Monday, July 20, 2015

Urban Bar: Bar Equipment and Ephemera

In the previous column we learned about setting up the wet bar, that aspect of homekeeping that supports the making of drinks soft and hard, hot and cold. At its simplest, if you keep cold water in the fridge and/or have a coffee maker, you are keeping a wet bar. Like most basics, though to some it seems obvious, it's important, all the more so for being fundamental. So I wrote the column, knowing that someone somewhere probably smirked that I was giving instructions about water and ice.

There are distinctions between the wet bar, the hard bar (spirits, wine and beer) and the coffee bar. However, there are aspects of the home bar that apply to any and often all of its specialties, and that is where this column comes in. This column addresses the equipment and implements, known as bar ephemera, that support a bar set up. To that end, this column aggregates the wet, hard and coffee bars, with some of the information applying in aggregate, and some applying individually. We've covered many aspects of these home bars individually, collectively and cumulatively at Urban Home Blog. Numerous previous columns will apply here; and those are noted below.

This illustrates a fundamental truth of homekeeping: so much about homekeeping is interconnected while specialized. My practice of housekeeping is practical and sensible along with aesthetic. Being an urban homekeeper often necessitates this: all homekeepers have to account for every resource from budget to time, from effort to efficiency, but urban homekeepers face unique challenges and opportunities that include everything from limitations (space, leases) to advantages (culture, community). Wherever we keep our home, homekeeping forces us to telescope our efforts, to be efficient and effective without sacrificing correctness or style, to balance usefulness against considerations of cost and space.

With that in mind, I always recommend, especially for major purchases, to balance cost and availability against need and usage. This is true from investing in a good vacuum cleaner to taking care of the car; from creating and sticking to a cleaning schedule to having a well-stocked pantry. It applies to the below as well, as I have tried to make recommendations that incorporate usability and cost to provide value.

Urban Bar: Bar Equipment and Ephemera
As with all lists and guides at Urban Home Blog, this list is a based upon my years of experience as a homekeeper and a lifestyle writer, and none of these is a compensated endorsement. These recommendations are for a home bar that experiences average usage. For recommendations on stocking the bar for a party or other large event, click here. 

If you have room, consider one of the compact refrigerators commonly known as a dorm fridge. This is a smart investment for keeping waters and mixers cold while freeing up room in the kitchen refrigerator. A good dorm fridge is reasonably priced and space-efficient with both its exterior and interior dimensions. We use the inexpensive but dependable Igloo 3.2 Cubic Foot Mini Refrigerator. Note that dorm fridges are often on sale this time of year as retailers plan to release display and warehouse space in anticipation of back to school season.

You can also use that dorm fridge to keep a sixer cold for, depending upon your household, a wine cooler is typically a better investment than a beer cooler. The best temperature for beer is 45 degrees F which can be maintained in a regular refrigerator. For wine, optimal temperature is 55 degrees F, which a wine cooler is designed to maintain. The ideal wine cooling set up is separate coolers each for white, red and sparkling wines, but that is often impractical. In our urban home, we use the Culinair 16-bottle wine cooler to store our best bottles and equip it with a wine thermometer to ensure that it maintains an ongoing temperature of 55 - 58 degrees F which is agreeable for whites, reds and blends. We do not cellar sparkling wine but buy it cold as needed by the occasion. Ongoing, we keep a wine inventory on a spreadsheet on the home computer. Not only is this important for insurance purposes for valuable bottles, it is invaluable both for memory-keeping as we annotate each uncorking with tasting notes and dates upon opening and for replenishing during our regular excursions to Central Coast Wine Country.

There are distinctions between the wet bar, the hard bar (spirits, wine and beer) and the coffee bar. For the home wet bar, fresh juice is always preferred. As noted in Urban Home's Guide to Kitchen Electrics, the Chef'n Fresh Force Citrus Juicer is indispensable for quick blasts of lime or lemon juice, as is a classic glass juicer (look for one that fits your kitchen style). However, these are not practical for expressing large quantities of juice for happy hour or a pitcher of lemonade. For that, we prefer a lever-press juicer over a heavy-duty juice extrator. We like Best Choice Pro Manual Juicer for its sturdy, user-friendly design. For its price point, this kitchen tool is a perfect example of return on investment. As card-carrying southern Californians, we cannot resist juicing fresh oranges for the breakfast table, and this juicer makes short work of that task. Remember to pour citrus juice through a sieve, and to rinse and save some of the seeds for sprouting and replanting. If you have extra juice, store it for up to two days in a glass jar or pitcher with a tight fitting lid -- never store fresh juice in metal or plastic, either of which can throw off the freshness of the juice.

