Passion Fruit Pisco Sours

Over Martin Luther King Day Weekend, Noah and I went to Chicago. When we told friends we were doing this, they gave us are-you-batshit-crazy looks. I supposed this is what anyone planning to go to Chicago in late January deserves, but we were just looking to get away for the weekend and catch up with the many, too many, friends who have moved to Chicago over the last couple of years.

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It was, of course, very cold, but nonetheless worth the trip. We saw a very frozen lake Michigan and Frank Lloyd Wright houses. We ate great barbeque and Mexican food.

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Mostly, we chatted with friends we miss a lot and poked our heads into cool stores and bakeries. A particular highlight was a visit to the amazing Epic Spices. If you are in Chicago, go. The luscious smell of spices literally permeates the sidewalk in front of this place–I know because I made us stand outside for 15 minutes until it opened, cold weather be damned. If you go, you’ll leave with your tongue tingling from tastes of Japanese Sansho Pepper (a cousin of Sichuan Peppercorns) and with plans to work more fenugreek and orange peel into your cooking.

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We came home to an East Coast that was almost as cold and blustery as Chicago. But, I figured we had just learned how to handle the cold from true experts so I did what any sensible person would do and followed their lead.

My friend Noah, who we were staying with despite the ensuing confusion of having 2 Noahs in a small space, keeps frozen passion fruit puree in his freezer at all times. This, it turns out, is a great idea if you live somewhere gray and cold.

Case in point: Our first night in town, as it snowed outside, we huddled in his apartment, rolled sushi, and played games. At some point someone suggested we make pisco sours. The idea was enthusiastically endorsed before we discovered that we lacked eggs and bitters. An egg retrieved from a neighbor’s refrigerator solved the first problem and Noah pulled out the passion fruit to replace the bitters. The result: a totally winning, fruity, sour, and foamy drink that I think is the ticket to getting you through the winter.

The minute I got home, just before another blizzard began, I dashed to the grocery store and dug some Goya passion fruit puree out of the back of a freezer. It was necessary, I thought, to lay in essential provisions before the storm.

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Aguas Frescas Two Ways

Oh right….this is what summer in New York feels like. At dinner–at a centrally air-conditioned restaurant in Chinatown–we joked about asking how much rent at the restaurant would cost. We just could not seem to stand up and walk back outside. But then we did. Somehow we even walked home, albeit with an ice cream stop along the way.

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These aguas frescas are a good thing to have in your refrigerator, if you need some extra motivation to get up from whatever deliciously cool place you are sitting in and walk home. One is a very grown-up cucumber, lime, and mint concoction. The other is a deeply girly watermelon, lemon, and raspberry mixture with a splash of rosewater to make it feel indulgent.

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California Inspired Shrimp Tacos + Date Shakes

Two of the first things I did when I got back from California were pick up a copy of Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic and buy a big box of medjool dates. This about sums up my experience in Southern California last month. I keep telling people that I spent most of my time there driving around, or more often sitting in traffic, and wondering why on earth people lived there only to turn a corner and think “well this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.” I still don’t think I would make that compromise, but, if I did, it would be food tilting the balance in California’s favor.

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The two stand out meals of my trip were a date milk shake, which I detoured solidly out of my way to pick up on my drive between San Diego and Los Angeles, and shrimp tacos, the mention or which may or may not have determined which Air B and B room I booked in LA. After the milk shake, I texted Robin to say, “Delicious but I have some ideas about how to improve this…mainly more dates, more booze.” After the tacos, I texted Noah to say, “We need to be eating more shrimp tacos.”

Last Sunday, in honor of the Oscars, we invited some friends over and got to work on both of these ideas. With some advice from around the internet (mainly here and here), I came up with a shrimp taco recipe that I love. I sent Noah out for a bottle of cognac, and, during a commercial break, I blended dates and ice cream together, stirred in some cognac, and poured the mixture in to responsibly small glasses. We toasted to living somewhere without constant gridlock.

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Note: As I was working on this post, Sprouted Kitchen posted their own date shake recipe. It looks awesome so if you’re looking for a date shake that includes protein powder instead of cognac, head on over there. 

