though how delightful), European mountain ash, or yellow plum seeds (under the vague impression these were poisonous).  But some sound completely reasonable, like lemon verbena or bergamont, mixed mint or pear.  I settled on two fresh, citrusy recipes to warm the winter months – basil schnapps and orange liqueur.

Oh, the joy of that smell.  Crushed basil dense like an Italian summer and sticky-bright citrus.  And how lovely to have a project – to press and zest oranges while an orange-flavored simple syrup bubbles on the stove or to watch bright green basil leaves swirl around in fragrant gin. And not to forget my mustard – pebbly brown and yellow seeds mixed with chopped fresh rosemary and thyme.

It’s not the most hands-on of projects.  I shake a jar once a day – and I have brown and yellow mustard seeds macerating in a bowl of vinegar – but there are dates in my calendar.  The day after tomorrow, there’ll be fresh mustard, next week I’ll make a simple syrup for my basil schnapps, and in four weeks there will be orange liqueur to brighten up bitter, gray February in Berlin.  I love this idea of long-term projects, this process of curating patience.  As my most adored Fergus Henderson says, “an ox tongue in brine, or a bucket of cabbage salting in the corner of your kitchen, what could be more reassuring?” (Which of course makes me think… perhaps something Fergus should be my next project? Blood cake? Lamb’s tongue?)

So who knows, maybe I’ll start making a liqueur a month (which means I’ll have to make another trip to Ikea for bottles…) or expand to canning, pickling, curing, preserving, opening my own larder in Berlin… or not.  I think I’ll keep the DIY projects to a manageable amount to keep me focused on the other things I need to do, not to mention give me something to look forward to, a reward for having been productive. Look, now I’ve done something today.

Orange Liqueur

4 large oranges (400 mL juice)
3 tbsp white sugar
200 mL water
700 mL white rum (40%)

Zest the peel from two of the oranges and divide in half. Press juice out of the oranges. In a small saucepan, heat sugar, water, and half of the orange zest to boiling, then reduce to low and simmer for five minutes until sugar is dissolved.  Allow syrup to cool.  When syrup is cool, add orange juice, stir, and the pass through a mesh sieve to remove pulp.  In a clean, air-tight bottle, blend other half of zest, juice/syrup mixture, and rum.  Seal the bottle and store in a dark place, shaking occasionally.  The liqueur is done after about 4 weeks.

Tastes Like Home

by lyzpfister

Sylvia found this Brooklyn lager for me. I love her.

Please note: “Imported”…

You and me both.


by lyzpfister

photoshop courtesy of Andy Cable

This is what happens inside my body when I drink coffee.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by lyzpfister

What a surprise it was to stand under the tree in the backyard one morning and look up at little misshapen berries, turning the first blush of ripening pink.  We’d moved into the apartment last September, after the last of any berries had already fallen from the tree, and being inexperienced botanists, had written the tree off as just another rambling Brooklyn shrub that managed to make it to adulthood, to spite polluted rain and urban sprawl.  But here it was, growing berries.  Fat and dark purple, like stretched-out blackberries.  Armed with a berry and a leaf, I tried to look up the fruit online.  Searches for “ugly blackberry” or “black berry growing on tree” turned up nothing.  In hopes that it wasn’t poisonous, I ate the fruit.

The flavor was sweet and ripe, almost like bubblegum and so full of juice it burst open like a water balloon as I bit into it.  After waiting a few hours without experiencing any death-like symptoms, I went outside and plucked berry after berry off the branches and ate them straight from the tree.  I was reminded of being twelve, of standing along the fence in my childhood garden and grabbing raspberries, blackberries, and currants from bushes and stuffing them straight into my mouth.  When I couldn’t eat another berry, I’d pick a container full and freeze it, so that as fall approached, I could still sit in front of the television, popping frozen berries in my mouth.

A berry is never as nice as when it’s picked directly from the bush, and even nicer when its unexpected.  Mulberries, say my neighbors, are what’s growing on the trees.  I had always imagined mulberries to be sour, prickly things.  I don’t know why – I’ve never even eaten anything mulberry flavored nor even seen a mulberry live.  And now I have more mulberries that I know what to do with, so every morning I step outside and shovel a new, ripe batch into my mouth.

As I lay reading in my hammock today, I stared up at the sky through the mulberry leaves and spied a bunch of grapes intertwined in the bush.  And in the corner of the fence, a crabapple tree.  What bounty in Brooklyn!