Many drinks require a blender, an ice cream maker, or both. As noted in a previous column,Cuisinart's Smart Power Seven Speed Blender and Cuisinart’s Classic Ice Cream Maker remain the standards in our urban home. Both meet the criteria for a smart household investment: they are very well designed for longevity and safety with correct usage, and are available at agreeable price points. Hardcore home barkeepers often maintain a separate blender just for the bar, but we have found that one blender is all the typical household really needs. A better investment for the home bar is an ice crusher. As noted in the previous column, the Hamilton Beach 68050 Ice Shaver has the two necessary settings to make cracked ice and snow ice, which are the cuts of ice most useful for frozen drinks.

For the coffee bar, we still rely on Cuisinart's Brew Central 12 Cup Coffee Maker for daily coffee duty. It has remained as reliable as when I first wrote about it. Be sure to replace the gold filter once a year, and to regularly clean the coffee maker with Dip-It to prolong the life cycle of this exemplary kitchen electric. I am excited to report that Cuisinart has also released a reasonably priced burrgrinder for home usage. It performs well with all grinds. Whether you use a burr or rotary grinder such as Cuisinart’s Grind Central Coffee Grinder, unplug the unit regularly to clean its mechanisms with a coffee brush and rinse the storage chambers with warm water.

We struggled with the purchase of an espresso maker for the very best ones are imported and their cost reflects that. We auditioned the Nespresso Pixie and found that it delivers a solid demitasse with the ease of operation and handsome design that recall the power of Italian sportscars. If espresso is a passion in your home, the Ascaso Dream is an expense worth saving up for, with the bonus that the necessary training, which should be included with the purchase price, will give you the chance to develop your crema alongside other espresso lovers. That socializing is among the most important gifts coffee gives the world; accordingly, a trip to the local coffeehouse will always be the best way to enjoy, even evangelize, espresso. So if you do get an espresso maker, be sure to invite friends and family over for a well-rendered cup.

If you're not serving espresso, for after dinner or coffee hour service, we like Bodum Eileen French Press served either in coordinating Eileen cups or in gold earthenware after dinner coffee cups we found while antiquing in wine country. Both contemporary European and vintage American coffee service pieces are a great way to express your homekeeping aesthetic. Seeking them out is the very definition of the pleasures and rewards of collecting, for not only do you discover pieces you love, but you perpetuate the lives of those pieces by keeping them in use. Over time you can develop a nice collection, and through acquisition and usage the pieces become important to your home as heirlooms just as they were important in the homes before yours. Remember to include valuable pieces -- for example, high quality china or silversmith pieces -- in your home inventory for insurance purposes.

The pleasures of vintage household collecting also apply to the hard bar. Nothing is a hotter collectible than vintage barware from the Mad Men era. While it is ideal to look for intact hostess sets in carriers, part of the charm of a vintage barware collection is its pastiche. Shop for vintage barware by theme, color or gut instinct rather than perfectionism -- though obviously chipped, cracked, uncleanable or very valuable pieces are to be put on display but not put into practical usage. Whether you stock vintage or contemporary pieces, basic barware set-up includes two cocktail shakers, one for clear liquor and one for dark liquor, two mixing glasses, six to twelve chimney glasses, four to six highball glasses, four to six double old fashioned glasses, two martini glasses, and a two-walled ice bucket with tongs or a scoop. If you serve soda fountain drinks, add two to four soda glasses and a box of paper straws. For additional recommendations regarding barware, click here, and for recommendations regarding stemware, click here.

Ongoing, maintain supplies of cocktail picks, swizzle sticks and pub mats; these are easily available at bar suppliers or online, or through collecting either as above or during nights on the town. Additional bar supplies to have available include a sturdy bottle opener, a lever-press wine opener including a foil cutter and aerating funnel, a waiter's corkscrew, a muddler, a strainer, a bar board with a citrus knife, bar spoons, bar towels, and a pack of matches, safely utilized and safely stored. And, harking to the dorm fridge and the collecting trips that form much of the backbone of this column, while a bar jigger and pony are essential to the hard bar, nothing is more personal to the history of your household and its inhabitants than a collection of shot glasses obtained during your travels, not the least of which is summer vacation!


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Urban Bar: The Wet Bar

As befits summertime swimming pools and surf, we've gotten wet this July at Urban Home Blog. We've made our own sodas for every event from Fourth of July picnic to sunset bonfire. We've learned the bubbly history of carbonation and how it fits into the all-American phenomenon of the soda fountain. We've made refreshing aqua fresca for the luncheon table, tart-sweet lemonade for the picnic table, pebbly grape slushies for the backyard romp. We've learned how to make the quintessential California cold drink, the Arnold Palmer. We have even conjured a pitcher of tomato water to celebrate both an afternoon in the garden and its proceeds.

