The Limoncello Project, Part 2: Pour Some Sugar on It

The day has finally come to retrieve the limoncello we started in October from the basement and bring it up into the daylight of the kitchen. It had turned a shade of yellow that resembled a urinary tract infection, but we didn’t let that dampen our enthusiasm. This step was supposed to be reasonably easy, but it turned out making “simple” syrup was not so simple for me. I am always amazed at how I can master something like Julia Child’s Reine de Saba, and yet things like simple syrup and hard boiled eggs can elude me.

Following the directions verbatim, the syrup just never seemed to thicken. Here are the recipe’s directions:

“In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and water; cook until thickened, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Let the syrup cool before adding it to the Limoncello mixture. Add to the Limoncello mixture from Step One.”

Do you see the word boil in there anywhere? I don’t. And yet every other simple syrup recipe I Googled started with adding sugar to BOILING water. So down the drain went batch number one, and back to the drawing board it was! Other than that little snafu, this was quite an easy step, and a nice excuse to catch up with my friend.

We couldn’t help ourselves, we had to try just a wee little spoonful of our lovely concoction, and boy was it good! In another twenty days or so, we will strain and bottle, just in time to share some holiday cheer.

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The Limoncello Project: Part 1

I first heard of Limoncello (which is so fun to say: Lemon Cello, and not to be confused with Lemon Jello, which is what my kids thought I was making today, much to their disappointment) a couple years ago when meeting some friends in West Chester for dinner. The restaurant Limoncello in West Chester, PA offers a vibrant, innovative menu with a slightly middle aged hipster vibe. But the real star is their limoncello martini. In general, I do not love sweet or girly drinks, but I fell in love with this martini. Limoncello, in addition to being the name of my imaginary rock band and a cool restaurant, is actually an Italian lemon liqueur traditionally served as an after-dinner digestivo. I have also had it served straight up, and it’s indescribably good. Smooth, strong and sweet, just the perfect ending to a nice meal.

I pictured myself offering it to guests in my home after an elegant dinner and saying, “Oh, yes, I made this myself this summer. I’m so glad you like it!” Thankfully, I was able to round up a couple of friends to get in on my overly ambitious hare-brained scheme fun limoncello project, and we began Part 1 today.

After careful deliberation and combing of the internet, I decided upon this Limoncello recipe from Epicurious. My main concern was how to zest without getting any white pith in the formula, and the Microplane zester seemed like the obvious solution. I used the fine grater (darker bowl), and my friends used the larger grater (lighter bowl). You can see the pictures below. They both did a good job:

Once we grated 30ish lemons each, we added them to four bottles of 100 proof vodka (we doubled the recipe below). Now it just needs to sit for 30 days in my basement. <insert moonshine jokes here> Next month we will reconvene and add a simple syrup to our glass containers, along with more vodka, and then it’s more waiting.

Even if this turns out to be an expensive mistake, I very much enjoyed spending the morning with my two friends grating lemons and chit chatting, just like the pioneer women of Kentucky.

Limoncello

Ingredients:

15 lemons*
2 bottles (750 ml) 100-proof vodka**
4 cups sugar
5 cups water
* Choose thick-skinned lemons because they are easier to zest.
** Use 100-proof vodka, which has less flavor than a lower proof one. Also the high alcohol level will ensure that the limoncello will not turn to ice in the freezer.

Directions:

Wash the lemons with a vegetable brush and hot water to remove any reside of pesticides or wax; pat the lemons dry.
Carefully zest the lemons with a zester or vegetable peeler so there is no white pith on the peel. NOTE: Use only the outer part of the rind. The pith, the white part underneath the rind, is too bitter and would spoil your limoncello.
Step One:
In a large glass jar (1-gallon jar), add one bottle of vodka; add the lemon zest as it is zested. Cover the jar and let sit at room temperature for at least (10) ten days and up to (40) days in a cool dark place. The longer it rests, the better the taste will be. (There is no need to stir – all you have to do is wait.) As the limoncello sits, the vodka slowly take on the flavor and rich yellow color of the lemon zest.
Step Two:
In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and water; cook until thickened, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Let the syrup cool before adding it to the limoncello mixture. Add to the limoncello mixture from Step One. Add the additional bottle of vodka. Allow to rest for another 10 to 40 days.
Step Three:
After the rest period, strain and bottle: discarding the lemon zest. Keep in the freezer until ready to serve.

Might as well face it, you’re addicted to…cocktail napkins.

Startling confession:

I am addicted to cocktail napkins. Usually I keep my addiction quietly in check, but this week the floodgates opened. It started innocently enough with a little trip to Home Goods on Tuesday in search of supplies to make Limoncello (more on that fun project coming soon). I was doing so well and not even seeking them out, but they were thrust in my face while waiting in the notoriously slow Home Goods checkout corral lined with pear scented sparkly candles and athletic socks and organic coffee and…whimsical cocktail napkins. I had a lot of time to contemplate my selection. On Wednesday, I hit kitchen mecca Sur La Table and wound up with a couple more packs (at full price, ugh, what a sucker), and then finally today I “bought my last pack, I SWEAR” with a little something from quirky discounter Tuesday Morning. That’s six packs in one week, in case you’re keeping score and now possibly wondering, “Gee, when’s the big party?” The answer is, “I don’t know.” Does one need a party to buy multiple packs of cocktail napkins?

