Last month my husband, my three kids, and I took what I am tempted to call our First-Ever Family Vacation. See, we’ve been on numerous trips all together in the past–Disneyland, Legoland, Catalina Island, Chicago–but they were just that: “family trips.” As a wise friend once told me, “When your kids are young, you don’t go on family vacations. You go on family trips.” “Family trip” meaning “you’ll need a vacation from your vacation.” But, to my delight, my children have now reached an age where we can all go on a trip and come home feeling relaxed and satisfied. This was the case with our wonderful time in Rocky Point, Mexico.
Over the four days we spent south of the border, we enjoyed a gorgeous view from our condo’s terrace,
lounged on Sandy Beach,
and, since we were there over our anniversary, celebrated by drinking copious amounts of Mexican alcohol–my husband I, that is, not the kids.
People had of course told us that food and drinks in Mexico are insanely inexpensive, but I was not prepared for the extreme dirt-cheapness of Mexican alcohol. It was like if Wal-Mart rolled back their prices and just kept on rolling. And that’s how I ended up with a $4 bottle of mezcal. Actually, backstory: I ended up with a $4 bottle of mezcal because it looked fancy and I thought it might be tequila but was afraid to ask. (I can say several things in Spanish, but “what is this liquor and why is it so cheap?” is not one of them.) So I just dropped it in the basket along with my mini flan cups and lime-flavored mayo and headed to the register.
Once a Google search revealed that this mysterious bottle with the agave plant picture on it was actually a variety of mezcal, I was stumped. What’s mezcal, and what do you do with it, especially when you are now the proud owner of a rather large bottle of it? Fortunately, I came across the idea for this cocktail: the refreshing flavor mix of blackberries, lime, and agave mixed with the smoky taste of the mezcal.
If Starbucks ever wants to add alcohol to any of their “refresher” drinks, I’m sending them this recipe. It’s light, sweet, and a little different. For me, it brings up happy memories of a Mexican family vacation…and cheap Mexican liquor. I’d be happy to return to Rocky Point for more of both.
Blackberry Lime Mezcal Refresher
(Inspired by The Drink Blog)
4 blackberries, plus more for garnish, if desired
3/4 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. honey or agave nectar
2 oz. mezcal
- In the bottom of a 1-cup measuring cup, mash blackberries until no large pieces remain. Add lime juice, honey or agave nectar, and mezcal and stir well.
- Pour mixture over a fine-mesh strainer into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice, pressing down on blackberry pulp to extract as much juice as possible. Discard blackberry pulp. Garnish with additional blackberries, if desired.
With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming before we know it, we’re rounding the corner on the season of excesses. Some excesses delicious and worth it (PIE PIE PIE), others less so (canned-soup-soggy green bean casserole, perhaps?). And as we as a society chow down on a parade of turkey and casseroles and pies, we can also be sure another type of food will be paraded before us: so-called “detox” foods. You’ve seen them featured on Pinterest and the pages of magazines. Detox smoothies! Detox teas! Detox watermelon-broccoli salad! Having taken several classes on nutrition and biology, the idea of detoxing kind of drives me nuts. “Why, Sarah?” you may ask. “Shouldn’t we cleanse our bodies of unhealthy toxins? Shouldn’t we have squeaky clean colons that flap in the breeze?” Well, yes and no. (Yes to being healthy; no to flapping colons.)
Today I came across an excellent article that explains why the idea of detoxifying our bodies is essentially a myth. In it, Edzard Ernst, professor emeritus of complementary medicine at Exeter University, says there are two definition of “detox”: one, the medically respected term that refers to when people are treated for life-threatening addictions. The second: “the word being highjacked by entrepreneurs, quacks, and charlatans to sell a bogus treatment that allegedly detoxifies your body of toxins you’re supposed to have accumulated.” (Could I love that quote more? No, I could not.) In essence, say Ernst and other experts, our bodies already possess their own detoxification process—also known as your kidneys, liver, and lungs. These organs work constantly to filter and excrete the things we don’t need, can’t use, or are harmful. There is nothing you can do, eat, or drink to make already healthy organs function better. So the idea of a kale smoothie or cucumber water atoning for the epic helping of roast beast you ate is pretty silly. The smoothie might be good choice, containing some great fiber and nutrients, but it won’t wash anything away that your body’s organs aren’t already working their hardest to process—(and it won’t change the fact that you ate 38 gingerbread cookies on Christmas Eve). The best—dare I say only?—way to have a healthy body is to maintain healthy habits like eating well and staying active.
