Category Archives: gardening

the bee’s knees cocktail

The Bee’s Knees, served over ice with a splash of soda, garnished with a sprig of fresh thyme… #springinaglass

Well, hello, April!  How did you all of a sudden arrive on the scene?  I completely blame spring for my absence on the blog.  The volume, pace, color, intensity, bandwidth, frequency, and, well, the “crazy” factor have all increased over the past few weeks, and I just couldn’t set the time aside to document along the way.  Has the rush of spring been like that for you?

I have been bustling away in the garden to make sure that the gardening season is set for us.  Steve and I started our seeds indoors for the tomatoes, peppers, and herbs.  We built a two-section compost bin.  We sowed the cool season crops in succession.  And then I wrote about it here, here, and here.  As if that weren’t enough, I painstakingly planned out the entire growing season and mapped out a planting calendar.  I feel confident we did as much as we could, and I am definitely feeling a little obsessive right about now!  And maybe a bit thirsty…

I have also been temporarily trading in my cozy and savory bourbon cocktails for some bright, aromatic, refreshing gin-based libations.  Gin is my absolute favorite spirit to mix or just enjoy on its own, and one of the best ones out there is the Botanist.  It hails from the island of Islay, Scotland, and is bursting with floral notes.  I was crestfallen, when it was temporarily unavailable on the shelves at my local spirits shop, so when it returned, it was only logical to swipe up a few – one for cocktails and the other two for a barrel-aging project I’ve been working on.

My favorite springtime gin? The Botanist. Floral, balanced, and complex. It’s stellar for a simple gin and soda.

Have you ever tried a Bee’s Knees cocktail?  Its bright, honeyed notes are perfect for sipping on a spring afternoon in the garden.  This Prohibition-era cocktail has made quite the comeback, since its humble beginnings as a means to cover up undesirable characteristics of the “bathtub gins” of the 1920s.  I always envision Carol Burnett’s classic portrayal of Miss Hannigan in “Annie,” when I hear the words, “bathtub gin”.  Remember the scene, where she belts out the song, “Little Girls,” while lazily stirring gin into her tub?  I am sure I am not alone here, but just to refresh your memory, watch this.

Choose great quality honey to make the most flavorful honey syrup. I had some leftover honey from a recent trip to California. It was a $10 splurge and was the only honey I had on hand, so it was a little over-the-top this time!

Along with their Honey Chamomile, DRAM’s Hair-of-the-Dog and Wild Mountain Sage bitters are staples in my kitchen.

The Bee’s Knees Cocktail

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 3/4 ounces honey syrup
  • 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • dash of DRAM Honey Chamomile bitters {optional}
  • spring of thyme for garnish {optional}

First, prepare the honey syrup.  It is easier to make than you’d think.  Place equal parts honey and water in a saucepan over medium heat.  Stir until dissolved.  For two or three drinks, I used 1/2 cup of honey and 1/2 cup of water, and the amount was perfect.  Set the honey syrup aside on your countertop to cool.

When you are ready to make the cocktail, build ice in a shaker tin and add the gin, honey syrup, lemon juice, and bitters.  Shake well and pour into a glass.  I still need to get some great coupes, so I used a short martini glass. For a fun variation on the classic preparation, serve this same cocktail over ice and top with soda water.  You still get to enjoy the intensity of the honey and lemon, along with bubbles and less of a bite.

A few tips?  Never settle for anything other than freshly squeezed lemon juice.  It makes all the difference in the world in a great cocktail.  Quality spirits make quality drinks.  You don’t have to go overboard with your spending, but do try to catch quality spirits on sale and stock up.  I have especially enjoyed using DRAM Apothecary’s bitters to bring balance or a burst of flavor in my cocktails.  Their Honey Chamomile bitters are excellent dashed in hot tea, as well.  Then again, you can always craft your own.

The Buzz on the Bee’s Knees Elsewhere

  • Lavender Bee’s Knees from Epicurious – Lavender pairs perfectly with the flavors of honey and lemon.  I’ll be making one of these soon.
  • PUNCH Drink‘s spin on the Bee’s Knees – A different ratio than mine, but still delicious.  They always nail their cocktails.
  • The Bee’s Knees by Post Prohibition – Their well-organized and informative site will stir your creativity even further, but their Bee’s Knees cocktail is a great place to start!

I am closing with some photos from late March and early April.  Steve helped me celebrate a lovely birthday in late March.  I’ll include some Instagrams in the collage and add some captures from the early April backyard garden.  I’d L-O-V-E to hear about any spring-inspired or gin cocktails you are making.  Have a spectacular Thursday!

Part of the deal with living in Colorado: dealing with the snows one day and 70-degree, sunny weather the next. I salvaged these daffodils by covering them with a bucket. What we do for our treasured flowers! ;-)

Part of the deal with living in Colorado: dealing with the snows one day and 70-degree, sunny weather the next. I salvaged these daffodils by covering them with a bucket. What we do for our treasured flowers! 😉

This portion of the garden will transform over the next few months.  I am so excited to add more wine barrels to use with pepper, tomatoes, and beans.