Inspired, I jumped up from my hammock, brushed away a nap just about to settle, and walked to the plexi-glass wrapped liquor store down the street.

Last summer, my grandfather and I had bottled raspberry and blackberry liqueur with fruit from his garden.  We spent our mornings picking fruit and measuring cubes of sugar and rum and our evenings sampling finished bottles from our experiments the summer before.  He reminisced about his childhood and we talked about our family and how it has grown.  He is taciturn, my grandfather, and for us to sit for hours in the kitchen washing berries, was simply an excuse to be together. He sent me home with a few bottles of raspberry liqueur, a box of German kandis sugar and a book of recipes.

I bottled my first liqueur today.  I didn’t use a recipe, just asked my hands to remember how many raspberries I’d funneled into each jar, how much sugar, vanilla, and rum.  And with every mulberry I dropped into the glass, I thought about how proud my grandfather would be that I was bringing Germany to Brooklyn.  And how much he’ll like chatting over a glass the next time I see him.

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle…

by lyzpfister

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.

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.

Aged rum is dumped and diluted to 80 proof.  This is what dumping is like:  In a room off to the side of the aging warehouse, a guy with a metal pipe hits a barrel of rum and pops out a wooden cork and spills the rum into a trough lined with charred wooden chips.  This rum is fierce – we all dip our fingers in the stream and taste.  It evaporates in my mouth and tastes a little bit like petroleum and rubbing alcohol.

Here more than anywhere else I’m impressed with how rustic this process is.  There’s just a guy, whacking a barrel, and rum flowing out of a hole in the barrel.  It’s very Pirates of the Caribbean.  The factory puts out an impressive amount of rum – and very good rum – but it all comes back to this guy whacking a wooden cork out of a barrel.

I’ve had a lot of Cruzan rum this week – nothing says tropical vacation better than pina coladas with coconut rum, mojitos, mango and strawberry daiquiris complete with pink umbrella, and other fruity frozen concoctions.  And every one of those pretty bottles came from an open-air factory where geckos scuttle over railings and each barrel of rum is opened by a guy in a sweat-covered green t-shirt swinging a stick.

The rum is bottled and flavored in Florida rather than St. Croix, which means that each clean, colorful bottle of rum has been shipped to the mainland before it gets to come back to the tasting room at its own factory.  I would like my own trajectory to be like Cruzan’s.  New York is great, but there’s not enough water, not enough sun, and not enough rum.

Cruzan Mojitos
Muddle the juice of ½ lime, about 1 tsp sugar, 4 mint leaves in the bottom of a glass, then add a healthy jigger of white rum and ice, then top off with tonic.

Paris in New York (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

I think I’ve found IT.  True love.  The café of my dreams.  Ceci Cela is located on Spring Street in the heart of SoHo, and the bohemian chic stroll by in droves.  Inside, however, is an oasis of soft lights, well-worn wooden floors and tables, exposed brick walls, and crooked corners.  There are only eight small tables in the back room; to get there, you walk past a display counter of glazed tortes and cakes, crisp croissants, and sugar cookies glistening with raspberry jam.

The first time I came to Ceci Cela, I was visiting New York to meet up with a friend and native New Yorker, for whom coming to Ceci Cela was a family tradition.  We ordered cappuccinos and croissants, at which point Natalie, whose family is French and Persian, taught me the art of dipping croissant in coffee.  It all felt so very – French, like being transported to Paris on a magic quiche.

I’ve been back a few times since then, stopping by almost every time I come to New York.  And now that I live here (still so strange to say), I have the feeling I’ll be here more often.

Ceci Cela Patisserie
55 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012
(212) 274-9179

What Do You Mean, Raw Drink? (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister


The first time I opened a bottle of Kombucha, I wondered who was dyeing Easter eggs. Then I took a sip of Kombucha and wondered why I was drinking vinegar. But, because I had paid around $4 for that bottle, I kept drinking, and by my last sip of Kombucha, I kind of liked it.

Kombucha is a super drink first made in Qin Dynasty China, where it was called the “Immortal Health Elixir”and thought to balance middle Qi (spleen and stomach).  According to the label on my bottle of Kombucha, it aids digestion, metabolism, immune system and liver function, appetite and weight control, body alkalinity, anti-aging, cell integrity, and healthy skin and hair.  Of course, none of that has been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Part of the reason I keep coming back to Kombucha must be for its health benefits, because no matter how many times I buy one, the first sip is always a shocker. When it first hits your tongue, it’s sweet and intensely fizzy, but almost instantly becomes sour as it slides past the sides of your mouth.

