26 May 2014

The Oldest Cocktails You'll Ever Drink

When Fefe Noir and caribougrrl go foraging for prehistoric water, it's just the tip of the iceberg...

It's a brilliant year for icebergs in our neck of the woods.  The more icebergs that drift down from Greenland, the more likely we are to find bits and pieces washed up on shore.

Along some parts of Newfoundland's coast, collecting iceberg pieces to use for cold drinks or to melt for fresh water is an annual ritual.  Down here in the southeast corner of the island, availability is a bit more hit and miss.  It's a good year for icebergs, so we've been scouring the coast for washed up ice and undertaking the terrible job of testing cocktail recipes worthy of ancient ice cubes.

Starting with the obvious ingredient of locally brewed Iceberg Beer (if you can't find this, substitute with a mexican lager), we bring you two cocktails perfect for drinking on the porch after mowing the lawn.

This beer-garita (left) and michelada (right) are made made with beer brewed with iceberg water and chilled with a few hunks of iceberg in the glass.

Iceberg Beer Michelada

sea salt
Use an ice pick or a chisel to crack up the iceberg bits.
small hunks of ice chipped from an iceberg
juice of 1/2 lime
juice from 1/2 small sweet orange (like a satsuma or clementine)
2 tsp jalapeno syrup
most of a bottle of iceberg beer

Salt the rim of a tall glass.  Fill glass with ice. Add the other ingredients in the order they are listed, give it a quick stir and garnish with citrus wedges and sliced jalapeno.
Both cocktails are salty and spicy.  The tequila gives the
beer-garita (left) a bigger kick.  The orange juice sweetens
the michelada (right) just enough to temper the salt.

Iceberg Beer-garita

sea salt
small hunks of ice chipped from an iceberg
juice of 1 lime
3 tsp jalapeno syrup
3/4 oz. silver tequila
iceberg beer

Salt the rim of a tall glass and fill with ice.  Add lime juice, tequila and syrup.  Give it a gentle stir then top up with beer.  Garnish with slices of fresh jalapeno and a wedge of lime.


(Ground-based) Iceberg Foraging and Handling

If the tide and currents are just right, you might come across a beach littered with car-trunk sized pieces of iceberg.  These are small in the grand scheme of an iceberg life, but they can be rather awkward to lug around.  Not only are they hard to get your arms around, but they're slippery as all get out.

The icebergs we see along the Avalon peninsula in the
southeast of Newfoundland have traveled about 3000 km
on their trip from western Greenland.
Foraging for usable iceberg pieces is serious business when you don't have a boat.  (We don't have a boat.)  You have to find bergy itty-bits that are big enough to make it worth the effort of bringing them home, but small enough you can wrangle them from the beach to the trunk of your car.  You are also confined to accessible beaches, and the tides and bergs are not always cooperative.

As the icebergs melt and crack and fall apart, small pieces
sometimes drift close enough to shore to capture.
Go for a drive, sticking to coastal roads.  Try not to be distracted by the spectacular view of gigantic, prehistoric, hunks of ice floating around willy-nilly in the ocean.  Be aware of them though, because they are a good sign that you might find some washed up bits, particularly when there are trails of broken up bits and pieces drifting toward shore.

The first day we went out looking for beached iceberg was the hottest day we've had yet this year.  The sun was shining, it was warm enough to wear short pants, and it was the Saturday of a long holiday weekend.  The holiday weekend when people head out to their cabins and summer homes for the first time in the year.  The holiday weekend at the beginning of tourist season.  There were people everywhere.  Every tiny, barely used side road, every dirt track down to a beach, every lookout.  But not one hunk of ice washed up... at least not one that has survived the eye of other iceberg foragers.

So here's another tip:  go out on a cold, foggy day.  Less competition.

To increase your chances of being the person in the right place at the right time, go iceberg foraging on cold, foggy days when the competition is low.
When you do find washed up ice on a beach you can get to, you want to be sure it's iceberg ice and not annual sea ice.  The pressure of thousands of years of snowfall accumulation results in a very hard ice, much harder than what's in your ice cube trays at home (sea ice is comparatively soft).  Most strikingly, iceberg ice is filled with tiny bubbles.  The same way the ice is made from water which froze 12,000 - 100,000 years ago, those bubbles are filled with air from the same time period.  Prehistoric water, prehistoric atmosphere. 