This portion of the garden will transform over the next few months. I am so excited to add more wine barrels to use with pepper, tomatoes, and beans.

My workstation! Ha! A nice pour of Miner Chardonnay, and I am good to design any garden!

Sunning the seeds. Making the donuts.

Our two-bin compost system. We built it ourselves, using mostly materials we already had in our barn. I seriously get happy just bringing out scraps to toss in!

Finishing the compost bin plans! Some serious air here…

Black Krims, Romas, Brandywines, Sun Golds, Sweet Cherries, and German Johnsons.

Taking a well-deserved break after building the compost bin, Steve enjoys a Bee’s Knees cocktail.

a new home for the houseplants

Well, hello, after a little break!  I hope you are enjoying the new year and are delving into lots of fun projects and holding true to your resolutions, if you made them.  I finally gave up my streak of baking pies, cookies, and cakes every other day, and I temporarily traded in my apron for my running shoes.  I am feeling a lot more invigorated because of the switch!  Until I find some balance, I am locking up the baking chocolate and the sugar.

Over the past few months, our home remodeling process is really showing us what we tend to hoard or obsess over in this house.  As we purge, reorganize, and rediscover “lost” items, while sifting through the boxes and piles, we are finding surplus amounts of the most random things.  Like six bags of brown sugar, each one hardened and collecting dust on a bookshelf in the basement.  How did that happen?!  I also came across five bottles of expired sunscreen, six pie plates, and four bags of cream of tartar.  I am finding that the more unorganized we are, the more the waste and clutter piles up.  It is time to shake things up around here.

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putting the gardens to bed for the season

Prompted again by another “Grow Write Guild” post, I am writing about the transition that occurs in the garden during the fall.  It is such a beautiful time of year that builds in color, fans its vibrant wings, and flies by almost too quickly to experience its magnitude.


Even the word itself suggests movement, transition, and change.  When I grew up in Florida, I didn’t experience the full spectrum of seasonal change, as I do now in Colorado.  I kept poinsettias on my front porch throughout the month of December, cranked down the AC in order to build fires in the fireplace, and wore sweaters any day below 70 degrees, sweating, yet smiling, along the way.  I forced an excuse to celebrate a change in season or temperature, despite the fact that my climate didn’t let me fully experience it.

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green tomato relish

Gardening is definitely not a picture-perfect hobby.  There are many days spent dealing with powdery mildew, battling against bugs, anguishing over produce stolen by squirrels, and contemplating how on earth I can’t just grow a consistent tomato crop.  This year, we have been blessed with a classic Indian summer in Colorado, where the shades of yellow and orange have lingered well into the month of November.  In fact, I am still growing French breakfast radishes and arugula outside right now!  I finally put most of the garden to rest about a week and a half ago, harvesting hot peppers, spinach, Swiss chard, copious amounts of herbs, and some delicate, green tomatoes.  Ahhh, green tomatoes.  What to do with them?  Last year, I tried frying them, yielding excellent results.  This year, I canned them and made green tomato relish.  It turned those tart, green tomatoes into a spreadable, herbaceous, sweet-and-savory condiment, which I will enjoy well into the cooler months.

My grandmother used to “put up” and preserve, but unfortunately, we never connected on this subject, when she was alive.  As a little girl, I didn’t have the questions for her that I have right now.  In her absence, I simply wing it or consult these books:  Food in Jars, Small-Batch Preserving, or Canning for a New Generation.  When she didn’t can her greenies, she purchased Ritter’s Green Tomato Relish, which is, sadly, no longer available.  I tried developing a very similar recipe, using the pre-frost green tomatoes from my garden, and the results were beyond satisfying.

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how to freeze summer tomatoes + life without a kitchen

For us, Labor Day was exactly what the holiday sounds like:  a day of actual labor and hard work.  I hope yours was much more relaxing; although, working hard is rewarding and satisfying in its own rite.  Today’s post might contain a lot more photos than usual, but posting them gives proof that gardening, harvesting, preserving, and cooking, again, is not dependent upon yard space or kitchen space.  Even though we are still existing without a finished kitchen, the garden continues to proliferate and demand our daily attention.  It has been a wonderful, exhilarating, challenging harvest season, but we’ve made it work…

Freezing Tomatoes:

  1. Select ripe, unblemished tomatoes.
  2. Thoroughly wash and remove stems and any bruised spots.
  3. Place tomatoes in the blender.  If tomatoes are large, slice in half for ease in the blender.  Blend away.
  4. Measure and pour the tomato mixture into freezer bags.  I measure out two cups per bag, so I can know exact amounts for a recipe.
  5. Remove the air from the bag {I use a straw here – #ghettostyle}, label with a Sharpie marker, and lay flat, horizontally in the freezer.  Once the bags have frozen, you can stand them up vertically, like a “filing system” in the freezer.