 

Shrimp Tacos with Red Cabbage Salad: (Makes about 12 tacos) 

For Shrimp:

– 1 lb frozen shrimp

– 1 teaspoon chili powder

– 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

– 3 garlic cloves

– 1/4 teaspoon salt

– 1/2 tablespoon olive oil + more for sautéing shrimp

For Red Cabbage Salad:

– 1/2 a small-ish head of red cabbage sliced as thinly as you can

– 1/2 of a small red onion thinly sliced

– 1/4 cup rice vinegar

– 1 tablespoon brown sugar

– 2 tablespoons canola oil

– Salt and Peper to taste

For the Rest of the Tacos:

– 5 or so thinly sliced radishes

– 2 sliced avocados

– 1/4 cup cilantro leaves

– 2 quartered limes

– Sour cream

– About a 1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco

– 12 corn tortillas

* About an hour or two ahead of time defrost shrimp in a bowl of cold water and a few tablespoons of salt stirred in.

* When ready to cook, peel shrimp.

* Toss shrimp with cayenne pepper, chili powder, garlic, salt and 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Let sit in refrigerator for half an hour.

*  Meanwhile, toss all the red cabbage salad ingredients together and let sit so that the cabbage softens in the dressing a bit. 

* Slice radishes, clean and pluck cilantro leaves, crumble queso fresco, quarter limes.

* Warm corn tortillas in oven set at 350 (takes about 5-10 minutes).

* Warm a small glug of olive oil in a pan. Add shrimp and saute flipping occasionally until they are pink and cooked through (3-4 minutes).

* Assemble tacos with warm shrimp, red cabbage salad, and whatever combination of radishes, cilantro leaves, cheese, sour cream, and avocado you like. Finish with a squeeze of lime.

 

Boozy Date Shakes: 

– 4 cups vanilla ice cream

– 10 medjool dates, pitted

– 1 cup milk

– 1/4 cup cognac

* Blend all ingredients but cognac until your shake is the consistency you want.

* Stir in cognac.

Cantaloupe Mint Cocktails

In case you aren’t a frequent reader of second wave feminist novels (and, let’s be honest, no one is a frequent reader of second wave feminist novels, not even me), let me tell you about them. They tend to follow a pretty standard format. A smart girl is born to a moderately well-off family in the 1940s. She reads a lot and feels out of place, but right around when she hits puberty she learns to hate her body, conform to the gender standards of the 1950s, and turns out to be pretty. She forgets about everything she read and marries young. Moves to the suburbs, helps puts her husband through school, has a kid, then another. Drinks a lot. At some point she realizes that she hates her life. Drinks some more. Some time later an event (maybe a divorce) leads her to have to really shake things up (maybe by going back to school) and that’s when she comes to understand the gender constructs that shape her life. Her consciousness is raised.

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I have varying amounts of sympathy for these characters depending on my mood. I’m reading Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room for my book group right now. It’s actually a total page turner.

Yesterday morning, however, I found myself feeling like I had gone through the main character’s entire emotional experience, which takes place over the course of the 450 pages, in under 3 hours. I woke up in the hating-my-body phase, struggling through a second day of rather painful cramps. Then I went shopping for a new pair of athletic shorts only to discover that the store near me exclusively sells athletic shorts for women with words written on the ass. Seriously, that was the only option. As I left the store, in a huff and with a pair of shorts, contemplating all the ways it can still be demeaning to be a woman, I decided I needed a drink.

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The women in French’s novel don’t drink anything this fruity. They drink wine from jugs and straight liquor at night when everyone else is asleep. Instead of either of those rather unappealing options, I made these for Noah and myself yesterday evening. They didn’t totally clear up my bad mood, but, as Noah made dinner while I read a magazine and drank my cocktail, I remembered why I often don’t relate to French’s characters at all.

 

Cantaloupe-Mint Cocktail 

(I adapted this from this Smitten Kitchen recipe)

– 1 cantaloupe

– 1 cup of water

– 3 springs of mint

– Vodka

– Seltzer

– Lime

* Cut cantaloupe in half and scoop out and discard seeds. Scoop out flesh and put in blender or bowl, if you are using an immersion blender. (I used an immersion blender, but if you are using a blender you might have to do this in a few rounds.) Once all the flesh is in bowl add one cup of water and blend until smooth.

* Place colander over large bowl and line with dish towel or layered cheese cloth. Pour cantaloupe mixture into this and refrigerate for at least an hour.

* About half-an-hour in add mint sprigs to juice that has drained into bowl.

* Remove from refrigerator. Gently squeeze out as much remaining juice as you can from the cantaloupe mixture and discard solids.

* Juice can now be refrigerated or poured into cups over ice and mixed with seltzer, vodka, and a squeeze of lime in whatever portions you like.

Note: These are not very sweet. I liked them that way, but you could stir in some simple syrup if you wanted. I drank the remaining juice this morning without alcohol (this isn’t the 1950s!) and it was quite sweet on its own so I wouldn’t add syrup to all of the juice even if you do like a sweeter cocktail.