All those tiny bubbles in the ice are what make icebergs
appear white in colour.  They also contain air from tens
of thousands of years ago when the ice formed.
Despite all that air, the ice is heavy, so remember to lift with your legs.  If you have a pair of gloves handy, this will make the trip back to the car with your armload of ancient ice more comfortable.  You will get wet.  Waves will inevitably wash over your feet while you are wrestling the ice up to the tide line.  Your shirt will be soaked from carrying the berg, because, well, it's wet to begin with, and your body heat is enough to melt it a bit while you lug it.  So either wear your rubber boots and rain suit, or consider the frozen wetness a hazard of doing business... part of immersing yourself in the experience.

(Your mother-in-law's job during iceberg foraging trips is, apparently, to provide helpful advice from the back seat of the car.  She will be worried about your wet shirt.  Pay her no mind, it's not actually possible to catch the flu from an iceberg.  Also, unless you only took fist-sized pieces, she is wrong about it melting before you get home.)

If you wade out at all to retrieve ice, bear in mind that the water is still really cold this time of year.  Unless you're geared up with insulated waders, don't stand in it for too long.  Even prehistoric ice in your drink is not worth hypothermia.

Once you get it home, let the ice sit out for several hours to shed the salty seawater and any other surface contaminants.  If necessary, use a hammer and chisel to break it into hunks which will easily fit in your freezer.  Wrap well and freeze until needed.  Use the chisel again (or an actual ice pick) to break into drink-sized hunks.

If you want iceberg water, chisel into pieces small enough to maneuver into food-safe containers and leave it out to melt.  Bearing in mind that we've stopped heating the house because it's May (never mind that it's only a few degrees above freezing out, I'm in winter-denial): a large saucepan filled with iceberg pieces took nearly 3 days to melt completely, but there was enough for a pot of coffee by the time a day was gone.


Why bother with icebergs?  

There's something incredibly compelling about knowing you are holding the air and water that existed tens of thousands of years ago.  If you buy the local propaganda around iceberg products, this is water in it's purest form.  The scientist in me would argue that distilled water should be more pure, but there's no romance in distillation.  To be fair, this ice was formed before humans started burning petrochemicals and tossing plastic into the ocean, so the air and water is untainted by the industrial age.  I'm willing to forgive a bit of volcanic ash and some woolly mammoth farts captured in the Greenland glacial sheet, and think of it as the cleanest water available.  Plus, it's really really old, and that's just super cool. (Heh.  Get it?  Super cool...)
Get some really good coffee beans and use iceberg water
to brew up what might be the best cup of coffee you'll ever

Definitely use the ice in cocktails. For one thing, it's a great conversation starter at a party.  For another, it's an excellent way to show off in front of your friends.  But also melt some water out and make coffee with it.  Trust me, it makes a seriously good cup of coffee.  Do NOT, however, waste iceberg water on Folgers or Maxwell House.  Go out and buy some really good coffee, in the form of fresh-roasted beans and grind it yourself.  Serendipitiously, we recently won some great coffee from Got My Beans through a The Food Gays giveway... definitely iceberg-water-worthy.

Choose ice that is small enough to handle, but big enough to be worth the effort of  the expedition.  After that, the choice is arbitrary.  This one reminded me of Tiktaalik emerging from primordial soup.  I left it because, well, it's creepy.
One of my all-time favourite Newfoundland words is "maggoty" and although the Dictionary of Newfoundland English will tell you the word refers primarily to salt cod which is full of blow-fly maggots, I've never heard it used to refer to actual maggots.  In my experience, it simply gets used to express that something is riddled with something else.  St. John's is maggoty with tourists in the summer.  The coast is maggoty with icebergs.

And it is, this year.  Maggoty with 'em.  The icebergs.  We're having a crummy, cold spring (minus that one Saturday), but it's a spectacular year for bergs.  Drop everything else and take advantage of it.

The best time to visit Newfoundland if you are hoping to see icebergs is during May and into early June.  

15 May 2014

We All Like a Little Weed Now and Then

If you can't beat 'em...

Seriously, you won't ever win.  The best thing you can do with dandelions is pull them out by the roots, then eat them.

Cranberry Beans with Dandelion Greens

It's getting close to the end of storage season, but sweet
local carrots can still be found.

1-1/4 c. dried cranberry beans (or dried pinto beans)
1 carrot
1 shallot
1/4 tsp salt
5 cups chicken stock (use vegetable stock if you're a vegetarian, water will do in a pinch but it won't turn out as well)
1 big bowl full of dandelion greens
1 tbsp pork fat (or lamb drippings or olive oil, in case you're a vegetarian)
1 clove garlic julienned  
Don't bother peeling the carrot and shallot, you'll remove
these before eating.
a splash of dry vermouth (or dry white wine)

Soak beans in water overnight. Drain and rinse thoroughly.

