Thursday, July 19, 2012

come-and-get-it mint tea

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on July 18, 2012.


Earlier this summer, I made a batch of tea concentrate, decimating the patch of mint growing out by the water pump. Thanks to the record temps, we guzzled most of our stash faster than I expected.

Where to get more mint? I wondered. Probably, there were lots of people with rampant mint patches who would be delighted to let me have some if they only knew I needed it, but I didn’t know who those people were. So I did the only logical thing. I turned to Facebook.

I am a reluctant Facebook user. Back in the beginning, I used it sporadically—on several different occasions Facebook sent me messages checking to see if I was still alive—but gradually, I got hooked.

While I find the commentary and pictures entertaining (though sometimes overwhelming), I especially appreciate Facebook’s power to yield tangible results. Once I whined in my status update that I couldn’t find a brown shirt anywhere, and the next Sunday, a woman from church handed me a new one. Also, I’ve asked for and received movie recommendations, advice on recipes and Broadway shows, and empty laundry detergent bottles for my homemade laundry soap.

So while I might not be the biggest Facebook enthusiast, I’m not stupid. A shortage of mint meant it was time for a new status update.

“Anybody have a boatload of mint they want to get rid of?” I wrote. “I'd take a half bushel, loosely packed.”

Almost immediately, I got a “Come and get it!” response. I barely knew this person but that didn’t stop her from graciously giving me directions to her house. The next evening, my husband and I stopped by.

“Are you sure you don’t want this?” I asked, worried that I was taking advantage of her hospitality.

“No, no! Take it all! It will grow back.”

Maybe she truly wanted to get rid of the mint, but a part of me wondered if she was hesitant to tell a scissors-brandishing strange woman to lay off the aggressive snipping. In any case, I decided to take her words at face value. I filled my brown grocery bag and said thank you.

Back home, as I poured the boiling sugar-water syrup over the sprigs, the heady smell of fresh mint filled the sultry, summer-night air. The next morning, I would strain the tea, add the lemon juice, and ladle the concentrate into pint jars. We would have enough mint tea to last us at least another month or so.

And all because of Facebook.

Mint Tea Concentrate

There are many types of mint—apple, lemon, chocolate, peppermint, and spearmint, and smooth-leafed or fuzzy—all of which can be used for the tea. Keep in mind that mint harvested later in the summer is more potent than the early mint.

enough mint (roughly 2½ pounds) to fill a 12-16 quart kettle
2½ to 3 pounds sugar
1 gallon water
the juice of 3 or 4 lemons

Gently wash the mint and cut off the brown leaves and any flowering tops. Pack the mint—both the stems and the leaves—into a 16-quart kettle.

Combine the water and sugar in a large kettle and bring to a gentle boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the syrup over the mint, weigh the mint down with a glass pie plate, and lid the kettle. Let steep overnight, about 12 hours.

Strain the tea. I first pour it through a sieve and then, to get out any little remaining bits, through a cheesecloth. Stir in the lemon juice. Freeze in 1½ cup portions.

To serve, thaw one jar of concentrate and add enough water to make a half gallon. Pour the tea into frosty, ice-filled glasses and garnish with a sprig of mint and several frozen red raspberries.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

eating: a French education

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on July 3, 2012.


When I called my dear children to lunch, my younger son trotted into the kitchen, took one look at his plate with its minuscule mound of salad, and went off like a fire siren. “This is revolting! I hate—.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I yelled. “Start over! You come to the table and sit down quietly! And no fussing!”

I had nearly finished my latest read, Bringing Up Bébé by American mother Pamela Druckerman, who compares French and American parenting styles. According to Druckerman, the French intentionally teach their children to relish all sorts of exotic foods. They accomplish this by serving meals in courses (there is no snacking between meals), with vegetables being the first course when the children are the hungriest; expecting children to try everything; and actively engaging the children in conversation about what they are eating.

Perhaps I had bought into the belief that kids have more sensitive palates than adults? Could it be that my children might actually enjoy more complex flavors if I merely raised my expectations and spent time educating them?

To test the French methods, I had divvied onto several small plates the lunch I had planned for myself—a salad of red beet greens, quinoa, and zucchini—all foods that my children claim to abhor.

Dropping my voice to normal levels (because yelling at the table is not exactly good French etiquette), I laid out the plan. “We will be having lunch in three courses. First, this salad.”

I listed all the components, detailing ingredients that I previously would have skipped over for fear of an uprising. I even mentioned the lemon and garlic vinaigrette as though I was announcing their favorite ice cream flavor.

“Do we have to eat it all?” my daughter asked, her voice tense.

“No. But you do have to try everything. Now, tell me what you think of the zucchini,” I said, ignoring their ew-grosses and spearing a coin with my fork. “Is it crunchy or soft? Grandmommy gave them to us, you know. They’re sweet, I think, and I can taste the butter and salt. But what do you think?”

My daughter nibbled a piece of zucchini and then boldly popped the whole thing into her mouth and grinned at me.

As I chattered on about the flavor differences between spinach and beet greens, the kids happily poked their salads, tasting a grain of quinoa (“It tastes like pasta!”), a chunk of feta, a bit of the greens. My son gagged on a beet root, but instead of the normal crying jag, he busted up laughing. When I gathered up the plates, the kids were still bubbling with observations and comments.

I had no idea that a simple, no-pressure conversation about food would result in such curious little tasters. No doubt about it, more French-style meals are in my family’s future. Bon appétit!

Zucchini Coins

Put a pat of butter and drizzle of olive oil in a skillet set on medium-high heat. Thinly slice several small zucchinis into coins. Arrange a single layer of the coins in the sizzling fat and sprinkle with salt. Let the zucchini cook, undisturbed, until the bottoms are nicely blistered. Flip and cook on the other side.  Repeat the process with the remaining zucchinis. For a fancier version: add oregano, sliced tomatoes, feta cheese, and black pepper.

Lemon Garlic Vinaigrette
(with thanks to my girlfriend MAC)

In a mortar and pestle, pound a couple thin slices of fresh garlic with some salt into a creamy paste. Add the juice of one lemon, a glug of olive oil, and some freshly ground black pepper. Mix well and taste to correct seasonings.