Somewhere in my DNA I carry the gene for being a gardener in much the same way as I carry one for dark hair and one for green eyes. My grandparents (on both sides) were gardeners, my dad was a gardener, and so is my middle son so I know this is a hereditary thing. There’s something incredibly satisfying about watching things grow, about taking care of them with your own 2 hands, and about knowing that they’re counting on you. As a bonus, plants live an authentic life; you can rely on them to be completely honest, and totally transparent, unlike many people in the world. For many years, I had a garden every summer. Sometimes the weather cooperated and we’d have a fabulous harvest, and other times it didn’t. Some years we were plagued by every possible insect, including the absolute eating machine known as the tomato hornworm, and others years we were relatively pest free. Two summers ago a groundhog moved in under our shed and proceeded to help himself to everything in sight. With the help of our neighbors we relocated him to the woods nearby in the hopes that he might meet a nice lady groundhog and settle down. He didn’t have much of a social life in my backyard and I worried that permanent bachelorhood was his only future. The point is that I took my gardening responsibilities seriously. Last summer was a bit of a different story for me. Sidetracked by back-to-back vacations and a personal crisis in July, I let those tender young growing things down. I didn’t take care of them the way I always had, and before long there was no garden. I still feel terribly about it and I’m unsure as to whether I’ll try again this summer. Maybe my garden will never forgive me.
This got me to thinking that gardening is really one of those metaphors for life. You put the seeds in the ground, or the tiny young plants, you water them and nourish them, keep them free of the things that will harm them, and you’re rewarded with abundance. That’s true of life too, right? We need to nurture the good in our lives and take care of ourselves and the people that mean the most. We need to set boundaries and try not to let things in that we know will put us or our hearts in danger. There will be times when this is harder to do than others, but we need to stay the course and see it through, even if we make a mistake. Above all else, we need to live honestly and authentically, with ourselves and the people closest to us.
I recently received a request from Gran Centenario asking if I would be willing to create a cocktail recipe that would feature their tequila blanco. I was very excited about the opportunity, and my wheels began spinning. It snowed this past weekend here in New Jersey, and I stood for a while at my back kitchen window looking at my garden and thinking about the ingredients that I wanted to use in my drink. I was eager to put it all together and waited patiently for the bottle to arrive in the mail, which it did on Wednesday. I found the taste of the Gran Centenario to be quite lovely. There was the unmistakeable funkiness that can only come from agave, more than a hint of something vegetal, a refreshing amount of lime, and some generous peppery notes. I was ready to start taste-testing the drink. The tequila was obviously my base spirit, to which I added Ancho Reyes chile liqueur because the two have such a natural affinity for one another. I then added lime juice for the sour component of the drink and a roasted red pepper simple syrup for the sweet, both of which echoed the flavors already present in the tequila. DRAM Apothecary’s Palo Santo (Holy Wood) bitters with their flavors of vanilla, savory spices, and woodsmoke tied everything together. I garnished it with lime and a grape tomato, and a sprinkling of Aleppo red pepper flakes, which are mild and smoky, and which also take us back to the tequila itself. After adjusting the ingredients this way and that, I arrived at what I was looking for: a cocktail made in my kitchen in January, that made me think of my garden in August. I called it Dreams of Summer.
It was 63 degrees yesterday, quite the change from this past weekend’s snowstorm. I felt my DNA tug at me. Maybe my garden will forgive me, after all. Maybe I’ll get a second chance.
Dreams of Summer
2 oz Centenario tequila blanco
¾ Ancho Reyes chile liqueur
½ fresh lime juice
½ roasted red pepper simple syrup*
1 dash DRAM Apothecary Palo Santo bitters
Grape tomato and lime strip
Aleppo pepper (or your choice of red pepper flakes)
Place all the ingredients except the garnishes in the bottom half of a shaker tin and add your ice. Shake vigorously for 20-30 seconds or until very cold. Double strain into a chilled Nick & Nora glass and garnish with the grape tomato and the lime strip. Sprinkle with the Aleppo pepper. Enjoy!
*Dissolve ½ cup sugar in ½ cup boiling water until it becomes clear. Add a roasted pepper and seal in a Mason jar. Allow to steep until it’s cool and then remove the pepper. The syrup will keep for 2-3 weeks in the fridge. To make more just adjust the ingredients.
Have a wonderful weekend! See you all on Monday!!