May 5th, 2009

August 30, 2007

Well, if it’s the good stuff or an inspired combination thereof, liquor can be so many things…something special to share, the icing on a spectacular meal, a tasty accompaniment to an afternoon on the beach or an evening on the porch, a conversational lubricant, a truth serum, a sleeping draught…

I’ll be posting some potables here shortly, but right now I’m trying to cut down on my alcohol to see if it really has any impact on my ability to sleep. Right now I’ve locked up the liquor cabinet, so I just don’t feel like helping any of you have any while I can’t.

I might have to open the cabinet up soon, though, because I think I might have locked my cat in there.

Simple Syrups for Sweetening the Days

I held out as long as I could, but when the cat stopped making noise I had to give in and open the cabinet. What if the poor baby had suffocated? Or lost its taste for anything but my heirloom gin?

Then I had to check in on my heirloom gin and make sure that was as much a joke as I meant it to be.

Then dear little Holly and Rebecca who are performing this week at the bookstore down the street popped in and Holly and Rebecca do like a nice cocktail, so I decided it was time to crack into my syrup cupboard and show those city girls how we do things down here by the beach.

Simple syrups are like truffles–decadent though they are, they’re sinfully easy to make, and once you have the hang of it you can blend up whatever crazy combinations take your heart can conceive of. They are lovely mixed with seltzer or tonic for a refreshing pick-me-up, or incorporated into your own alcoholic inventions to create signature cocktails when visiting performance poets from Los Angeles stop by. They can be thickened up to drizzle over desserts, and the same basic method, with a few adjustments, will set you on the road to jams, jellies, preserves, and pates de fruits.  Here’s what I have in my cupboard this week.

Equipment you’ll need for all these variations:

a medium saucepan (I don’t use my copper here because I find it gives the fruit syrups a mineral aftertaste).

wooden spoon

a mandoline or slicer (optional)

clean glass jars or bottles for storage

Spiced Plum Syrup

This syrup pairs beautifully with brandy or rum–especially a nice dark one like Gosling’s. I’m not a big vodka girl but I suspect that’d be a nice option, too–you can’t seem to mess things up with vodka, probably because all it does is add alcohol.

Also, for purposes of the syrup you don’t need the solids, but they are delicious for spooning over ice cream or stirring into yogurt–just take out the cardamom pods before eating. I’ve even used a spoonful in place of jam in a pbj special. Or you can whip up a chocolate cake and use them to make cocoa-plum filling…which might or might not be the secret center of what some people around here call ANNABELLE’S FAMOUS MIDNIGHT TORTE…recipe coming soon to the sweets page…


1 1/2 cup thinly sliced ripe black plums

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup water

4 white cardamom pods

2 large pinches lavender

1 small pinch sea salt (I like fleur de sel for this, but any sea salt will do)

Combine all ingredients in saucepan. Stir to combine, and keep stirring over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for approximately 20 minutes; fruit should be soft and breaking down.

Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a container. Press gently on the solids with the back of a spoon to express as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids; you may want to put it through the sieve twice if you like less pulp. Cool and store for up to one week.

Plum Punch

1 part dark rum

1 part Spiced Plum Syrup

1 part seltzer water

Mix rum and syrup, pour into glass (over ice if desired), top with seltzer and a sprig of mint or slice of lemon for garnish.

Lemon-Herb Syrup

I love a nice gin gimlet. I call it my grown-up girl drink; it puts me in mind of Nora Charles, or one of those moderns they used to photograph up at the Shutter Club mansion back in Grandmom’s day. This syrup is nicely modern, not too sweet, and just different enough from the standard lime syrup to stymie whomever you serve it to.


One cup fresh basil leaves

Zest of one lemon in wide slices (avoid the pith; it adds bitterness)

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup water

6 juniper berries

Juice of one lemon

Combine the first six ingredients in a saucepan and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes, then turn off heat and add lemon juice. Allow mixture to cool on stove, strain solids, and store for up to one week.

Byway Gimlet

You can mix a gimlet according to your tastes, but this is a good start. Sometimes I add seltzer or tonic for a little fizz.

2 oz gin

1/2 oz Lemon-Herb Syrup

2 oz tonic (optional)

1 lime or lemon wedge

Mix. Drink. Refill. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Sugar-Rum-Cherry Syrup

I named this recipe after that great jazzy version of the Sugarplum Fairy number from the Nutcracker because I love that song and because it’s basically the recipe in so many words.


One lb pitted cherries, halved

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 1/4 cup water

Juice of one lime

4 oz light rum

Combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer for twenty minutes; fruit should be softened.

Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a container. Press gently on the solids with the back of a spoon to express as much liquid as possible. Drain liquid and cool.

Discard the solids, or then again you can puree them for cake filling or whatever.

Cherry Kir Royale

This is the easiest little cocktail ever. Serve it in champagne flutes or martini glasses. Just put a tablespoon of Sugar-Rum-Cherry Syrup in the bottom of each glass and top it off with Brut. Give it a stir if you want, and garnish with a cherry on a sword or a twist of lime.

Sometimes I get two bottles so I can make one of these cocktails for a guest.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 5th, 2009 at 11:22 pm and is filed under Recipes, Toddies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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