Archive for May, 2012

Perfect Mojito

We’ve been thinking up uses for our herbs we’re growing… one of which is lime mint. Lime? Mint? Mojito… yes, please. I don’t care that mojitos were “cool” a couple years ago. I’m more interested that they taste amazing… they’re very refreshing… they remind me of that awesome Cuban restaurant on the harbor in Baltimore… and it’s a use for the mint we’re growing.

“Hey did you make me a mojoito for later? You did? Que bueno!”

Since we just planted the herb plants earlier this weekend, we did have to buy a pack of mint from the grocery store today… I didn’t want to rip every leaf off our little mint plant just for a few drinks. Can’t wait for the mint to grow and fill in… mojitos for everyone! Apart from the mint, you’ll also need some lime juice (I cheated and bought the ReaLime bottled lime juice), a bottle of tonic water or San Pelligrino, and some raw sugar.

The first mojito I had was at Little Havana Restaurante y Cantina in Baltimore… sitting out on their patio, right on the edge of the harbor… great food. Great friends. It was awesome. But, they used granulated sugar in the drink, and it didn’t all dissolve, and the drink was a little grainy and gritty. I didn’t like that. So… I got to thinking… why not just use a simple syrup. That way, the sugar is all dissolved and the drink’s texture will be homogeneous.

So, the first thing you’ll need to do is make a simple syrup… I infused mine with some mint leaves.

Mint simple syrup coming to a boil.

Mint Simple Syrup

2 cups raw sugar

2 cups tap water

1 handful mint leaves

Roughly chop the mint leaves and add to the water in a 4 qt pot. Stir in the sugar and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil 2 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature. Strain. Store in the fridge in an airtight container.

Making the mojito

Once you have the simple syrup done, the rest is pretty easy. I like my mojitos in a pint glass… because I like to show off my pint collection, and because it’s more drink… so, take a pint glass, drop in three mint leaves and add a pinch of raw sugar. Muddle this in the bottom of the glass… use a muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon… mash, stir, and smush the leaves into the sugar to get the mint oils and flavor out of the leaves. Don’t muddle the leaves up too much, or you’ll be sucking down bits of mint… not enjoyable to have to fish the little green bits out of your teeth.

Fill the glass with crushed ice. Add one shot glasses of the mint simple syrup, one shot of white rum, and one shot glass of lime juice. Pount into a drink shaker, shake a few times, them pour back into the pint glass.

Top off the glass with tonic water or San Pelligrino, and serve with a lime wedge (forget the mint sprig garnish… save the mint for another drink, not the decoration).

If you’re having a few folks over for a grill out or party or something and you want to mix up a pitcher ahead of time, just mix two cups of the mint simple syrup, two cups of white rum, and one cup of lime juice into a pitcher. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Muddle the mint leaves with sugar in each glass, fill with ice, stir up the pitcher of mix, pour a little less than halfway up the glass, and top off with tonic water or San Pelligrino.

What could be better on a hot ass Missouri day than a refreshingly cool minty drink. Perfection.

My mojito… anyone want one?

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Container Herb Garden

The wife and I moved into a new apartment a couple months ago and we really love it. It’s in a great neighborhood… tree-lined street, lots of young families, close to work. But, the downfall is, this new apartment is in a multi-family building, so the back yard is shared. At our old townhouse, the patio and “yard” behind our unit were ours, so we felt free to do with it as we pleased… so we grew a little container vegetable and flower garden. It worked kind of well… but, the hot, sunny Missouri summer got the best of our containers one week we were out of town and couldn’t tend to the plants… we came back and the dirt was sun baked completely parched and dry and the plants were completely withered. Damn Missouri summers… But, I digress.

Little known fact: this is actually what Missouri looks like in July and August… caravans of camels and all.

I should also mention that we took a “Growing and cooking with Fresh Herbs” class last month… good time… learned a few cool recipes and the instructors gave us some great ideas on how to cook with and use fresh herbs. The lady that runs the place was a horticulturist, so she was chalk-full of info on growing an herb garden. Lots of great tips… and some good “don’t do’s”, as well. So, we were very excited to get out container herb garden together.

We wanted to do the same kind of container garden thing at the new place, but it felt a little different, since it’s a shared back yard. So, before we went ahead and just planted, I talked to our landlord and he told me it would be fine to put up a few pots in the little “garden” patch in the back corner of the yard. He even helped me decide where he the pots could go. Thank goodness for a good landlord.

Now, on to the gardening….