As I was writing those columns, I was reminded of the importance of the wet bar to homekeeping. The wet bar is the foundation of the professional or home bar that supports the mixing and serving of drinks. The wet bar is wet because it includes mixers, the most basic of which is water from carbonated to flat, but it also includes equipment such as ice makers and ephemera such as ice trays. Though I've written a guide to cocktail parties -- available as a column here and as a free printable PDF here -- that includes stocking the home bar, I haven't actually covered the wet bar on its own until I wrote this column.
It should be noted that a wet bar does not necessarily lead to a complex home bar setup. If you keep cold water in the fridge and ice in the freezer, you are keeping a wet bar. That being said, the standard bearer for keeping a wet bar is the professional bartender, and much of this information proceeds from the standards for professional bartending, adapted for home use whether or not the wet bar being supported is soft (meaning non-alcoholic drinks) or hard (meaning alcoholic drinks). To that end, along with the components of a wet bar, I have included three recipes as fundamental to serving cold soft- and hard drinks as the wet bar is to mixing them: seltzer with lime and classic, pivotal gin- and vodka-tonics.
Like most homekeeping fundamentals, though the wet bar is basic, it is vital. Managing our thirst is every bit as important to keeping a home as is managing our hunger, our hygiene, our safety, our leisure  -- all of the basic needs that homekeeping proceeds from and has aspects of. A drink of cold water is the very essence of a need being met. Here is one organization that works to provide access to clean water for all people. I urge all of us who are fortunate to have that access to click on this or any related link and give of their resources of funds, effort, and time as is needed to support those for whom access to safe, clean water is not a given.
Stocking the Home Bar: The Wet Bar
As with all lists and guides at Urban Home Blog, this list is a based upon my years of experience as a homekeeper and a lifestyle writer, and none of these is a compensated endorsement. These recommendations are for a home wet bar that experiences average usage. For guidance on stocking the bar for a party or other large event, or for stocking the home bar, click here. In the next column, we will stock the home bar with equipment and bar ephemera. 

