Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Booze InfuseDay

My junior high school teachers would be proud.

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Growing up, all students in the 7th and 8th grades had to take both shop ("Industrial Arts") and home economics classes. The year would be divided in semesters. Half the year, you were in the shop with the power saws and drafting desks, the other half you would be in with the sewing machines and sharp knives.

Try as I might, I could barely muster up a passing grade in shop. I was determined to succeed, but a combination of being really terrible at math and being deathly afraid of all the sharp whirring blades rendered me kind of helpless. I wanted to show them though, and I kept on trying. I built a balsa wood bridge, which crumbled under the slightest pressure. I built a CO2 engine race car that was nicknamed "The Brick" by classmates- I was too afraid to do more than a few rudimentary cuts with the jigsaw and tried to compensate by sanding it down for 6 hours to get a really streamlined block. Woodworking was not my thing. In the end, as a grown-ass woman, I didn't fight it. I can put together Ikea furniture and that's all the skills I am in need of.

As soon as the semesters changed and I got to wear an apron, I transformed into something else. I breezed around the kitchen, making rice crispy treats and blueberry muffins and whatever other little nibbles that was assigned with ease and grace. I sewed my ass off, and when I ran out of the fabric they provided, I brought my knitting from home and made scarves (which were the only thing I could make at the time). I didn't even have to try- my mom had a sewing machine at home that fascinated me to no end, and I had been making cookies and throwing together simple dinners since I could reach the controls on the stove. This was cake. I breezed through without putting any real effort in at all.

Imagine my horror when, on the very last day of 8th grade, my name was called in a school-wide assembly to come on down to the stage and accept an award for Home Economics Excellence. My life was ruined. I wanted an award in Science or History or, yes, Industrial Arts or Gym- some subject that I worked really hard at and put in effort but maybe didn't always understand completely.

Red faced, I dragged my feet down to the front of the room to reluctantly accept my award. I'm pretty sure I threw it away the moment I got home. My angry junior feminist self knew that the system was trying to doom me to a stereotypical life of homemaking. How dare they. I'll show them.

Well, I did show them. The whole homemaking thing never really worked out for me. Take that! I work a job all day and I usually only get around to vacuuming in the moments before company is due to arrive. I guess I showed them.

I do really enjoy cooking. Except for my dread of homemade marshmallows and the sticky clean up that it creates, I love almost all my time I spend in the kitchen.

Plus, I love to grocery shop. Having a lot of fancy markets and food boutiques in the city means I have to exercise a lot self-control on a daily basis. I apparently failed at this element last week as I came home from the market with bags of exotic fruit. I couldn't resist, even though I had no idea how to prepare or eat half of what I bought.

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This is a Buddha's Hand Citron. Buddha seems to have gotten a limb donated from a deep sea creature. What in holy hell do I make with such an odd fruit, which has no juice to extract and is mostly made up of peel?

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Oh, look- a quick trip to the liquor store for a cheap bottle of Vodka saves the day! It doesn't really matter what brand you use- I stay away from the very bottom shelf of plastic jugs with fake Russian writing on them and that's about my only standard.

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Most of the white pith needs to be removed- it's a little bitter but it would probably just absorb more than it's share of booze instead of infusing it with flavor. The smell is heavenly- very citrusy and sunshiny. Chop the fingers into thin strips, jam them into some clean jars and fill to the brim with vodka. One bottle I grated some fresh ginger and threw that in as well.

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Up next is the aptly named Prickly Pear.

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These are the fruits of a cactus.

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Even though the spines are removed before they hit the market, I still managed to get a few whisper-thin ones embedded in my hands. You might want to put on a pair of kitchen gloves with these.

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The flesh is a brilliant ruby-red. It's almost like a firmer watermelon in texture, and the flavor, while bland, is quite refreshing. I scored the skin and peeled it off, chopped the fruit into cubes and threw them in some clean jars. Soon, the comforting glug-glug-glug sounds filled the kitchen.

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It turns the vodka a brilliant red. This probably won't add a whole lot of flavor, but it will make a pretty mixed drink.

Finally- the Mae West of fruits, the pomelo.

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These enormous citrus fruits are actually tasty eating, but a pain in the ass to deal with. The fruit within is buried under about 3 inches of soft, rubbery pith.

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It ends up looking like a large-segmented grapefruit, but much sweeter. It's a disaster to eat- aside from peeling the whole thing, the membranes that segment it are tough and chewy. It's a lot of work.

No worries, booze doesn't care. It happily does all the work for you.

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I threw a couple of segments and some zest in with a handful of mint. Glug-glug-glug.

All the jars go in the pantry for a few weeks to get the most out of the fruit flavors. You can filter them or just pour carefully to avoid getting too much chunk in your drinks. If you can find some pretty bottles or jars, they make lovely gifts- try inventing a cocktail recipe and including it on the gift tag.

I think that if my school teachers would have told me that booze infusions were a viable option for culinary skills, I would have been much happier about being awarded for my kitchen genius. Cheers to them.

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