All that being said, I have a smoothie recipe to share with you. I could call it “detox.” I could call it “skinny.” I could call it “clean eating.” But for the sake of honesty, I’m just going to call it a really yummy (and pretty healthy) pumpkin pie-flavored smoothie. Made with wholesome ingredients like pumpkin, banana, and Greek yogurt, it’s a great way to enjoy the flavors of pumpkin pie on the lighter side. It might make a delicious healthy breakfast Thanksgiving morning, when you’re trying to save your calories for later in the day. I’ve even had it as part of a light lunch. It won’t flush your body of mysterious toxins or scrub out your intestines, but it will make for a cold, creamy, cinnamon-y snack or treat in the midst of seasonal excess.
Pumpkin Pie Smoothies
(Adapted from Gimme Some Oven)
1/2 c. canned pumpkin
1/2 c. plain Greek yogurt
1 c. low-fat milk (or almond milk)
2 Tbsp. maple syrup or honey
1 frozen banana
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 c. ice cubes
whipped cream, if desired for topping
Place all ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth. Garnish with whipped cream, if desired.
This is a momentous post: it’s A Love Letter to Food’s first alcoholic beverage! And my first alcoholic beverage–today! (Just kidding.) It’s actually sort of odd that I’ve never featured any cocktails or other alcoholic drinks on the blog, as I’m not opposed to them and enjoy creative combinations of alcohol and mixers. It’s just that, because of my
cheapness discerning palate I tend to stick with my favorite wine: Chardonnay. (As in, whatever Chardonnay is not over 5 bucks at the grocery store.) But fortunately for me, this three-ingredient, couldn’t-be-easier Caramel Apple Sangria can be made with Chardonnay–or really any white wine, depending on your sweetness preference.
There’s a reason I *had* to make this sangria. For Halloween, we’ve invited some of our neighbors to join us on our front porch to pass out candy together. (We’re basically trying to be the most desirable trick-or-treating house on the block. A one-stop candy shop, if you will.) Apparently, before we moved to this neighborhood, the former owners of our home used to do this every year…and from what I hear, lots of wine was involved. When we arrived on the street, I think there was some disappointment that we didn’t continue the tradition! So now, almost five years later, we decided it would be fun (and really, a pretty easy entertaining event) to resurrect it. Invitations have been sent, and neighbors will arrive for drinks, dessert, and candy passing at 6:30.
The dessert menu will include brain cupcakes,
chocolate-orange pinwheel cookies,
and a pumpkin streusel pie. As for the drinks, there will certainly be wine, but I thought I’d jazz up the occasion by adding this sangria….meaning, of course, that I had to test it out before I could serve it to guests. (Right?)
I love the idea that sangria is a cocktail that can be modified to suit any season. It’s seasonal drinking to go along with seasonal eating! It might be an insurmountable challenge to make a sangria with everyone’s favorite fall flavor of pumpkin, but it’s pretty easy to make one with apples. So easy, in fact, that this recipe only calls for three ingredients: apples, white wine, and something I didn’t know existed until last week–caramel apple sparkling cider.
It’s almost like it’s crying out to be put into sangria.
Dump all three things in a pitcher, stir, and you’re good to go. I shared my trial run with my friend across the street, and we both approved. So if you’re spending Halloween night with (grown-up) friends, try something a little different and give this delicious, super-simple cocktail a shot Or, you know, a glass.