Flat Water
Flat water is water that is safe for consumption that is provided through a faucet that taps into a managed municipal water source, a well that is either communally or privately owned, or from a dispenser through a subscription service. As discussed here, you have the right to expect that the water that comes out of the tap is clean enough for human consumption. Always call the water department if your tap water looks dirty or displays an off odor.
  • For the wet bar, filtered water is recommended. Though there are subscriptions to filtration services and filtration devices that fit upon the faucet, a filtration pitcher such as Brita Everyday Water Filtration Pitcher works just fine for typical home use. Be sure to change the filter timely using the instructions provided with the pitcher and archived online.
Sparkling Water
Sparkling Water is an umbrella term for water that has been pressurized with carbon dioxide resulting in a liquid that releases a steady supply of bubbles. That process can occur naturally or synthetically; both are known by the familiar term carbonation.
  • Seltzer is pure, mechanically rendered carbonated water.
  • Soda Water and Club Soda both refer to carbonated water that has been enriched with salt and/or baking soda.
  • Mineral Water is water that originates in a mineral spring. Mineral water can be flat or sparkling, but to be labeled Mineral Water, it must be naturally derived and contain a noticeable mineral content.
  • Spring Water is water that originates in a mineral spring but has a lower threshold for mineral content than mineral water does.
  • Tonic Water is carbonated water to which a trace amount of quinine has been added.
  • For the wet bar, stock sparkling waters in individual four- or six-packs. For alcoholic drinks, stock club soda and tonic water, and for non-alcoholic drinks, stock club soda, seltzer and mineral water.
Mixers is an umbrella term for liquids that are served as drinks on their own or mixed together or with other ingredients to make drinks. Mixed drinks can be non-alcoholic, known as soft drinks, or alcoholic, known as hard drinks. Aside from tap and sparking waters, mixers include juice, soda pop, and additives including syrups.
  • Juice is the fresh, bottled or frozen juice of fruits or vegetables. When able, fresh juice is always preferred. For the home wet bar, stock fresh oranges or fresh orange juice, fresh limes or fresh lime juice, and tomato or tomato-vegetable juice in individual four- or six-packs. Stock additional juices in small quantities according to home usage: cranberry, apple, grape, pineapple, grapefruit, prune, etc. Store fresh or fresh bottled juices in the refrigerator; store shelf-stable bottled or canned juices in the pantry. Always check juice for freshness and do not use any that displays and off odor or color or that has passed its expiration date.
  • Soda pop is flavored carbonated water. Soda pop is recognizable by brand name and by flavor. For the home wet bar, stock ginger ale and cola in individual four- or six-packs. Stock additional soda pops in small quantities depending on home usage: household favorite flavors or brands, ginger beer, dry soda, etc. For lemon-lime soda, make lemon-lime Italian soda as needed using the recipe and technique here.
  • Additives are ingredients added to drinks along with mixers to achieve distinctive characteristics. For the home wet bar, stock basic aromatic bitters such as Angostura, orange and Peychaud's; sweet and sour mix such as Mi-Lem; Tabasco Sauce; and Worchester Sauce.
  • Syrups are a specialized type of additive that are concentrated reductions of flavors that enhance drinks. For the home wet bar, stock Grenadine, Italian Soda syrup in lemon and lime, and coffee syrup in hazelnut and pumpkin. For sweetened lime juice, make lime simple syrup using the recipe here. For simple syrup, use the recipe here. Stock additional syrups depending on home usage: cherry, apple, peach, pear, mint, almond, etc. Store handmade syrups in the refrigerator; store shelf-stable syrups in the refrigerator or pantry. Always check syrups for freshness and do not use any that displays any off odor or color or that has passed its expiration date.
Any bartender will confirm that it is impossible to overstate the importance of good ice to cold bartending. Though ice in cocktails is primarily an American convention, good ice is not just the norm; it is indispensible. Correctly rendered ice chills a drink without diluting; that consideration is the reason different drinks call for different kinds of ice. The four basic forms of ice for the wet bar are block, cubed, cracked and snow.
  • Most refrigerators sold today make and dispense ice water and ice from a mechanism housed in the freezer compartment, typically accessible from the freezer door. If this is the system you choose or are provided with, be sure it is connected to a well-filtered water supply (see flat water, above). Water freezes into ice at 32 degrees F, while the ideal temperature for the home freezer is 0 degrees F.
  • For the home wet bar, it is ideal to have access to cubed and crushed ice, and it is not necessary to have a refrigerator built-in for them. For home use, use filtered water in silicon ice trays in large- and regular-cube size to make an ongoing supply of ice. If your freezer isn't already equipped with one, obtain a freezer ice cube bin to store ice, and get in the habit of filling it and refilling the ice trays in anticipation of usage so that ice is always available in the freezer.
  • Bar- or counter-side, invest in an ice bucket with tongs or a scoop and a well-fitting lid, and fill it in anticipation of afternoon social drinking or cocktail hour. In our urban home, we like metal ice buckets with double-insulation walls. If you collect bar ephemera, scan tag sales in person or online for vintage ice buckets in the style that you like; in our urban home, these are mid-century glass buckets with gold detailing.
  • For the wet bar, crushed or cracked ice, and the powdered ice known professionally as snow, is essential for many drinks. Invest in a portable ice crusher and safely use it according to the accompanying instructions. In our urban home, we like the Hamilton Beach 68050 Ice Shaver. This simple electric ice crusher has the two necessary settings to make cracked ice and snow, along with built-in safety features. Because it is a small kitchen electric, it can be transported from your home wet bar to vacation condo, pool party, etc. Supplement the portable ice crusher with a freezable slush and shake cup. In our urban home, we keep two reservoirs always ready in the freezer for slushes, quick ice chips, milk- and protein shakes, etc. 
Garnishes are the finishing touch for many drinks both soft and hard.
  • For the home wet bar, garnishes to stock and use fresh are lemons, limes and oranges. Wash citrus with a food safe vegetable wash and rinse under cool water until it feels clean. Dry on paper towels and transfer to a bowl to cut or peel as needed. Stock additional fresh produce according to the menu for the event: fresh fruit such as peaches or bananas for pureeeing; berries; pineapple; celery, etc.
  • For the home wet bar, garnishes to stock in shelf-stable jars are pimento-stuffed green olives and green olives brined in vermouth. For maraschino cherries, preserve cherries during their season according to the technique and recipe here and store the preserved cherries in the refrigerator. Stock additional jarred garnishes according to home usage: cocktail onions, black olives, dilly beans, etc. Coffee drinks may require special garnishes such as chocolate shavings or cinnamon; just grab what you need from the baking pantry.
  • To prep and serve garnishes, dedicate a wooden or bamboo bar board and a citrus knife to the home bar. Clean the board often with a food- and wood-safe cleansing agent and condition the board periodically with food-safe wood oil.
The following three drinks are fundamental to the wet bar. Every home bartender should know how to make them.

Seltzer with Lime
  1. Place a drop of food-safe vegetable cleaner in your palm and rub your palms together. Rub a lime between your two palms until it feels clean. Rinse the lime under cool water.
  2. Use a citrus knife to cut the lime crossways into rounds.
  3. Fill a chimney glass with cubed or crushed ice. Run either the stem- or the blossom end of the cut lime around the rim of the glass. Squeeze the rubbed lime onto the ice in the glass.
  4. Fill the glass with seltzer. Top the drink with a lime round.
  5. Give the drink a stir and serve immediately. 
Gin and Tonic
  1. Place a drop of food-safe vegetable cleaner in your palm and rub your palms together. Rub a lime between your two palms until it feels clean. Rinse the lime under cool water.
  2. Use a citrus knife to cut the lime crossways into rounds.
  3. Fill a chimney glass with cubed or crushed ice. Run either the stem- or the blossom end of the cut lime around the rim of the glass. Squeeze the rubbed lime onto the ice in the glass.
  4. Pour one shot house favorite gin into the glass.
  5. Fill the glass with tonic water. For Gin and Tonic, we like Tanqueray, Beefeater or Seagram's.
  6. Top the drink with a lime round.
  7. Give the drink a stir, place a swizzle stick in the glass, and serve immediately. 
Vodka and Tonic
  1. Place a drop of food-safe vegetable cleaner in your palm and rub your palms together. Rub a lemon between your two palms until it feels clean. Rinse the lemon under cool water.
  2. Use a citrus knife to cut the lemon crossways into rounds.
  3. Fill a chimney glass with cubed or crushed ice. Run either the stem- or the blossom end of the cut lemon around the rim of the glass. Squeeze the rubbed lemon onto the ice in the glass.
  4. Pour one shot house favorite vodka into the glass. For vodka and tonic, we like Absolut, Reyka or Stolichnaya, and always keep a small bottle stored in the freezer.
  5. Fill the glass with tonic water. Top the drink with a lemon round.
  6. Give the drink a stir, place a swizzle stick in the glass, and serve immediately.
Citron and Tonic
Use the preceeding recipe, using lemon-lime vodka, and garnish with both a lemon round and lime round. 

