Tag Archives: handmade

how to craft your own bitters

I am still not quite ready to write a triumphant welcome to 2014, but I will wish you all a very happy new year!  Like last year, I am still recuperating from a busy holiday season at the restaurant.  It seriously takes a good two weeks into the new year for me to even begin thinking about resolutions, but when I do, it is game-on.  And I really have some high hopes for this upcoming year!

I have been riding alongside the bitters bandwagon for a couple of years, but after a visit to a magical store in Portland this past October and bringing home several bottles of craft bitters, I have been obsessed with adding bitters to almost anything I am sipping.  I began my latest batches of cocktail bitters about a month ago, and after shaking them each day and tasting along the way, they are ready for bottling and enjoying.  While I do have my favorites {DRAM, Fee Brothers, and Bob’s}, I find that crafting my own bitters is creatively rewarding and makes a thoughtful handmade gift for the cocktail aficionado.

What exactly are bitters?  Bitters are a concentrated cocktail additive that balances a cocktail and adds a potent, aromatic, flavorful punch.  Most bitters contain some combination of herbs, spices, roots, or fruits, which are infused into a neutral base spirit, such as grain alcohol.  Many cocktails call for the use of bitters, and with the rise of the classic cocktail movement, bitters have, once again, taken center stage.

Grapefruit + Rosemary Bitters

  • 1 cup grain alcohol
  • peels from one organic grapefruit
  • 2 sprigs organic rosemary
  • simple syrup, optional

Tangerine + Spice Bitters

  • 1 cup grain alcohol
  • Peels from one organic orange or tangerine
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 5 or so whole allspice
  • simple syrup, optional


  1. Wash and peel citrus.
  2. Coarsely chop the peels.
  3. Combine all ingredients and pour into a mason jar.
  4. Cover and set in a cool, dark place, such as a cellar or a cabinet.
  5. Store for three to four weeks, shaking jar daily and tasting along the way for desired potency.  Remember that bitters are added to cocktails in small doses; they are intended to be intensely flavored.
  6. Once the flavors have incorporated and infused, line a sieve or chinois with a coffee filter or cheesecloth and strain into a jar.
  7. Using a funnel, pour the liquid into desired storage vessel.  I have found the most adorable bottles here, here, and here.
  8. Begin creating cocktails and experimenting with your bitters!  Bitters last almost indefinitely, but the flavors and aromas tend to fade after a year.

How have I incorporated my bitters?

  • Tangerine + Spice in a Negroni
  • Tangerine + Spice with hot black tea
  • Tangerine + Spice in an Old Fashioned
  • Grapefruit + Rosemary with gin, a little simple syrup, soda, lemon, on the rocks
  • Grapefruit + Rosemary in an Aperol Spritz
  • Grapefruit + Rosemary bitters in iced tea

Making bitters is almost foolproof, and the opportunities for creativity are endless.  Here are some links I came across that have some interesting twists on bitters-making:

  • A thorough breakdown on bitters-crafting, via the Kitchn
  • A uniquely made grapefruit bitters using lavender and rum, via Serious Eats
  • Grapefruit bitters using one of my favorite cocktail components, Campari, via Chow
  • Cranberry anise bitters, via Food and Wine
  • Orange ginger bitters, via Williams-Sonoma
  • Bitters inspiration and a pretty amazing “delicious apothecary” kitchen, via From Scratch Club
  • …and if you truly want to geek out, read The Drunken Botanist

Cheers to a more self-made, craftier, do-it-yourself, experimental, and daringly creative new year!  I would love to know of any links or recipes you’ve found helpful, if you’ve ever made bitters.  How do you incorporate bitters into drinks, both non-alcoholic and alcoholic?  And, if you ever get the chance to visit The Meadow in Portland, you will never be the same.  I think this store has every variety of some of my most favorite things, all under one roof:  walls and walls of chocolate bars, fresh flowers, exotic salts, and bitters.  Oh, to open up a shop like this one!

how to make soy candles | paired with vietti barbera d’asti

I am most likely channeling almost everyone’s thoughts right now, when I say that I seriously can’t believe Christmas is less than three days away.  I tried my best, under the circumstances, to finish making and packaging gifts much earlier in the month, but it just didn’t happen.  I did, however, manage to sneak in a day off, summon a friend’s assistance, and make some last-minute, handmade gifts this afternoon.  I might be late sending them out, but I will get some points for crafting my own gifts, even if I have to give out the points, myself!  It simply feels good to give a handmade gift, and many times, it is far less expensive than purchasing a similar gift in the store.

