It’s around 6 o’clock when we begin to get things in order for dinner. As Eric lights the charcoal for the grill, I head into the kitchen to mix drinks. From time to time, we’ll pop open a bottle of wine, but more often than not, it’s gin and tonics. I take pride in my g+t-making skills, which were picked up by watching Eric during our first years together. I realized early on in our relationship that if I was going to last in this family, I’d have to learn to prepare one properly. I grab a lime, cut it in half, squeeze the juice into each glass, making sure to get as much of the pulp in that I can. The used wedges are reserved for the end (Eric likes to eat the rind… it’s something I’ve come to accept). The next step: add the gin. Sometimes it’s measured out in a jigger, but to speed up the process I’ll often just eyeball it. A few handfuls of ice cubes and then topped off with tonic and we’re good to go!
Earlier this summer, I was chatting with Vijay (of Nosh On It) and Brandon (of Kitchen Konfidence) and we came up with the idea to do a series on our favorite cocktails. We’re calling it “What I Drink,” where, from time to time, we’ll post our favorite drink recipes. Sometimes these will be classics, but we may also give them a little twist. Be sure to check out Vijay’s 1794 and Brandon’s Old Fashioned posts.
Seeing that gin and tonics are what we drink during the summer, I immediately knew that’s what I’d be making. As I explained above, the recipe for a g+t isn’t all that complicated, so I’ve spruced things up here by making a blackberry shrub that replaces the lime juice in the drink
But before you scroll down for the recipe, here’s a little Q+A to give you all a bit more info about why I love gin and tonics and what the heck a shrub is. Hope you enjoy! Cheers.
What flavor profile best fits your cocktail? Sweet, fresh, bitter or savory?
What’s great about shrubs is that they’re a combination of sweet (from the sugar and fruit) and tangy (from the vinegar), making for a balanced cocktail.
Why is this drink your favorite?
Well, the gin and tonic is certainly my favorite summer drink and I pretty much only consume it from June through August. It’s a simple drink to prepare and it’s very refreshing.
Do you enjoy variations, or do you just stick to the original recipe?
Often I stick to the original recipe (gin, lime juice, tonic), though, in this case, I played around a bit. I’ve also been known to add a splash of Aperol or bitters to my gin and tonic.
When making cocktails, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received (or read)?
I’m not sure there’s one piece of advice that sticks out. It’s more like a combination of tips and tricks I’ve picked up from watching bartenders. I’ve learned to taste my drink as I add ingredients to see if it needs more sweetness or citrus or something to smooth it out. One bartender told me that you should add the alcohol at the end… or at least the most expensive liquor… because that way if you screw up the drink, you don’t lose the pricier ingredient. Sometimes I’ll follow that rule, but it doesn’t always make sense.
What’s the worst alcoholic beverage you’ve tasted? Please describe the experience.
When we go out, we tend to hit up places that we know will mix up a well-crafted cocktail. However, there have been a few times when we try out a new place and we’re terribly disappointed by the results. I don’t expect much from a dive bar, but nicer establishments should be able to produce a balanced drink. There have been a couple of occasions when we’re served a drink that’s flat for some reason… it’s missing some acidity or sweetness or, in the worst of circumstances, any discernible booze.
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Growing up, my father, like most dads, was the grill master. He will still find any excuse to cook outside… nothing will deter him. A little rain? Put on a jacket and get an umbrella! Eric’s the same way and has been known to uncover the grill in the middle of winter. I certainly have an appreciation for the art of grilling and realize how exhilarating it is to cook over an open flame. But I let these guys enjoy their moment. They know what they’re doing and they seem to take great pride in their talents, so why take that away from them? I’ll stand back and let them do their thing. Of course, my mother and I are the ones who season the food before it hits the grate… but I’ll let that little detail slide.
I learned something recently that blew my mind, and yet it makes perfect sense. If one uses a marinade to baste meat or fish, then that liquid must first be cooked before it can be applied. I will often marinate whatever we’re cooking, but seeing that I’m rarely in charge of grilling, I didn’t pay attention to the process after the fish left the kitchen. It wasn’t until I started to develop this recipe that I found out that marinade that’s been used on raw fish or meat shouldn’t be used to baste the protein, unless it’s been heated prior to this point.
Now that we’re half way through the work week, I suggest you get your weekend grill plans in order. We’ll be using it quite a bit over ourselves, including next week when we spend a little time on the Cape.