Urban Home Blog's Guide to Cocktail Parties (stemware, serveware, large events)
Urban Home Blog's Guide to Bar Equipment and Ephemera
Wine Country Gifts (stemware)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Crazy Waters

In the previous column we learned how to make sodas from scratch. Since I tasted my first hand-rendered Italian soda -- a lime soda at the mighty Espresso Royale in Ann Arbor -- making drinks from scratch has been a passion of mine. Many Urban Bar columns have sprung from that passion, but as I always counsel, a barista is a bartender. Learning how to brew and serve coffee and to make cold drinks are just as much a measure of the bartender's craft as are adult beverages.

In this way, the bartender/barista are related to a mostly vanished profession: the soda jerk. Just as coffeehouses and bars grew up along distinctive trajectories, so did the soda fountain. In all three, when a family of consumables - in this case, beverages - became available to the public, local businesses appeared to give the populace a place to drink those concoctions. Today we think of coffee, soda pop, beer, wine, and spirits as widely available both outside the home and for home use, but they were not always so. Broadly speaking, all of them traveled a path of being discovered and becoming a commodity that in turn became an offering for sale locally. Before you could buy coffee beans to brew or a bottle of booze to guzzle, you had to go to a coffee- or publick house to drink them. Soda pop bubbled along the same path, and the public house where it was vended and consumed was the chemist's, which you and I know more commonly as the local drugstore.

In the nineteenth century, chemists compounded a lot more than medication - they compounded and vended almost any chemical compound the individual consumer wanted or needed for which there was no large-scale manufacturing process firmly yet in place. They made everything from headache powders to rat poison, from bath salts to silver polish. Chemists had been interested in carbonation -- the natural process that inbues water with bubbles -- since the middle ages. At that time, the effervescent water of mineral springs was thought to contain healing properties, especially for the nerves, and both the bubbles and the healing were revered as being caused by spiritus mineralis -- the spirit of the mineral waters. As early as the Renaissance, chemists investigated the question of effervescence to identify that the bubbles were the result of a unique gas, confirm that the gas was carbon dioxide, and invent and perfect apparatuses that infused water with the gas. When you pop the top off of your favorite bottle of bubbles, be sure to toast Jan Baptista Van Helmont, Antoine Lavoisier, Joseph Priestley, Thomas Henry, John Mervin Nooth, and the individual who is widely credited as the founder of the soft drink industry, Jacob Schweppe.

That industry exploded into a phenomenon in the 1800's. Carbonated water was vended primarily, though not exclusively, as a health tonic. This related to the original carbonated waters that bubbled forth from Mother Earth in the form of mineral springs, and it also relates to how chemists retained influence over the soft drink industry. For while there were numerous manufacturing and bottling businesses, those bottlers vended their product with the narrow, albeit profitable, focus of being a tonic or a novelty. It was logical progression that the local chemist install a spigot to dispense the carbonated waters that were known variously and interchangeably as soda water, mineral water, fizzy water, or crazy water.

Crazy waters became very popular, and chemists -- whose role was evolving in reflection of modernization -- installed counters, stools and tables in their stores. There, aside from the medicine and household chemical business at the window in the back, they made and dispensed crazy waters, often experimenting with additive compounds and flavors that have given us everything from phosphates to Coca Cola. An entire menu of crazy waters evolved to encompass any number of additives from fruit juice to ice cream. As it did, the soda fountain evolved from a place to stop in for a quick medicinal tonic to a dispenser of novelty refreshment to a social center that provided everything from national newspapers and magazines to local opinions and gossip, all enjoyed with a sweet serve sipped from a soda glass.

It should be noted that crazy waters, though an ingredient in soda pop, were different from soda pop. Soda pop, though it was becoming available as an individual consumer commodity, was mixed from drums of syrup supplied in reflection of local, and increasingly national, specialties and tastes: Moxie in the northeast, cola in the south, sarsaparilla in the west, etc. This increasing popularity along increasingly nationalizing local identities is the core of the neverending argument about just what terms to use to refer to carbonated drinks. Strictly speaking, any carbonated drink is a soft drink, but though it must be carbonated to qualify, a carbonated drink is not soft because of the carbonation -- it is soft because it contains no alcohol as a hard drink does. Soft drinks can be soda pop which can also be soda, pop, or at the extremely local level, just the name of the local fave. Even the etymology of pop is open for debate, as some say it is from the bubbles and some say is from the POP! sound the can makes when you open it.

