Lemon Verbena Liqueur

A bottle of Lemon Verbena Liqueur
Rescue me from the daily corporate grind and my creativity soon begins to flutter back to life. I’m no longer relegated to staring out the garden window, exhausted, from my end-of-the-workday couch repose and sighing, “Someday, I should do something with all that lemon verbena growing out there.” I can steep a batch of lemon verbena simple syrup to sweeten fresh-squeezed lemonade and drizzle over sliced nectarines. I can try my hand at concocting this lemon verbena liqueur. I have time to dream up experiments – delicious, delicious experiments.

While delightful on its own, the high alcohol and sugar content ensures this liqueur is best enjoyed in sipping-size portions after dinner. However, I’m convinced it would make a lovely aperitif when combined with bubbly champagne.


Lemon Verbena Liqueur

4 long weeks of steeping results in an amber liqueur redolent with the unmistakable citrusy-herbal flavor of lemon verbena.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup lemon verbena leaves, washed and well packed (divided)
  • 2 cups vodka
  • 1 cup sugar

Directions

  1. In a large lidded glass container, pour vodka over ½ cup packed lemon verbena leaves. Shake well to bruise the leaves and place on the counter for two weeks.
  2. After two weeks, add sugar and remaining ½ cup packed lemon verbena leaves. Shake well to bruise leaves and ensure sugar has dissolved. Place on the counter for two more weeks.
  3. After a total of 4 weeks, strain leaves and pour liqueur into a glass bottle. Best served cold, I store mine in the freezer.

Rich Chocolate Pudding for Two

Chocloate pudding for two
Our conversations are worn-out and lackluster, like long-forgotten playthings from a dusty toy box pushed far in the corner. We’ve outgrown them and I’m weary of picking them up yet again. Always the same questions, always the same answers. I can mark off the standard topics in my head. Must we revisit that brief liaison from 10 years ago once more? Autopsied and buried a long time ago, why must we still chatter about these dead things? We can blame it on inertia. Last night, I was re-reading Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones. In it, she discusses hosting story-telling circles in Taos. During the circles, she would ask a question, such as, “Tell us a story you love to tell,” and then each friend in attendance would recount their colorful, detailed story to the delight of the other participants. Can we try something similar to break through this repetition of a played-out history? The next time we meet for dessert, let’s pretend we’re new acquaintances and begin with those questions asked by newfound friends over our dishes of chocolate pudding. If we ask fresh questions, I think we’d be amazed by the answers.


Rich Chocolate Pudding for Two

A simple chocolate pudding recipe in the perfect quantity for an evening tête–à–tête.

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 oz. dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa), broken into small pieces
  • Sweetened whipped cream and Flaky sea salt for garnish

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in milk.
  2. Bring mixture to boil and then continue whisking for 1 minute until thickened. Remove from heat. Add butter, vanilla and chocolate and whisk until smooth.
  3. If you want to eat immediately, cool pudding in an ice bath until room temperature. If you have patience, pour pudding into a bowl, cover surface with buttered plastic wrap (to avoid a skin on the pudding), and refrigerate until cold, about an hour. Garnish with whipped cream and sprinkle with salt.

Summer Lentil Salad

A spoonful of Summer Lentil Salad
Lentils, with a shape somewhat resembling coins, are symbols of riches and prosperity in Italy. After eight long years, we have finally sold my childhood home this week. What better way to celebrate this little boon than with these symbols of financial good fortune?

Rather than the golden-egg-laying goose the house was expected to be, it morphed into an albatross that created unanticipated familial stress over the last eight years. My oldest sibling wanted to sell immediately, during the real estate collapse, while another mentioned keeping it for 45 years. I managed, surprisingly, to remain neutral over most of the years (caught up in my own personal turmoil, I suppose) until last year – then my exasperation bubbled up, boiled over. Get me out of here – I want to take my share and run! Trouble with the tenants, damage to the property, lawsuits and disagreements between us brought me to the verge of walking away. This house and all its complications was my last fetter to my siblings. Now, no longer financially shackled, I can, should I chose to, slip away never to be found again. Not that I want to, but there’s something liberating in realizing that I could.