I recently learned that you can grow your own Kombucha – and I do mean “grow,” because Kombucha is tea fermented by a bacteria colony. Alive like yogurt. To grow your own Kombucha, you brew a weak-ish batch of black tea sweetened with sugar, cool it to room temperature, and then float the Kombucha colony in it. The Kombucha colony, by the way, is called a mushroom and looks like a disk of blubber. In about ten days, you have your Kombucha brew, which you can strain and refrigerate. Your Kombucha colony can be dropped in a new batch of tea and might even start growing baby Kombuchas, which you can give to your friends so they can start their own Kombucha colonies. Kombucha imperialism.

I may not be at the point in my relationship with Kombucha that I’m about to grow it in my basement, but I’ll endorse it, because if nothing else it’s interesting. And it’s probably good for you.

If you’re interested in how to make your own Kombucha, check out this rather entertaining YouTube video:

He’s on the Move (a post by Josh)

by lyzpfister

It’s been a minute since I’ve updated my travels, my eats, and frankly, my stomach’s adjustment to Southern Foods. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been living in the South for about three years now, but I don’t always choose to indulge in collards with fat back as my staple lunch item. But now – this summer – I’ve got to go big then go home and take a nap to “work off” that fried goodness. O! that fried goodness!

Well since I’ve last updated (on my travels, not my shameful meal), I’ve been to Sapelo Island, Charleston, a few surrounding areas (James Island, Mt. Pleasant), Beaufort, Athens, Atlanta, Watkinsville, and Birmingham. That’s where I sit right now, sipping a well roasted, full bodied black coffee – iced (to cut the 99 degree heat and 110 percent humidity).

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I’ll Have the Meal in a Pint, Cheers (a post by Josh)

by lyzpfister

The myth is true. It is no longer a myth, but a fact, truth, honesty. The myth that I’m talking about is “the closer you get to Dublin, the better the Guinness.” I never made it to the factory itself, which I’m sure was “well worth it” but I did make to the “smallest pub in the world” in the heart of Dublin to enjoy a hearty pint.

It has really been these past few rainy days that have gotten me to thinking about that small pub. Because, during these grayed afternoons, all I’ve pined for is a cozy place to sit with friends and to enjoy a drink. Not coffee, but a pint of Guinness. This may be contradictory to my personality, but hear me out on this one.

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Space vs. Taste: What Makes a Coffee Shop? (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

The best cup of coffee I ever had was in a coffee shop on Lygon Street, in Melbourne, Australia. That cappuccino, rich, strong, and smooth, convinced me that Lygon, where the Italian cafés and restaurants were located, would become the perfect place to find a coffee shop in which I could both work and happily feed my caffeine addiction. So I started looking for the perfect place – somewhere with good coffee, tables big enough to hold my laptop and books, outlets, and maybe even an upstairs or back room where people sat and worked in silent solidarity. I wanted a blend of socializing and working, but in Australia, the cafés I found were not work-friendly. Most of the customers were engaged in conversation at the rickety, round tables with the capacity for a coffee cup or two, no one had a laptop (not to mention that there were absolutely no outlets), and the lighting inside was dim.

As the search for the perfect coffee shop on Lygon Street became an increasingly frantic journey, I found myself frequently ending a futile morning of searching at Starbucks. This was particularly frustrating, because not only was the coffee worse than at the cafés along Lygon – where every cappuccino I ordered had a heart drawn into the foam and the espresso was strong but not bitter–but the coffee was exponentially more expensive. Whereas I could get a delicious cup for around $2 anywhere else, at Starbucks I paid close to $6 for the exact same burnt and bitter coffee I could buy back in the States. But Starbucks had what I needed, an expansive upstairs area where students sat and studied, outlets for my laptop, and good lighting.

Oh! the irony of having found the most delicious coffee in the world but not served in the space that I needed. In my six months of searching, I only found one coffee shop that met all of my criteria. It astounded me that a country with such delectable caffeine missed the wonder of the all-purpose coffee shop. In an attempt to understand why every city, town, and hamlet in the US boasts an independent coffee shop, I started looking into the history of the modern coffee shop, and found, to my surprise, that it all began with Starbucks.