From our first sip from a mineral spring to that pop-top can, crazy water is a basic element of refreshment. Crazy water is fundamental to the wet bar, from the blat of tonic with which your bartender tops your gin to the seltzer with which your soda jerk fizzes your egg cream. It puts the sparkle in your soda and the rejuvenation in your spa water. Though the previous column provided several summertime uses for crazy water, those were all sweet fruit-flavored drinks that fall, at least in my urban home, under the rubric of bug juice. In honor of crazy water both as a refreshment and a tonic, here is a recipe for the purest expression of the quality of effervescence: classic Aqua Fresca. In this preparation, slices of mildly flavored fruit, vegetables or herbs are suspended in icy carbonated water (prepared with flat water, Aqua Fresca is aqua fria). The carbonation leaches flavor, nutrients and sometimes color from the additives, resulting in a beverage that is flavorful and fun. Place a pitcher of Aqua Fresca on the table at your next luncheon, or on the kitchen counter during a hot summer afternoon. You will see how quickly it disappears. But that is the magic of bubbles: though fun, they are ephemeral. And thanks to the efforts of crazies from scientists and business people, from soda jerks to Mother Earth, crazy waters are easily available for all to enjoy. 

Aqua Fresca
Aqua Fresca works best with ingredients with a high water content or with very strong flavors. The final drink should be sparkling and lightly flavorful. It will strengthen as it sits, so be prepared to replenish during the day. 

2 large bottles mineral water, seltzer, or soda water, plus more if replenishing
Infusing ingredients per below
2 trays ice cubes, plus more if replenishing 

1 tempered glass or ceramic serving pitcher, two quart size
1 wooden muddler 

Basic Technique
  1. Prepare the infusing ingredients per below.
  2. Fill the pitcher with the ice cubes. Gently add the infusing ingredients to the ice.
  3. While using the muddler to stir the ice mixture gently with one hand, gently pour the crazy water into the pitcher with the other hand.
  4. Cover the pitcher and allow to infuse for 15 minutes.
  5. Replenish ice, infusing ingredients, or crazy water as needed. 
Citrus Aqua Fresca. Wash 3-4 lemons, 4-5 limes or a combination of lemons and limes; 5-6 tangerines; or 1 ruby grapefruit with food-safe vegetable cleaner. Use a citrus knife to cut the fruit into rounds or wedges. Transfer the fruit along with any accumulated juices to the pitcher.
Cucumber Aqua Fresca. Wash 2 cucumbers with food safe vegetable cleaner. Remove the stem and blossom ends of the cucumber. Use a sharp knife to cut each cucumber into half lengthwise. Safely use a mandoline and a no-cut metal glove to cut the cucumber halves into ribbons. Transfer the cucumbers along with any accumulated juices to the pitcher.
Jalapeño Aqua Fresca. Put on a pair of clean food safe latex or plastic gloves. Wash 2-3 jalapeños with food safe vegetable cleaner. Use a sharp knife to remove and discard the cap from each jalapeño. Cut the jalapeños into rounds. Transfer the jalapeños along with any seeds to the pitcher.
Mint Aqua Fresca. Rinse 6 - 8 sprigs fresh mint under cool water. Rub the mint gently between your palms to bruise it. Transfer the mint to the pitcher. Check the pitcher throughout the day to remove spent mint sprigs and refresh it with new ones.
Pineapple Aqua Fresca. Have your greengrocer peel and chunk 1 fresh pineapple or get a large container of fresh pineapple from the cold case or salad bar of a supermarket. Add the pineapple along with any accumulated juices to the pitcher.
Tomato Water. Wash 2-3 good-sized red, yellow or heirloom tomatoes or 2 dry pints cherry tomatoes with food safe vegetable cleaner. Use a tomato knife to cut the fruit into rounds for large tomatoes, halves for cherry tomatoes. Transfer the fruit along with any accumulated juices to the pitcher. Sprinkle the fruit with 1-2 pinches salt.
Watermelon Aqua Fresca. Have your greengrocer peel, chunk and seed 1/2 pound fresh watermelon or get a large container of fresh watermelon from the cold case or salad bar of a supermarket. Sprinkle the watermelon with 1 teaspoon superfine sugar. Add the watermelon along with any accumulated juices to the pitcher.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Bug Juice

photo: Eric Diesel
Summer is a special season even in the land of endless summer.July Fourth finds the citizens of West Hollywood just as likely to exodus for the long weekend as at any other locale. Palm Springs is a popular destination, as is Las Vegas. Traffic snakes a long line in both directions on the Pacific Coast Highway from wine country to San Diego. 