Caramel Apple Sangria
(Inspired by A Night Owl Blog)
2 large apples, any variety (one red and one Granny Smith makes for a nice color combo)
1 750-ml bottle white wine
1 bottle Caramel Apple sparkling cider
- Chop apples into 1/2-inch chunks and place in a large pitcher.
- Pour white wine and sparkling cider over apples and stir to mix. Keep refrigerated or serve immediately.
While I love eating healthy, I’m not really into the idea of “superfoods.” There seems to be a trend in the media surrounding food and nutrition these days to hero-ify certain foods to the point where you think they ought to just give these foods some capes and a Saturday morning cartoon. (I’m looking at you, salmon and kale.) “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s flaxseed meal!” Foods are foods, okay? Some are healthier than others, but as long as they’re real and unprocessed, I think everybody’s on a pretty level playing field. However, there are certain positive, even medicinal properties associated with specific foods. Ginger is one of these.
For centuries, people have relied upon ginger as a medicinal herb. Reports of its healing powers date back 5,000 years. The ancient Chinese regarded it as a healing gift from God. That rich history plus numerous clinical studies are enough to convince me that ginger is effective at combating nausea, reducing inflammation and gas, and even inhibiting bacterial growth. (If only donuts had so many benefits, amirite?) So getting an extra dose of it in your diet can only be a good thing.
This sparkling ginger lemonade is a great way to incorporate a little ginger into your day in a unique twist on the usual summertime cooler. You do have to like ginger to enjoy it, because the flavor is definitely robust, but I find it a refreshing lemonade with just a bit of bite! (And you could always go a little easy on the ginger for a subtler taste.) So for nausea, inflammation, or just a light drink on a hot day, it’s just what the ancient Chinese doctor ordered.
Sparkling Ginger Lemonade
(Barely adapted from Taste of Home)
2 c. water
1/2 c. honey
2 Tbsp. minced ginger root
2 c. sparkling water (lemon-flavored is a plus)
1 c. fresh lemon juice
1. In a small saucepan, bring the water, honey, and ginger to a boil. Remove from the heat. Cover and steep for 10 minutes. Strain and discard ginger. Cool.
2. Pour into a pitcher and add sparkling water and lemon juice. Chill completely before serving and enjoy over ice.
Serves about 5.
Surely I’m not the only one who wishes Starbucks delivered. When the kids are in no state to get hauled into the car or I’m in no state to go out in public, I find myself wishing for a coffee and tea delivery service–or at least a personal secretary a la Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada to go get some for me. (Then she could do my laundry, too, and clean my kitchen while she’s at it! Heck, let’s let her babysit my kids and give me a pedicure, too!) You know Starbucks would make a killing, though, if they offered delivery. It could be a whole separate arm of the business. I’m kind of surprised they haven’t done so already.
But… they haven’t.
This being the case, when the afternoon drag strikes, sometimes I really need something to get me through. Thankfully, there are ways around the lack of Starbucks delivery when you really, really want an iced chai tea latte. Enter this recipe. It takes about an hour to chill to the point of being pleasant as an iced drink, but to if you, like me, can foresee that in the next hour you’re A.) Probably going to want an iced caffeinated beverage and B.) Probably have no chance of getting out of your house to get one, you’re in good shape. Other positives include spending approximately 35 cents instead of almost $3, as well as taking in only about 40 calories instead of 180 for a Starbucks tall. This version won’t taste quite as spicy and sweet as the Starbucks version, I’ll admit, but that’s because it contains only 7 grams of sugar, whereas the Starbucks tall contains 31 grams (the equivalent of 7.5 teaspoons). So for a simple substitute to spare you the trip through the drive-thru with crazy hair, no makeup, and/or a carful of screaming kids, it sure does the trick.
Iced Chai Tea Latte
(Inspired by The Life You Live)
2 chai tea bags
3/4 c. water
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 c. ice
1/4 c. milk
1. Steep 2 chai tea bags in 3/4 cup boiling water for 7-8 minutes. Stir in sugar until dissolved.
2. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
3. In a fresh glass, pour tea over ice. Stir in milk and top with whipped cream.