I would show the napkins to you, but I like to surprise our guests with my colorful whimsy. Instead, I will share two actual cocktail recipes, courtesy of my friend Beth, the official Hostess with the Mostess. Beth founded Sipp, her own organic beverage company. Her products are phenomenal and have received numerous awards and accolades from the beverage industry, celebrities like Tori Spelling, and little old me.

I have had both of these cocktails, and warning — they go down easy! Sipp is expanding their distribution, so hopefully you will able to get your hands on some soon. Of course you can substitute if necessary, but it is worth it to use the best products you can manage to find. Cheers!

Posmo Berry Sparkler

2 oz. organic vodka
4 oz. organic pomegranate juice
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. organic agave nectar
1 oz. SIPP – Mojo Berry

In a shaker add ice, vodka, pomegranate and lime juice with agave nectar.  Shake vigorously for 10 seconds.  Strain into a highball glass with ice.  Top off with SIPP and garnish with a thin lime wheel. Enjoy!
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Ginger Blossom Gimlet
2 oz. organic cucumber vodka
4-5 leaves of fresh basil
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. SIPP – Ginger Blossom

In  a shaker muddle basil slightly with a muddling stick.  Add ice, vodka and lime juice.  Shake vigorously for 10 seconds.  Strain into a chilled martini glass.  Top off with SIPP and garnish with a thin cucumber wheel.  Enjoy!
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p.s. Not only do I hoard cocktail napkins, I also take pictures of cute ones I see at different parties, as seen below. Yes, I know I have a problem.

Can we talk about my Vitamix?

The last time I made a smoothie, I smelled something burning. My poor cheapy blender, which never served me well even in its heyday, was finally dying. I wound up putting everything in the food processor, then washing two appliances and choking down a lumpy smoothie. So many things wrong with that sentence.

I have toyed with getting the Vitamix for a while, but it is just so much money for a blender. A dear friend with good connections was able to get me one for just under $300, so being the bargain loving gal I am, I found it hard to resist. Before long, I discovered that my fellow Vitamix devotees have a bit of a cultish and slightly Amway vibe to them, to which I say without shame, “Sign me up!” This machine is so amazing that I honestly feel like it will change my life.

I struggle with breakfast and always have. The idea of just dumping a bunch of healthy stuff in a blender and drinking it down is so, so appealing to me. In one fell swoop I can consume a serving of kale, blueberries, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, raw walnuts, and coconut milk. The Vitamix handles all of those ingredients beautifully, and I’m instantly left with a cold, purple beverage. Does it taste good? Well, it’s edible. I am still working on tweaking the flavor. But it’s definitely edible! (Can you see now why I never succeeded in sales?)

I have only had my Vitamix for three days, but I can tell you without a doubt, it was money well spent. Highly recommend.

Just Keep Swimming Smoothy

Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. Dory, Finding Nemo

For a very long time, I have loved swimming, despite not being an especially good or graceful swimmer. I just like it, plain and simple. I like how I feel weightless, almost like flying. I like how my body feels afterwords, both tired and relaxed at the same time. I like how it’s the only place where my million-thoughts-a-minute brain is not thinking or worrying about anything other than staying afloat and not hitting the person next to me. It’s as close to meditation as I’ll probably ever come.

The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.  John “The Penguin” Bingham, runner and writer

Swimming, for me at this age, comes with lots of barriers. When it comes to excuses, I am an Olympic athlete. I could write a whole post dedicated to my excuses, but instead I’ll just say this: ugly and unflattering Speedo bathing suit, expensive hair + chlorine = green hair, extra large head stuffed in a swim cap, painful goggles, looking like a fat, clumsy fool in public, and, uh, personal grooming. You want more? Oh, I’ve got more.

Recently I cast all my excuses aside and jumped back in the pool after a twenty year hiatus. All of those silly things that mattered so much to me mean nothing once I’m in the pool. It has truly been one of the best things I have done for myself, and my only regret is that I didn’t start sooner.

True nobility isn’t about being better than someone else. It’s about being better than you used to be. Dr. Wayne Dyer

I can never eat too much before a workout, but watch out after! Today I made a very unwise food choice for my post-swimming meal, so I decided to concoct something healthy and filling for tomorrow’s breakfast: a green smoothie! I have been on and off the smoothie train over the years, and I feel like the time is right to introduce them back into my world. Who knows what other good things will follow? In the meantime, I will just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.

Just Keep Swimming Smoothy

Serves 2

2 cups plain Greek Yogurt

1 cup frozen blueberries

1 cup uncooked spinach

1 pitted peach

1 teaspoon real vanilla

1 Tablespoon real maple syrup

Milk (optional)

Combine all in blender until smooth. Add milk to thin it out if desired.