First, check the Farmer’s Almanac to see when the average last frost is for your area. After that date, you’re pretty safe to start planting outdoors. Also, check out the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone map to see which types of plants will thrive in your particular area. You can even search by zip code to get specific to your area. While herbs are pretty hardy and easy to grow, the little bit of info will help with other gardening ideas, as well. I’m in zone 6b, and a quick Google search revealed that anything from pumpkins, to corn, to tomatoes, to cherries, to squashes will do well. Google search your zone, as well… maybe something you’ve had your eye on growing won’t do well… so double check.

2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map
http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/

Next, decide which herbs you want to grow. We simply thought about which herbs we see frequently in the recipes we often use… then decided to try growing some of them. We decided on chives (since we like making dips for parties), oregano, basil, parsley (since we like spices and Italian dishes… btw, flat-leaf parsley is for cooking. Curly leaf parsley is for decoration and garnish), and mint (since the wife likes mint in her tea, including iced tea, and I like mojitos). There’s lots of other herb options, too… thyme, sage, majorim… the list goes on-and-on… but those five varieties should work for us. The Missouri Botanical Garden, in St, Louis, has a fantastic website.. they have a Plant Finder where you can search for the specifics of any plant you might be wanting to grow… from which zone the plant does well is, to how much sun the plant will need, to how much water to use. Awesome.

It’s important to understand that there are quite a few varities of each type of herb… like six different kinds of mint (apple mint, spearmint, peppermint, lime mint), three different kinds of basil, Greek oregano versus regular oregano… and each variety is just a little bit different. The easiest way to decide which type you want is by scent… when you’re out shopping for your herb plants (yes, you’ll want to plant actual plants… heard it a ton of trouble to start herbs from seeds), just rub a leaf between two fingers and smell. How the herb smells is going to be darn near how it’ll taste, so use your nose to find one you like. For example, i like the smell of lime mint over peppermint… it had a citrus-lime note to the smell. So that’ll probably make good mojitos and be good in tea. Do that for the other herbs you want, as well, to narrow in on the variety you like the best.

A cool, refreshing mojito… probably the greatest use for mint in the history of plants.

Unless you have lots of room in one large pot, or you’re growing in a “window” sill long planter, you’ll want to stick with one herb variety per container. We’ve read that some herb plants can get pretty big, and the roots will grow pretty well… so you don’t want one overtaking another in the same pot and you definitely don’t want to overcrowd as all the plants start to fill out and expand. Mint is notorious for being an expander. A guy at work told me, that, over the course of a couple years, the little corner where his wife planted a mint plant had taken over and overwhelmed every plant in the whole flower bed… and now it’s a mint bed. He said it smells nice, but he wishes he would have known how veracious it is.

Next up: the dirt. Herbs like dry(ish), well-draining soil… logically, it makes sense… herbs found such prominence in Italian, Greek, and Middle Eastern dishes because herbs grow plentifully in the soils around the Mediterranean… and those soils are (you guessed it) sandy and well-draining. So, when you’re picking out soil at the big-box home store, look for something with mulch built into the mix… nothing to “heavy” and dense. And, put a nice layer of pea gravel or some other gravel in the bottom of the pot to promote drainage. Standing water in the pot will root rot the herbs… that’s one thing that will absolutely kill your herbs. And speaking of water… herbs don’t need to be heavily-watered like other vegetables and plants. So, unless you live in a particularly hot location, or have your herbs exposed to direct sunlight all day, you can probably get away with just one watering per day.

And speaking of sun… you want the herbs to get about six hours of sunlight per day. Granted, some herbs do well in the shade (woodruff, lemonbalm, some mint varieties)… but, most herbs are sun lovers. Again, that’s just a rule of thumb… Google the specific type of herb you want to grow if you have any questions about sun exposure.

And that’s pretty much it… I mean, just plant the plants… water daily… and let ’em grow. Harvest what you need as you go. Just be careful, because once the herb starts to flower, the plant will dedicate it’s energy to the flower and not to all the aromas and taste of the plant. So, in other words: flowering herbs are bad tasting herbs. Just use your fingers to pop the flower (or flower bud) off from the stem… or use a pair of shears.

Chive flower… yes, they’re beautiful… but, the flowering also means the chive has darn near passed the peak of culinary usefulness.

More to come on how we use our herbs… we’ve got a few ideas, but we’ll be exploring some recipes and uses as we go along. We’ll be sure to keep everyone abreast (giggity) as we discover the uses for the herbs from our container garden.

Our container herb garden… put some herbs in some dirt in a pot and before you know it, you’ll have basil coming outta your ears, amirite?!!