Strolling the aisles of Whole Foods a couple weeks back, I fell in love with this beautifully packaged, naturally dyed, sugared fig-scented candle.  The sweet, rich, spiced fruit scent literally stopped me in my tracks.  And so did the price.  $20 for a ten-ounce soy wax candle.  Ouch!  I didn’t need it that much.  Instead of forking out the bills, I settled on heating up some spiced cider later that evening to abate my desire for a holiday-scented house, curled up with my computer, and ordered the supplies necessary to create my own soy wax container candles.

I honed my candle-making skills last year at a class held at Moondance Botanicals here in Denver.  The shop is absolutely adorable, boasts handmade bath and body products, and hosts classes ranging from candle-making to aromatherapy to soap-crafting.  Throughout the past year, I salvaged jars, glasses, and containers for candle-making.  After purchasing the necessary supplies, I ended up spending less than $4 per candle.  True story.  And I used clean-burning, non-GMO soy wax flakes.  Beat that, over-priced fig candle, made by someone I don’t even know!  #knowyourmaker

Materials Needed:

  • various glass containers {I find many of mine at the Goodwill or a local thrift shop, or I simply save jam, pickle, and relish jars}
  • soy wax flakes {I use EcoSoya Container Blend}
  • cotton wicks
  • essential oils {I purchase mine in bulk from Mountain Rose Herbs}
  • Bic pen {the barrel assists in wick placement}
  • hot glue gun
  • seamless aluminum pouring pitcher
  • saucepan
  • digital thermometer
  • water


  1. Fill a seamless, aluminum pouring pitcher with soy wax flakes.  I use a 3-quart pitcher and fill it with about a pound of wax.  I am able to make four or five 4-ounce candles using this amount.  Don’t get too precise here:  just melt the wax and if you don’t use all of it, let it cool and use it again another time.
  2. Heat your glue gun.
  3. Pour about an inch or two of water into a large saucepan and place the pitcher into the saucepan.  Let the water simmer, allowing the wax to fully melt, in a double boiler fashion.
  4. While you are waiting for the wax to melt, prepare your containers.  Thread the wicks through the “barrel” of a Bic pen {or something similar}, so that you can accurately place the wick base into the container.
  5. Dot a bit of hot glue onto the wick base and press firmly, placing the base in the center of the container.
  6. Once the wax has fully melted, remove the pitcher from heat, and add your essential oil or fragrance oil.  I usually add my oils between 130 and 150 degrees.  I find the best scent “throw” results at this temperature range.  I use about one and a half ounces of essential oil per one pound of wax.
  7. Pour the wax into the containers.  Many sources state that the wax adheres better to preheated containers.  I haven’t tried doing this, and so far, I haven’t had any challenges with non-adherence.
  8. Steady and center the wicks by placing chopsticks or pencils atop the containers, so that the wicks have a steady surface upon which to lean.  Wait for the wax to fully cool.
  9. Once the candles are cool {I wait overnight}, trim the wicks to 1/4″ thickness.
  10. Now you’re ready to burn, baby, burn!  Burn for four hour intervals, at max.  Keep the wick trimmed to 1/4″ at all times to lengthen the burn time.

Making soy wax container candles is incredibly easy and is a thoughtful, classy gift.  I keep a ready stash at all times, so I have a memorable, handcrafted gift for any occasion.  My dear friend, Yvonne, came over this afternoon, and we made nine candles for Christmas gifts.  We also collaborated on a rose + sea salt bath soak, vanilla + lavender sugar scrub, peppermint shea butter lip balm, and a batch of rosemary + mint cold-pressed soap.  More to come on those endeavors!  Cheers to a thrifty, creative, DIY Christmas!  Next candle-making session, I might try these embellishments…


And, of course, we had something delicious to sip on, to get those creative juices flowing!  What to imbibe when candle-making on a chilly, snowy afternoon?  Something red and Italian, like a Barbera.  Tasted and paired this afternoon…

Vietti, “Scarrone,” Barbera d’Alba, 2009

Breaking it down:  Vietti makes some of THE most delicious wines from the northwestern corner of Italy, the Piemonte.  Their expressions of Barbera, Nebbiolo, and Arneis are benchmarks for quality and uniqueness.  This wine sources its grapes from Castiglione, specifically from the Scarrone vineyard, and is fermented in stainless steel tanks for two weeks.  It is aged in French oak barrels for 14 months and is bottled unfiltered.  Only a little under 800 cases were made.