Tips for Freezing Tomatoes:

  • Freezing is fast and requires very little equipment – basically, a blender, a knife, freezer bags, and a Sharpie.
  • Preserving, in this method, keeps your kitchen heat-free, a bonus in the summer.
  • Use the thawed, puréed tomatoes in stews, soups, or sauces.  Don’t try substituting puréed, formerly frozen tomatoes, for a recipe that calls for fresh tomatoes, or else you’ll end up with mushy tomatoes.  Gross.
  • Try to use the frozen, puréed tomatoes within four to six months, for optimal flavor.  If you are ever in doubt that something in your freezer or pantry has expired, check out StillTasty, a great resource for determining the shelf lives of many foods.
  • Instead of taking the time to de-seed and de-skin beforehand, we choose to purée and freeze the entire tomato. The gel surrounding the seeds actually imparts more flavor than the flesh of the tomato.  The skins impart even more anti-oxidant properties.  Why limit your taste and your nutritional impact?  Read more about retaining the seeds and skins of the tomato here, via the Kitchn.

For today’s post, I am reflecting on the cue, suggested by You Grow Girl‘s “Grow-Write-Guild-Prompt-Eleven.”  I am joining the party a little over ten posts too late, but I am still on board with their concept of writing about your garden, capturing what is happening right now, and sharing mishaps, successes, recipes, and must-to-dos, along the way.

What was happening last year both in the garden and in the kitchen?  Well, like this summer, the tomatoes were pumping, and I had a kitchen, for one…  Without the ability to seriously can, this year, I am relegated to quick-pickling and freezing most of my produce.  I am almost ready to purchase another freezer; room is running out.  Black Krims always do well, but I have noticed that my early fertilizing has hindered my tomatoes’ fruit output later in the season.  I have learned, this year, to fertilize after the initial flowers have shown, and to prune large, unnecessary leaves, so that the plant can direct its energy to producing quality, limited tomatoes.  The key is to concentrate the plant’s energy to the task it has at hand.  I have also learned to plant vegetables with different vegetables; in other words, no monocultures.  Why?  Fewer diseases, better plant cohabitation, more efficient water usage, and better quality fruit production.

Crisp, toasted bagels, with sliced Black Krim tomatoes, goat cheese, basil, salt, pepper, and a drizzle of white truffle oil…this is my most favorite summer decadency.

How have I best used my abundance of heirloom tomatoes in my garden this summer?  By simply cutting them off the vine, washing them, slicing them up, and serving them alongside a chiffonade of basil, some crumbled Avalanche goat cheese, sea salt, cracked pepper, and a drizzle of white truffle oil.  I serve this on top of toasted “everything” bagels, and they are a memorable capture of summer’s bounty.  So easy…

And after a brief argument on where to plant the cool season crops and whether or not to include tomato seeds in the pasta sauce, we took a break to enjoy a shot of whiskey and a “pickle-back.”  The rich, savory component of the whiskey is accentuated by the briny, sharp, acidic pickle brine.  You may have some pickling brine left over, if you made some “quickles” last week.  Make this decadent and unique treat; you won’t be under-stimulated.  You might possibly be disappointed {I doubt it}, but it won’t be boring…at the very least, try something new, for once!

Next step in the garden, that afternoon:  snipping ripe basil and parsley leaves, washing them, and placing them into the dehydrator.  This was Steve’s job today.  My job was to collect the appropriate lighting necessary to capture the herb’s verdant nature and the energy in the moment.

With respect to herbs:  pick appropriately, wash, spin, dry, store, and repeat.  I absolutely love my very cheaply purchased dehydrator from Bed Bath & Beyond.  I have two of these, and I want two more.

Freshly picked Japanese “fairy tale” eggplant, ready to be de-stemmed and washed.

Washing our vegetables outside in the stockpot. Despite our lack of running water, we are able to wash our produce and preserve it.

We take all of our leftover water that was used for washing, boiling, and cooking, and we use it to water our newly planted drought-tolerant grasses and vegetables. #reduce #reuse #recycle …in that order!

Carrot top greens, onion skins, spinach stalks, used as stock components.

Making stock on the back porch, using a crock pot.

Purple cabbage head forming…ready in a couple of weeks.

Multi-colored heirloom carrots, pulled from the ground today.

Half-ripe cantaloupe…ready in about two weeks. This was a “happy accident” that we planted. When the school’s community garden received donated plants, this was one of the “left-overs” or the “not-planted.” There is only one fruit on the vine. Planting will be worth it, even if this is the only melon harvested.

Heirlooms from the garden plot:  Brandywines, Black Krims, German Johnsons…

Community-supported flowers: water, cultivate, and pick appropriately.

Cosmos, sunflower, dill, marigolds…