Jul 31, 2015

Wild Cocktails

So much has happened over the last month that I find it awkward to write - like picking up an instrument I used to play and trying to remember what keys to press to make it go. So I'm married! And I could not have asked for a more enchanting & heart-burstingly beautiful wedding weekend, so full of love, good food and music that is all still ringing in my ears a month later. And the best take away? My kickass husband. I will share photos soon, I promise. For now: here's a relaxing site:

Mark and I just returned from Ye Olde United Kingdom, where we spent our honeymoon. The green across the pond is even more brilliant than here, due to the prolific rain, so much so that it seeped into my skin and gave me a sense of deep peace and satisfaction.

wild thyme
A highlight of our trip was the time we spent with a Scottish foraging expert named Mark (not to be confused with my husband Mark). Whenever I travel I find it critical to learn the local flora (and sometimes fauna, although I am at the core a plant person) because I find it enriches my experience in a way that just seeing the sights and eating the foods cannot. You could say this is where my entire thesis of life comes from - get to know your environment! - and why I have been building my spice business around the concept of a connection to place and stories that plants, people and culture can tell.

Mark Williams the Forager arrived on a drizzly afternoon to the coastal area where we were staying, the town of Ballantrae on the west coast of Scotland, where just off shore lies the island of Alisa Craig, source of the special rock to make curling stones, and also home to a puffin colony. He was lugging a sizeable soft travel cooler cum mobile cocktail apothecary that gently clanked with innumerable bottles containing mysterious ingredients. I was instantly a fan. So was Mark the Husband.

We found a host of delicious things in the woods, along the side of the road (hedge rows, as they're called) and by the sea. We munched wild sorrel and linden leaves, we scraped the thorns off the stalk of thistles and snacked on them like celery, we tasted the sap of the Noble fir, and located a few choice bolete mushrooms, ate wild garlic (a relative of our ramps) and pig nuts, delighted in sweet cicely that tasted like candy and found a rare plant that tastes (even down to the mouthfeel!) just like oysters: slippery - salty - sexy.

Mertensia maritima or "oyster plant" ~ belongs to the borage family
Another fascinating plant we tasted was the root of herb bennet, which tastes like cloves. It even has the nickname 'clove root' for this reason. It is considered a wayside plant in the UK, and Mark the Forager talked about wanting to create a curry blend with it and other plants that are all native to the UK. I can't wait to hear what he comes up with. Here's his website if you'd like to learn more - check out his recipes!

What I found so thrilling about our foraging outing that drizzly afternoon was the way it made me feel like I was five years old again exploring the outdoors. Why is it so hard to capture back that feeling of exploratory wonder that was such a common joy in childhood?

Tiny toad friend

I'm not sure, but it's such a thrill when you feel those youthful nature jollies. The added bonus of being an adult is that you get to drink booze (if you so choose) which happens to be a great carrier of botanical flavors. Gin is one of my favorites, as it has many variations depending on the distiller's choice of herbs and spices. Gin must have juniper to be called gin (from the Dutch word jenever, which means juniper) but beyond that each gin has a unique set of botanicals. Mark the Forager introduced us to a fabulous gin produced with foraged ingredients from the Isle of Islay (pronounced eye-la) which just so happens to be called Botanist, what I've always wanted to be when I grow up.

Below is a cocktail I created here at home with said gin, since it's wild blueberry season.

Claire's Wild Blue Spirit

Wild blueberries have a more earthy, herbal, piney flavor compared to the big honkers from New Jersey and elsewhere. Hunt them down if you can! Lavender & basil bring out the beauty of the Botanist...

5 basil leaves
1 tsp brown sugar
1/4 oz lemon juice
1/8 tsp lavender buds
2 oz Botanist gin
1/4 cup wild blueberries
1 oz red vermouth
basil sprig

In a mixing glass, combine basil leaves, brown sugar, lemon and lavender and muddle until the sugar is dissolved and the fragrance is big.

Add ice, gin, blueberrie and vermouth and shake like crazy.

Pour into a chilled cocktail glass and add a sprig of basil.

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