  • On the eyes – deep ruby and purple.
  • On the nose – concentrated ripe black cherries, spiced vanilla, faint licorice, and dried herbs.
  • On the palate – dry, with bright, mouth-watering acidity, lush tannins; ripe, black cherry notes reaffirm the nose and suggest baking spices, complemented by rich plum; medium tannins, with a lingering finish.
  • On the table – perfect with sharper cheeses, poultry, pasta with browned butter and mushrooms, and roasted game.
  • On the ears – unintentionally paired with Neon Indian’s “The Blindside Kiss” from their album, “Era Extraña.”  The CD was in the player and sounded just about right at the moment.  This particularly dreamy, fuzzy, synthpop-influenced track was a perfect backdrop for today’s adventures.  Every time I listen to a synth-driven track from this album, I decide to hang on to my under-explored Alesis A6 Andromeda keyboard.  I’ll try figuring that thing out one day…

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas!  Did you decide to make most or some of your gifts this holiday season?  Do you think it’s worth it?  Did you give up and just pour yourself a glass?  If so, what did you pour?  Signing off to enjoy some peace and quiet here at the house, before the craziness ensues at the restaurant this Tuesday night.  Just might have to pack some bubbles to celebrate making it through the 450 covers on the books…


DIY pumpkin spice sugar scrub + detoxing from seasonal “pumpkin spice fatigue”

… with a homemade pumpkin spice latte sugar scrub, of course!

It is officially time for a pumpkin spice intervention.  Don’t get me wrong – I love pumpkin and all things spice.  I even love the occasional latte {two pumps with soy milk, in case you’d ever like to send one my way}.  But the pumpkin spice empire has spiraled out of control.  Starbucks set the tone ten years ago, when they introduced their cult classic, the pumpkin spice latte, now conveniently abbreviated this year to simply “PSL”.  Now one can visit the local grocer and find products like candy, air fresheners, pasta sauce, potato chips, and perhaps even this unmentionable {ell-oh-ell!}, all proudly dressed in shades of orange, advertising the comforting aromas and flavors of fall, and prompting a satisfying, cozy sigh.  But where is the actual pumpkin?

While driving to work the other day, I was listening to NPR’s “Here and Now” segment, where Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson hosted food scientist, Kantha Shelke, on the program.  According to Shelke, most of the popular pumpkin spice-laden products, unsurprisingly, contain little or no trace of the autumnal squash.  In fact, they most likely contain artificial colors, manufactured flavors and aromas, and don’t really taste like the vegetable itself.  I am partial to all things natural, but like a lot of individuals, I do love that pumpkin-y, spicy aroma that surfaces this time of year.  So, I have decided to both have my pie and eat it, too, by using real pumpkin purée to create a deliciously aromatic and exfoliating coffee and sugar scrub.  I have made a similar scrub before, but this upgraded edition really makes me crave the aforementioned hot beverage, except the price tag on the scrub is lower, the ingredients are completely natural, and the benefits are longer lasting!

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pumpkin sugar scrub


Almond pumpkin sugar scrub, made from freshly roasted pumpkin puree. This batch tastes so good that you almost want to eat it!

I am up rather late this evening, which seems to be a pattern as of late.  I have been rigorously studying the California Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Sauvignons on our wine list, so that I can rise to the occasion tomorrow, when I begin my position as sommelier at my new job.  I am scrunching my eyes, as I write this post, for I am finally getting a little closer to sleepy.  It has been difficult to find or make time to write, since the new job and the recent home renovations have taken priority.  All of my day-to-day actions have almost seemed “dreamlike” to me because of the fast pace that I am treading.  I am so ready to slow down…

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summer blueberry martini

This afternoon was spent taking photos of each of our signature cocktails at Coohills.  This is the Wild Blueberry Martini, shown above, which is comprised of Hangar One blueberry vodka, freshly squeezed lemon juice, muddled blueberries, cranberry juice, and a dash of agave nectar for balance.  Hangar One distillery is based in California, and they pick fruit at the peak of harvest and do not add any additives to the mix.  Tonight’s reservation list was a little quiet, so I took advantage of this “blessing in disguise” to snap photos of our cocktails and post them onto our iPad drink list.

This cocktail is the perfect summer martini.  Punchy, bright colors and a balanced flavor profile, the Wild Blueberry Martini is a quick sip…almost too quick!

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