As it was in New York, a bond forms between locals who stay local on long weekends. In our building, residents stay local for every reason from being scheduled to work to looking forward to the neighborhood July 4 barbecue (cookout, for you non-Westerners) at Plummer Park. There will be churrascurria courtesy of Brazilian neighbors laboring over red hot oil drums, and caviar from Russian vendors chipping at blocks of ice. John and I will bring ice cream (peach and chocolate malt) and pitchers of rosé sangria and lemonade.

Yes, it is nice to have something lined up, but there is particular pleasure in having no particular plans. That laid-back LA vibe is real. An effect of living in endless summer is that, as a rule, Angelinos are hesitant to overschedule our time. Don't kid yourself, we work as hard as anyone else, but as a rule, we want to free time to remain truly that: free. Non-Angelinos can and do smirk, but there is much to be said about going with the flow, of seeing what develops, of going where the sunlight and the sunset take you. And after twenty five years of heavily scheduled days and nights, for all that I miss about New York, one thing this New Yorker does not miss, and firmly believes his life is better without, is stress.

If anything brings to mind lazy vacation days, it is bug juice. Bug juice first came to our attention as kids, when it was served in a paper cup by a camp counselor or a matronly lady with a hairdo during a recess; from a plastic tub with a spigot at the municipal pool or the sidelines of the playing field; from a favorite aunt or a neighborhood lady on a babysitting afternoon. Silly grown-ups like to think that bug juice is called that due to the gnats it attracts on the rim of the cup, but kids know the real reason: bug juice is made from the same stuff that gives us greasy grimy gopher guts and mutilated monkey mouths.

Bug juice was the default cold drink of my childhood. My grandmother's bug juice was a lively scarlet fruit punch served from a ribbed aluminum drink dispenser so heavy that the menfolk had to work together to lift it onto the picnic table.Though I have access to a stash of her recipes, I don't have that one; I would give anything to.The Baptist church ladies across the street dispensed Dixie cups of an eye-poppingly sweet, nuclear green bug juice that I think was lemon-lime and that I suspect was from a powder.School cafeteria bug juice was orangeade or grapeade.

I'm always a bit confused by the sight of a contemporary child guzzling soda pop. We never really had it -- not by dietary fiat, though that would have been a justifiable reason -- so I never really developed a taste for it. Whether a carbonated beverage is a soda or a pop is another column and a matter of geography and familial history. Ditto the navigating of the delightful output of the olde-tymey soda fountain, with its eye-widening menu of sodae, phosphates, bromides, sparklers, ales, and other crazy waters.

To this day, I like to make and serve cold, fruity drinks. Here are my original recipes for some of my favorite cold drinks, all of them fun to make and to drink. For the purposes of this column and of our summertime drinking pleasure, I hereby warrant that bug juice is either the phyla of sticky-rimmed fruit drinks of childhood or adult versions thereof. In this case, adult does not mean alcoholic, but every good bartender knows how to make non-alcoholic beverages, and many bug juices can be spiked. Wherever you drink your bug juice, from patio tiles to beach blanket, from picnic table to back porch buffet, don't begrudge the gnats joining in the festivities (though for goodness sakes, don't swallow them). Bugs are social animals, and the truest reason bug juice is called that is not the sugary content of the cup, but the socialization of the bug juicers around it. 

Bug Juice
To make bug juice you will need cold, filtered water (click here for Urban Home Blog's recommendations for water filtration) and, depending on the recipe, fizzy waters that are all available in the mixers aisle of the supermarket, liquor store or soda distributor. Specialized equipment or ingredients where utilized are noted in each recipe - click here for more details. 

