It's that time again: it is January; it's my sister's birthday; and it is citrus season. Oh, and we're having a cocktail party.
I am going to ignore the fact that I slept through the month of December, and I am going to walk boldly into this new year. We can talk about December later. Right now, we need to focus. Mara's party is on Friday night, and I have things to do.
Unlike the last time I half-threw Mara a party, this time I will not be making appetizers and dinner and dessert. There will be no failed attempts at Beef Wellington or chocolate cake or figgy toasts with port wine syrup. This time will be different: it is just cocktails and nibbles; I am not making it all; and everything I am making is best made in advance to meld and mellow.
There will be sausage-stuffed mushrooms, stove-top spinach-artichoke dip, my father's riblets, a big batch of hummus, bacon-wrapped dates, a few odds and ends to fill out the table, my mother's coconut cake, and the cocktails.
There will be some classics such as the dry martinis and the whiskey sour, but there will also be some new faces. I will make a couple concoctions of my own, and we will pay a tribute to our home town with Brad Thomas Parsons' "Woodland Sunset". His book, by the way, is all it's cracked up to be. Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All is now a happy part of my life. I am just a month away from homemade lime bitters. Woo-hoo!
This excitement, though, is rather new. Until about four hours ago I was not excited about the party at all. I have a history of not doing them well. I am too stressed, too sweaty, and too sidetracked to either have a good time and let go or be determined enough to make the silly shebang worthy of all the energy. I tend to take that middle road that is neither productive nor pretty--the middle road called Anxious Wreck.
Maybe it was the reflection on the new year, or maybe it was the kind phone conversation with said sister where she gave me the option of totally backing out, but I'm feeling pretty normal about the whole thing now. Still, I have to admit, aside from the opportunity to celebrate my sister's birthday, meet some of her friends, and try out some new recipes and bitters, I am mostly just excited because I get to make the syrups.
On my stove this very moment is a pot of Parson's lime syrup cooling. It was specifically made for the Woodland Sunsets, but I think it might make its way into a margarita or two. There is some lemongrass syrup cooling beside it as well. And in a jar on the counter, yet unlabeled, is the prized syrup of them all: yuzu.
Yuzu is my 2013 winter addiction. It is a key ingredient in the Japanese ponzu sauce, but I've only read about it. It is silly for me to mention it at all in fact, but the sauce is what everyone mentions when they talk about yuzu. So there you go.
What I find more relevant and interesting is that yuzu is the frumpy, lumpy cousin of the sexy meyer lemon. It is even less shapely than the bergamot orange, and it is certainly less dramatic than its closer relative the Buddha's hand. What the citrus lacks in looks, however, it more than makes up for in its fragrance. Good grief, I thought quince smelled good. The yuzu smells and tastes like the love child (however homely) of a Eureka lemon and an oro blanco grapefruit. In a syrup it develops hints of pineapple and strawberry, but it has that perfumed breathability that comes with musky fruits like ground cherries, mullberries, and heirloom melons. It is bitter and sour, floral and the smell is intoxicating in the same weird-gorgeous-elusive way as the citron, quince, and guava. In Japan, the scent is so loved that it is used in perfumes and cosmetics as well as food.
Unfortunately, yuzus have hardly a teaspoon of juice, are (as I have said) entirely unattractive to the elitist eye, and are a little hard to find in the States. Apparently they are difficult to get to flower and fruit, but if one can wanuzzle your way into the tree's heart, they are actually one of the more cold hardy citruses. So even if you don't live in the agricultural belt of California, keep them in mind the next time you want to add a tree to your gardenspace or balcony.
I do not have a tree, but lucky me, my olive oil people over at Yolo Press do, and they brought some to the market on Saturday. I missed their crop last year, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to catch it by the skin of my teeth this time. I was tempted to grab a huge bag full for marmalade, but since I am taking a canning break until spring due to cupboard overpopulation I only got a few.
I wanted to make syrup, obviously. I have had Robert Lambart's bottled yuzu syrup, and it is incredible. That was my first introduction. He mixes yuzu zest with grapefruit and Meyer lemon juices. It is a fabulous combination where the juices echo the yuzu backbone. I might have tried to emulate this, but I wanted to use only yuzu. And thus my Yuzu Syrup was born. Its base is the same as any other simple syrup, but I'd like to think the couple teaspoons of yuzu juice and the extra lovin' care nudge it up a notch.
Of course I plan on making cocktails with the syrup on Friday, but I tried a little today too with a little extra yuzu juice and some soda water. Voila! Sparkling yuzu-ade. Doesn't quite have the same ring and roll as lemonade, but as usual the taste made up for it. I am sure the syrup will also be good in a vinaigrette or marinade, with yogurt and/or (!) strawberries or tea, and maybe even to moisten that less-than-interesting-slightly-too-dry cake you baked yesterday. Do let me know if you try it and how you use it. I'll be making another batch tomorrow, so I'll have a little extra.
Here's to a Happy New Year folks, and to much good that comes with boldness.
Yuzu SyrupAs I say above, the syrup is fabulous in cocktails, soda, tea, marinade, lemon-based vinaigrette, over yogurt, ice cream, and/or fruit, and to moisten cakes.
zest and juice of two yuzus
1 cup sugar
Wash your ugly yuzus; they have huge pores, so make sure there is no renegade dirt hiding.
Measure out your sugar into a wee pot. Then, holding the fruit over the pot, zest a yuzu with a vegetable peeler into the pot. I've found these suckers to be incredibly oily and squishy and therefore slightly unmanageable. Holding over the pot reduces waste and anxiety. Repeat with second yuzu.
When ready to juice, secure a sieve over a bowl or measuring cup and juice the yuzus. Let drain a bit, every drop counts, and measure the juice if you have used a bowl. Add water to the measure to make one cup and pour the contents into the pot. Bring to just a boil, cover, let steep and cool.
Strain out the zest and use for flavoring elsewhere. The syrup, I hear, stores for up to a month in the refrigerator, but I think that is far too conservative. I doubt it would last that long anyhow. I am going to put a little in the freezer and see how it tastes in about six months with the strawberries. Anyway you have it, enjoy!