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Sunday night, Eric and I stumbled across a party in our neighborhood. Well, the truth is that the reason we ended up there was because we were complaining about the music. We had been trying to relax and had pulled out some lounge chairs in our backyard. The weather was perfect; warm, but not humid. The dog was sleeping next to us, exhausted after a jam-packed weekend.
“I’m going to take Maki for a walk and see where that’s coming from.”
“Yeah, I just want to see and maybe tell them to turn it down a bit.”
I laughed, knowing how ridiculous it was that the youngest homeowners on the street (and quite possibly in the three blocks surrounding us), the ones who were supposed it be hip and cool, were actually two crotchety guys who moan about the kids blasting their music too loudly.
Ten minutes later, Eric returned. It turned out the music was actually a live band (a band, I should add, that specializes in covering the songs of Jimmy Buffet, though they make it clear in their marketing materials that they do other genres) and that the woman whose party it was was very nice and had them turn down the volume. Oh, and if we wanted we were welcome to come over and join them. Not being ones to turn down an invitation to a party, we headed off.
“This is so random.” I said as we approached their driveway. We knew no one and the only interaction we’d had with them was Eric’s brief confrontation.
The next thing we knew, three hours had gone by. A couple glasses of wine consumed. New friends made. We got to hear lots of gossip (and who isn’t a sucker for that) and felt even more connected to the neighborhood that we just moved into four months ago.
Of course, none of this has to do with ceviche. I’m not even going to try to bridge these two. All I can tell you is that it wasn’t as scary as I thought it’d be to make. In fact, it was really simple and so refreshing on these brutal summer days we’ve been having. There may have been some margaritas consumed as well… or gin and tonics. Definitely one of those.
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I hemmed and hawed: do I write something or should I let the images speak for themselves? As a photographer, you hope that your pictures are strong enough to tell the whole story. When shooting a restaurant, it’s possible to do this. A five day trip to Alaska, however, is more challenging. While I want to give these images some context, to provide a play by play of the week’s events would result in an epic entry. So, I’ll try to keep things concise.
Cordova is located 160 miles southeast of Anchorage. It is only accessible by plane or boat, which, surprisingly, doesn’t seem to effect tourism as much as one would expect. The population, I was told, is approximately 6,000. That number, however, decreases significantly, to 2,500, during the winter months. Salmon fishing is their main industry, with an estimated 480 drift gillnet permits participating this summer. In addition, there are local and state organizations developed to assist the fisheries and preserve the area’s natural resources, such as the Copper River Watershed Project, which “works to foster the health of the Copper River watershed’s salmon-based communities, economies and cultures.” In addition, there’s the Department of Fishing and Gaming, which “manages approximately 750 active fisheries” and “foster[s] the highest standards of scientific integrity and promote innovative sustainable fish and wildlife management programs to optimize public uses and economic benefits.” You will also see some images of a fish and game sonar station, located near Child’s Glacier and the Million Dollar Bridge (also featured in the post), where, over the course of the season, three researchers each work eight hour shifts to track the salmon and other wildlife that pass through the river.
There are five different species of wild Alaskan salmon: King (aka Chinook), which is red in color and high in omega-3s, Sockeye, pictured below at the salmon filleting demo, Coho (aka Silver), which are a bright orange-red color, and Chum and Pink, both of which are less oily and not as flavorful (making them the least profitable).
Walking down the streets of Cordova, you’ll see folks waving at each other. Towards the end of my time there, this happened on quite a few occasions. I’d be in town and would see someone I’d met the day before. Big hellos and hugs. Friendly. Welcoming. I’d never thought that Cordova, being as remote as it is, would be a place I’d feel connected to. But that’s exactly how I felt: like a part of a community. And it’s one that I hope to return to in the future.
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Some trips are just trips. You go, you sightsee and you eat at a few local joints. Then there are the ones that leave a lasting mark. I knew early on that my time in Alaska would be special. It was on our second night in Cordova that we had the pleasure of being fed a home-cooked meal by the wife of a local fisherman (a meal, I must add, that included the best chowder I’ve ever consumed). While our host wined and dined us, we had a chance to talk to a roomful of locals, all of whom were both curious about who we were and who were also eager to answer any of our questions (and we had lots of them). It was as if we were being welcomed into a friend’s house and, by the end of our time in Cordova, I did feel like I had made friends. A rare occurrence on any trip, let alone one organized by a marketing company. You’ll get a lot more information (and photos) in a post I hope to share next week. But, for now, I’m just trying to digest the experience.
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