Italian Soda
  1. Fill a soda- or chimney glass with crushed or cubed ice. Drizzle 2 shots cherry, lime, lemon, orange, apple or peach Italian syrup over the ice. Fill the glass with sparkling water. Stir lightly.
  2. Place a straw in the glass and serve immediately.
  1. Cut 15 lemons in half crossways.
  2. Position a clean mesh strainer over the opening of a mixing bowl with a spout. Use a hand-held lemon press or a lever-press juicer to press the juice from each lemon half; pouring through the strainer to catch any seeds, pith, or fibers. Add 1 cup superfine sugar to the lemon juice. Use a wire whisk to mix the lemon juice and the sugar together until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Fill a serving pitcher 1/2 with cold filtered water; it should be about 3 - 4 cups. Swirl the water around the pitcher to temper the glass. Use one hand to pour the sweetened lemon juice into the water while using the other hand to stir the mixture as you pour.
  4. Serve the lemonade over cubed or crushed ice. Garnish with a lemon wheel if you like.
  • Strawberry Lemonade. Clean and hull 1 dry pint strawberries. Place the strawberries in a bowl. Sprinkle the strawberries with 1 teaspoon superfine sugar. Use a fork or a clean potato masher to mash the strawberries into a juicy pulp. Add this mixture to the lemon-sugar mixture and stir it together thoroughly before adding to the water in the pitcher.
  • Cucumber Lemonade. Peel 2 cucumbers so that no green peel remains on the white flesh. Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise. Use a grapefruit spoon to scoop out the pith and seeds from the center of each half. Run each half under cool water to clear out any remaining pith or seeds. Roughly chop up the cucumbers and safely use an electric mini prep to grind the cucumbers into a watery pulp. Carefully transfer the pulp to the lemon-sugar mixture and stir it together thoroughly before adding it to the water in the pitcher.
  • Basil Lemonade. Lightly bruise three or four sprigs fresh clean basil by rolling them between your palms. Place the basil into the pitcher after mixing the lemonade.
  • Arnold Palmer. Measure the water into the serving pitcher early in the day. Place 4 black teabags in the water. Cover the pitcher with plastic wrap. Place the pitcher in a safe place in the sun to steep for four hours before removing the teabags and adding the lemon-sugar mixture to the tea in the pitcher.
  1. Cut 12 medium or 15 small limes in half crossways. Use a hand-held lime press or lever-press juicer to press 2 cups lime juice into a large saucepan. Heat the lime juice over medium-low heat until it starts to bubble. Slowly add 1 cup sugar into the heating juice. Stir the lime-sugar mixture until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and set aside to cool 1 hour.
  2. Fill a serving pitcher 1/2 with cold filtered water; it should be about 3 - 4 cups. Swirl the water around the pitcher to temper the glass. Use one hand to pour the sweetened lime juice into the water while using the other hand to stir the mixture as you pour.
  3. Serve the limeade over cubed ice. Garnish with a lime wheel if you like.
Pineapple Frost
  1. Measure 1-1/2 cups fresh or canned pineapple juice into a measuring cup with a spout. Add 1 teaspoon superfine sugar to the juice. Use a wire whisk to stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved. Add 1/4 cup sparkling water to the mixture.
  2. Mound two water goblets or margarita glasses 3/4 with crushed ice. Carefully pour 1/2 of the mixture around the rim of each glass so that the mixture seeps into the ice from the outside.
  3. Serve immediately.
Citrus Sparkler
  1. Cut an orange or ruby grapefruit in half crossways. Use a glass juicer or lever-press juicer to press the juice from each half.
  2. Fill two soda glasses with cubed ice. Fill each glass 1/3 with sparkling water or seltzer. Slowly pour 1/2 of the pressed juice into each glass so that it begins to mix with the fizzy water. If you wish, top the drink with a floater of Grenadine.
  3. Put a straw in each glass and serve immediately.
Shirley Temple
  1. Prepare a lemon-lime soda following the directions for Italian Soda above, using one shot each lemon and lime syrup.
  2. Fill a soda glass with crushed or cubed ice. Pour one shot Grenadine syrup over the ice. Fill the glass with the lemon-lime soda. Stir lightly.
  3. Place a straw in the glass and serve immediately. 
Grape Slush
  1. Fill a freezer-prepared slush and shake cup with fresh or bottled white or concord grape juice. Use the accompanying paddle to stir the juice until it reaches a slushy consistency; stop when you begin to see white ice crystals. Use the paddle to scrape the slush into a soda glass.
  2. Place a straw in the glass and serve immediately. 
Raspberry Phospate
  1. Clean one dry pint raspberries by gently running them under a thin stream of cool water. Transfer the raspberries into a small saucepan. Pick through the raspberries to discard any green leaves, brown pieces, or other discolored or off-smelling pieces. Sprinkle the raspberries with 2 teaspoons superfine sugar. Use a muddler to mash the raspberries into a pulp. Add 1/2 cup water to the pan. Heat the mixture over medium heat until a thick, fragrant syrup forms; approximately 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and set aside to cool 1 hour.
  2. Fill two soda or parfait glasses with crushed ice. Pour 1/2 of the raspberry syrup into each glass. Add 1 dash food safe acid phosphate to the glass. Carefully fill the glass with soda water.
  3. Place a straw and a long handled spoon into each glass and serve immediately. Part of the fun of a phosphate is stirring the mixture so that it fizzes, so it is okay that you are serving the drink unmixed.
  1. Fill a highball glass with crushed ice. Cut 1 lime in half crossways and use a lime press to press the juice into the glass. Drop both juiced lime rinds into the glass. Fill the glass with club soda.
  2. Stir the drink and serve immediately.
  • Cranberry-Lime Rickey. Drizzle the ice with 1 shot lime simple syrup (recipe here) and 1 shot cranberry juice before pouring the club soda into the glass.
  • Blackberry-Pear Rickey. Add 4-6 blackberries to the lime juice in the glass; omit the lime rinds. If necessary, lightly muddle the berries to break them up. Drizzle the ice with 1 shot lime simple syrup (recipe here).and 1/2 shot pear nectar before pouring the club soda into the glass.
*Pitcher drinks