Tonight, before I celebrate with my lentil salad, I say thank you to my mom and dad for making this financial provision. I am grateful for this good fortune and I hope to use my portion in a manner that will make them proud.


Lentil Salad

This salad is best served at room temperature.

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 clove garlic, finely grated
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • ⅓ cup red pepper, chopped
  • 1 large or two small carrots, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • ⅓ cup onion, chopped
  • ¼ head cabbage, shredded (about 3 cups)
  • ½ cup Feta cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, thyme, garlic, sugar and Dijon. Add olive oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Set dressing aside.
  2. Cook lentils according to package directions.
  3. While lentils are cooking, in a medium size skillet over high heat, sauté corn, red pepper, carrot and onion until softened and onions are translucent. Do not brown.
  4. Place cabbage in a large bowl.  Drain lentils.  Cover cabbage with warm lentils and sautéed vegetables to help soften cabbage. While salad is still warm, fold in dressing and feta cheese. Cover salad and let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature to allow flavors to meld. Before serving, season with salt and pepper.

Coconut Rice Pudding

rice pudding in a white bowl with mango and toasted coconut
Let’s admit it – leftovers aren’t sexy. On Friday, I shared a recipe of accumulated leftovers from my freezer, fridge and pantry – frozen shrimp with a few too many ice crystals, a can of coconut milk that’s been hiding in a overlooked cupboard, and a soon-to-expire tube of lemongrass paste. Entirely unesxy ingredients, but the resulting recipe was a quick Thai-inspired coconut lemongrass shrimp dish worthy of company.

Ironically, that recipe left me with MORE leftovers (some coconut milk and jasmine rice) that I crafted into this warm soul-satisfying rice pudding for dessert. Well…maybe a little sexy.


Coconut Rice Pudding

  • Servings: 2-4 servings
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A simple recipe for rice pudding and a great way to use up leftover coconut milk.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup coconut milk (if you don’t have an entire cup, top off with whole milk)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • Toasted coconut for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, cook milk, sugar, vanilla, salt, and nutmeg on medium low, stirring occasionally for about 4 minutes until sugar has disolved.
  2. Add rice, reduce heat to low, and cook for 15-20 minutes until all liquid is absorb, stirring occasionally to ensure rice doesn’t burn or stick to bottom of saucepan. Serve warm, garnished with toasted coconut (optional).  This pudding can also be served cold, if you have the patience to wait that long.

Coconut Lemongrass Shrimp

Thai Shrimp with jasmine rice on a green plate
Taking a gap year, after 15 years of working, is not all TV binge-watching, fun adventures and contemplating your next big life move. More time spent at home – especially during the daylight hours – means you quickly begin to notice the many signs of deferred maintenance and upkeep – from broken light switch covers to dusty baseboards. In particular, I began to notice a refrigerator that was in need of a top to bottom purge and scrub down. This recipe was the result of my need to clean up a long-neglected condiment shelf and a half-used tube of lemongrass paste near its expiration date. I prefer fresh lemongrass, but the paste works in a pinch and lasts much longer.


Coconut Lemongrass Shrimp

I created this recipe to use up some soon-to-expire lemongrass paste, but the flavorful dish is so easy to make, that it’s sure to make a reappearance on my dinner table.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. shrimp (peeled and deveined)
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 Tablespoon lemongrass paste
  • 2 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 ½ teaspoon sambal olek (or sriracha)
  • Zest and juice of ½ lime or lemon
  • Pinch a salt
  • Cooked jasmine rice

Directions

  1. Sauté shrimp in a large skillet with a bit of oil until beginning to turn pink, but not fully cooked. Remove shrimp from pan and set aside.
  2. Add coconut milk and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add lemongrass paste, garlic, sambal olek, lime (or lemon) zest and juice, and salt to pan. Stir all ingredients to combine and cook 2-3 minutes until mixture has reduced enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  3. Return shrimp and any accumulated juices to pan and finish cooking until shrimp is pink and opaque. Serve shrimp and sauce with hot, cooked jasmine rice.