Wash carrot and shallot, leaving the skins on.  Put beans, carrot, and shallot in a large saucepan.  Add salt and stock.  Bring to a boil over medium heat; reduce heat and simmer until beans are tender (approximately 2 hours).  Remove carrot and shallot and continue cooking to desired consistency.
The larger, darker and pointier a dandelion leaf, the more
bitter it will be.  That's great for cooked greens.  Save the
smaller, paler and rounder leaves for eating raw.

While the beans are cooking, wash dandelion greens several times (like 4 or 5 times, soaking in between) in cold salted water.  This is particularly important if you were enthusiastic when weeding, leaving the dandelions covered in soil and detritus like we did...  Pick over carefully, watching out for precocious slugs and other early season pests.  Feel free to be choosy about the leaves, dandelion aren't precious and it's not like you paid for them.  Dry the leaves in a salad spinner or by lightly rolling in clean tea towels.  (Don't forget to reserve any unopened buds for making capers.)

When the beans are very nearly done*, heat pork fat** in a skillet over med-high.  When the fat is good and hot, saute dandelion greens until wilted add the garlic and saute for a minute.  Deglaze with vermouth***.

*Or if you made them a day ahead, reheat when you are ready to cook the dandelion greens.

**The first time Fefe made this dish, she used drippings from a pork roast.  The next time she made it, she tossed the pork fat into the pan then thought it smelled strangely like lamb fat... which it was... sometimes it's hard to keep track of the various jars of drippings in the refrigerator.  The good news is that both work.

***The first time Fefe made this dish, she used vermouth to deglaze the dandelion pan.  The next time, as she was recovering from the shock of the lamb fat incident, she quickly grabbed the vermouth bottle only to discover it was empty.  Luckily, there was some white wine handy.  Luckily further, white wine also does a lovely job in this recipe.

Dandelion leaves will wilt fairly quickly in a hot pan, so wait until the beans are ready before cooking them.

Serve your delicious dandelion greens over the beans as a side for lamb chops or as a hearty lunch with crusty bread. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.


Yes indeed, it's dandelion season again.

If you've been reading this blog word for word like I expect you to do (right?), you'll know we've had a slow start to spring.  Here we are in mid-May and this week we woke up to a crust of ice.  Not frost, actual ice.  A thick layer coating the entire surface of the visible world.

The snow shovels are prominently displayed on our front
porch as a charm to ward off further snow.  It didn't work
all winter, so I'm not sure why I think it will work now, but
I feel it will...
No matter, the ground itself has thawed, so it's time to call an abrupt stop to all indoor projects and take advantage of the short northern growing season on this cold Atlantic island.  As not to unnecessarily jinx this reprieve, we can't yet put the snow shovels away.  We've even moved them out to the front porch where the afternoon sun illuminates them: our talisman against rogue late-May snowstorms.

It's time to catch up on the work we didn't do last fall.  Prune the perennials that need pruning before they start growing and prep the garden beds.  Which means weeding.  And, oh, boy, do the weeds ever take advantage of any bit of open space.  

While you're out there madly digging, hoeing, forking or raking the weeds out of your vegetable beds, reserve the dandelion.  Be brutal and get them out by the roots, but put them aside because they're good eating. The earlier you can do this in spring, the more tender and less bitter the dandelion leaves will be.  For this dish, a bit of bitterness works well, so later season dandelion is also suitable.
Seriously, it's like if you turn your head away for a moment,
more dandelions suddenly appear.

If you don't have vegetable plot, I suspect you can find dandelion in your lawn or flower gardens.  No yard?  No worries.  Dandelion can be found pretty much anywhere that soil has been disturbed.  Go for a walk with a trowel and a basket; avoid foraging on roadsides (you don't need any exhaust or road salt in your food) but take advantage of trails and hedgerows or cooperative neighbours.  You may even come across an enthusiastic lawn-owner with a wheel barrow full of dandelion already plucked from the ground.  

Save the smallest, roundest leaves for salad and pesto.  Use the older, darker, pointier leaves as cooked greens (like in this recipe).   The unopened flower buds make excellent capers.  For a plant so universally hated, it's pretty magical.

Even cats like dandelion.  Or do they hate dandelion?  Can't remember.