Brainstorming recipes that might belong in our TIME ZONES ISSUE this month was no easy task. Sure, we thought of offering ideas for chic little lunches you can bring on international flights, or the best road trip offerings across bandwidths of the U.S., but nothing truly grabbed our imagination or quickened our heartbeats.
So in true Olympia Monthly form, after spending ages thinking of all the obvious things, we came up with something not quite on-topic, but not exactly off it, either. And so we present you here with a handful of recipes that require little more than assembly plus a quotient of time - be it minutes, hours, or days. No, we're not suggesting you use a crock pot! (We are anti-crock pot). Rather: we present you with our choice of homemade infusions for all the very best things we could think of: vanilla, lavender, herbes de Provence, and cardamom.
There is something casual and glamorous to the idea of homemade infusions, despite the old-time-y housewife-y aspect of it. It also has the air of being very well-organized, which is always a plus. To me, making your own vanilla extract is a little like picturing Martha Stewart summering at Cap d'Antibes: in this lovely picture in my mind, there's a very well-packed beach tote, which holds a bottle of non-expired high SPF sunscreen and a single fluttering linen beach towel; a nod to tasteful, vintage fashion in Grace Kelly-ish sunglasses and a wide hat; and, let's be honest, she's had one Pernod and might go nuts with another, feeling the flush of that anise + water alchemy in her limbs and the mediterranean sunlight on her face.*
Recently, Barbara and I had a totally pleasurable afternoon in the home of design and lifestyle guru Rita Konig and writer and chef Preah Narang. In between admiring the world's most enviably beautiful baby's room and talking about the virtues of sesame seeds (they're very high in calcium), we were served both endless treats on pretty trays and excellent pro-tips for home and hearth. Though the majority of those tips are now safely guarded secrets at Olympia, we thought to share just one, which was bestowed by Preah as an extremely obvious thing to do with a surplus of cardamom pods, but which blew our minds instantaneously with its genius. If that afternoon chez Rita taught us one thing, it is that we are but students in the world of glamorous homes, my friends.
So, this post is inspired by the cozy, casual glamour we witnessed effortlessly dispensed by Preah and Rita, our dream of summering with Martha in France, and that very particular nesting/home-making urge we feel every once in a while on the approach to lazy Spring weekends.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
TIME NEEDED: one month
If you live in Germany, as some of us do, and you possess the urge to bake delicious things with recipes not originating from German cookbooks, as a certain sub-section of the populace does, you have surely realized with some horror, after staring at the baking aisle in your local Kaiser's/Rewe/Netto/LPG/Edeka for several long, headache-inducing minutes, that VANILLA EXTRACT ISN'T SOLD IN DEUTSCHLAND. It's just not.
Rather than harassing your friends to bring you a little vial of the stuff across foreign borders, or settling for that mysterious packet of "Bourbon Zucker" in your German supermarket, or promising your weird American neighbor your first-born in exchange for what Ina Garten so infuriatingly calls "really good vanilla extract" in such a casual tone of voice, as if everyone has a born right to it, or at least access to a Williams-Sonoma... just make your own ersatz vanilla extract at home. It's easier than all of the above (supermarket shopping, being furious, hating Ina who you really do love, writing checks that your booty can't cash, etc.) and anyway, see above re. Martha.
- Buy vanilla beans and vodka or white rum. Each vanilla bean = 2-3 ounces of vodka/rum.
- Using a sharp knife, split the beans down the middle, and place the split beans in the bottom of a clean, sealable jar or bottle.
- Fill the bottle with the alcohol.
- Put the bottle in a dark place for about a month, or longer.
- Every so often, look in the cupboard and eye your future vanilla extract greedily, shaking up the bottle whenever you remember, all the while whispering my precioussssssssss.
TIME NEEDED: 10 minutes, plus a month
Late one night in a pregnancy-induced olfactory fit I begged a generous jar of cardamom pods off my ever-kind and ever-generous friend Sheela, who you'll remember from Traveling Light (and find this summer in Vogue). She had brought home a surfeit of the stuff from an extended trip to India, which included a visit to a spice farm. And apparently I'm just that kind of rude friend. But I can't help it, there's just no better scent in the world. Something about cardamom's rich comfort made me crazy. And crazy for these pods I remain.
By the time we reached Rita's marvelous pad and witnessed Preah's amazingly quick and fluent dips into her colorful spice tray, I had been freaking about what to do with my treasured stash for weeks, at the minimum. Having opened the lid just to inhale the gorgeous scent an almost unsanitary number of times, I was delighted by Preah's simple suggestion - that I just made cardamom sugar from the pods, extending them basically forever into the future. And making them a bit easier to share, in coffee, atop buttered toast, really wherever a bit of complicated sweetness is desired.
For one cup of cardamom sugar, stab a mortar-full of cardamom pods (actually between 24 and 30 of them) several times with your pestle; or just roughly chop the same number of pods. Drop these morsels into a very clean jar, and pour one cup of superfine or castor sugar on top. Screw the lid on tight and shake hard before putting the mixture in the cupboard. Shake some more when you need an excuse for a whiff, maybe every other day. After a month the sugar should have take on the delicate cardamom flavor, and at this point you should strain the combination through a very fine colander or cheesecloth or sieve, whatever you have on hand. Be sure to save the pods, as you can reuse them in the same capacity at least a couple more times.
Honestly, if you're less selfish than I am, I think this would make a very sweet gift...
Lavender Gin + Vermouth de Provence: for a Provençal Cocktail
TIME NEEDED: 2-3 hours
This recipe is from the ridiculously good cocktail book Speakeasy, from the Employees Only bar in New York. I (and every member of my entire, hangover-prone family) can attest that, regretfully, every single drink is a knockout with perfect proportions. Below are the suggested homemade infusions you need to make their Provençal Cocktail - it's not only on-topic for our Spring fantasies of frolicking in France, but it's also meant to go with raw oysters, so there's no single reason not to make it this weekend.
For the lavender-infused gin, you'll need: 2 teaspoons dried lavender and a bottle of gin. Any gin will do (Employees Only suggests Plymouth gin) but Gordon's is cheaper and has a clean taste that makes a good base.
- Heat the lavender in a dry saucepan until fragrant.
- Add half the amount of gin you have; let it just come to a boil then remove it immediately from the heat (don't evaporate all the alcohol!).
- Let it cool and steep and grow lavender-y. Presto-chango.
- Add the remaining gin, strain it all through cheesecloth into the bottle and store at room temperature away from light, indefinitely! Or until you drink it all.
The herbes de Provence-infused Vermouth is done in exactly the same way, except with 2 tablespoons herbes de Provence.
The Provençal is Employees Only's most romantic original aperitif and a seductive start to an intimate dinner. Mouthwatering, sexy, and savory, it was created as a pairing for raw oysters to heighten the sensual experience. [...] We used lavender-infused Plymouth gin and French dry vermouth scented with herbes de Provence and blend them with Cointreau to give the Provençal its unique appearance and flavor.
2 ounces Lavender-Infused Gin
1 1/4 ounces Vermouth de Provence
3/4 ounce Cointreau
1 orange twist, for garnish
Pour the gin, vermouth, and Cointreau into a mixing glass. Add large cold ice cubes and stir for 40 revolutions. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the orange twist.
xo, Lydia & Barbara
* this is not the first instance of Martha Stewart-related fan fiction around here.