Starbucks, founded by Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordown Bowker, was originally a place to buy freshly roasted beans back in the 1970s, when most coffee came from poor quality beans mass-processed by companies such as Folgers or Maxwell House. By 1980, when Siegl sold his share, Starbucks was the largest roaster in Washington and had six retail outlets, and in 1982, when Starbucks hired Howard Schultz as head of marketing, it was primed for expansion. Schultz, however, had a radically different vision for the company than its owners. Baldwin and Bowker were committed to selling beans and reluctant to let Schultz pursue his dream of starting an Italian-inspired coffee house where people could either grab a cup on the run or stay and socialize. Baldwin and Bowker allowed Schultz to experiment in one Starbucks store with a small stand in the back of the shop. It was an immediate hit.

Today, there are over 7,500 Starbucks in more than thirty countries. The next largest chain, Caribou Coffee, languishes behind it at 300 stores. Starbucks, the Goliath of the coffee community, has received criticism for its aggressive expansion and overpriced drinks, but clearly someone is buying the coffee. Schultz believes this lies in the concept of the third space, a place that is not home and not work where people can either socialize or be alone. This principle is something deliberately and carefully constructed in each Starbucks. In the book, From the Top, Schultz says, “In the focus groups we’ve done, people talk about how social Starbucks is. And then we say, ‘How many people did you talk to while you were in the restaurant?’ ‘I didn’t talk to anybody.’ So we have learned that it’s the experience–the music, the theater, the romance of coffee and the break that we provide.”

Starbucks, with its deep green or maroon walls, pop art pictures of coffee beans and lattes, its dim lighting, is a soothing place to be, for some. For others, the repetition of design and of experience is nauseating. “I feel like a Starbucks–you get what you get. It’s always the same thing, nothing changes–you know what I mean?” says Megan, a barista at Courthouse Commons, an independent coffee shop in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The cloned feel of a Starbucks is precisely what spurs many caffeine consumers to seek out local, independent coffee shops, where the baristas know “your” drink and the beverage list is artfully chalked up on a blackboard.

However, what people don’t realize is that without Starbucks, independent coffee shop culture would not exist. According to Taylor Clark, author of Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Culture, and Commerce, “Starbucks didn’t invent coffee; it just did something with it that no one thought possible. The company took a commodity that Americans could get for a quarter at carts and diners, reshaped it into a luxury product, convinced customers to buy it at hugely inflated prices, and built stores only a few blocks apart in every major city, yet patrons continue to line up in ever-greater numbers to fork over their money.”

Pre-1990s, coffee was a middle-class commodity, a blue-collar drink watered down and served in seedy diners and breakfast joints. Starbucks made drinking coffee a social event, and the price of their coffee reflected the experience you paid for as much as the jolt of caffeine. Their bizarre lingo of English and Italian has become the most prevalent way to order coffee–the smallest cup of coffee is called tall, medium is called grande, and venti, the Italian word for “twenty” or “wind,” is as obtuse as they come. Dawn Pinaud, one of Schultz’s first employees, says, “It’s amazing to me that these terms have become part of the language. A few of us sat in a conference room and just made them up.”

Parker, a barista at Summit, a local coffee shop in Davidson, North Carolina, complains about the frequency with which customers ask for coffee in a Starbucks sized cup, yet also recognizes the importance of Starbucks in the independent coffee shop ethos. “Starbucks is the reason this place can exist–it got America hooked on coffee.” He goes on to explain that people are looking for the same sort of place wherever they go, whether they are the kind of person who wants to buy coffee from a Starbucks or from an independent coffee shop. He once made a drink for a woman who travels across the country trying out independent coffee shops. “It’s the same kind of different.”

And yet, independent coffee shops make a great deal of effort to distinguish themselves from Starbucks. The label on ground coffee sold at Courthouse Commons has a slogan that says, “Not bitter, just better!,” implicitly criticizing the bitterness of Starbucks’ coffee. At Smelly Cat in Charlotte, North Carolina, a sign on the counter reads, “We’re not Starbucks, it’s ok to say hi.”

While the catalyst for the existence of the coffee shops I so admire, Starbucks is no longer on the same level. Its aggressive expansionism, mechanized beverage production, drive-through windows, and exaggerated prices have made it the symbol for corporate America.

Starbucks is a relatively new phenomenon in Australia. Perhaps in ten more years, it won’t be so hard to find a coffee shop where I can plug in my laptop and write for hours. But maybe that change will also mean a change in the quality of coffee or the replacement of the casual, sit-down cafés for grab-a-cup-and-go sort of places. It’s a tough call, but I tell you that that cappuccino on Lygon Street would be a sad thing to let go.