 

Further reading:

Missouri Botanical Garden Kemper Center… lots of great reading on soil fertility, composting, etc

“Growing Vegetables, Herbs and Annual Flowers in Containers”, Cornell University (PDF)

“Growing Herbs in Containers”, University of Illinois

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Workplace Pranks

I love my job, I really do. It’s enjoyable, I work with great people, and I take satisfaction and see importance in the work I do everyday. And… the folks in our office understand that just because we work hard, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun… and fun at other’s expense. So… I’m not going to give away all of my secrets, but here’s a few of my favorite ways to “lighten the mood” at work…

1. Messing with the phones…

  • This one is my absolute favorite.. simple and elegant. Use a piece of clear Scotch tape to tape down the switch under the phone handset/receiver on the victim’s phone, so it stays down even when the receiver is picked up. Now, wait for them to return to their desk and call their phone… works best is you can organize an non-recognizable caller if your work phones have caller ID… when they pick up their phone to answer it, the phone will keep ringing. They’ll usually start screaming “HELLO!” into the phone as their brain tries to figure out why the phone is still ringing despite their most valiant efforts to answer the call. Works best on the “older” folks at work… hilarity will ensue.
  • Read this one online… if someone at work has a generic cell phone ringtone, match your ringtone to theirs, turn their phone’s volume down, and call your own cell phone so they think it’s their phone ringing. Nothing elaborate, but would be funny to see them reach for their phone when it’s not actually ringing.

2. Messing with the cubicle…

  • If your office isn’t overly-worried about accounting for supplies, then this one may be for you… covering their entire office (or as such area as you feel comfortable) with Post-It notes…
  • Everyday, you can loosen the screws on their chair just a little bit, until one day the chair will fall apart when they sit down. Best to do it to one of the younger folks so no one injures themselves…
  • If you work in the traditional “square cubicle” space, you’ve probably come to the realization that you work in an oversized box… so take advantage of that and fill your victim’s cube with something…

Balloons…

Packing peanuts…

Paper trash… probably best to use non-“stinky” trash… balled up paper, or paper scraps out of the shredder.

  • Cover their cube with something…

Newspaper…

Aluminum foil…

Any and every potted plant you can find…

  • Gift wrap their cube…

Merry Christmas! Wrapping paper is sold at the Dollar Tree… probably costs $15 to do this… worth every penny.

  • This is the ultimate… but you’d probably have to have handy DIY skills, or know someone in the maintenance department… dry wall over their door so it looks like their office has disappeared.

3. Messing with their computers…

  • Every computer at my work uses a laser mouse… again, this is one of my favorites because of it’s simplicity and elegance. Use a piece of clear Scotch tape to tape over the laser on the bottom of the mouse. Even though it appears normal, it won’t work when the victim tries using it. I did this to someone in a training class and it literally took them 20 minutes to figure out what was wrong… they restarted their machine… twice… crawled under their desk and unplugged their mouse from the tower… twice… started cursing at their machine… the instructor had to stop class because they were making such a commotion. It was awesome. It’ll work if you take out the track ball, too.
  • You can do silly things like messing with the contrast and stuff… but that just seems like too much hassle for limited entertainment. I would recommend things like switching monitor cords with the cube next to their’s… so they’re operating each other’s computer… especially useful if two targets are sitting next to each other.

4. Cubicle Warfare

  • One word: Nerf. I just got a new Nerf gun at Target… seems like all the younger folks in our office are strapped up with a Nerf gun of some kind. Or… be the first one to rain down a hail storm of suction darts on your unsuspecting coworkers, you innovator.

NERF… resurrecting childhood warfare in your cubicle

USB-controlled missile launcher.

  • Our work has a health fair every year… and all the insurance providers, doctor’s offices, dentists, etc, all come out to hand out their tchotchke junk… pens, hats, writing pads… but one of the things more and more people are handing out are foam stress balls. And they make for perfect aerial bombardment artillery… and they’re free. Just be careful you don’t knock over someone’s coffee cup if you miss.

What we say: “Hey, thanks for the stress ball. I’ll never forget your company!” What we mean: “Thanks for the ammunition, stupid. Can’t wait to throw this at someone.”

5. Protect Yourself…

  • You’re your own worst enemy… keep your head on a swivel. If you’re pulling off rad pranks on coworkers, chances are your coworkers are going to start gunning for you. But that’s ok. Be a good sport about it… if you give it, be prepared to take it. Laugh it off and take solace in the fact that you’ve created a fun environment.

You’re next… fortify your position.

As always, use your head. Don’t do something that’ll physically hurt someone. That’s not what this is about… it’s about fun and entertainment… not masochism. And, every place has that guy that’s ready to snap… he/she might not be the best target. Don’t drive someone to jump off a bridge on their way home or something… again, this is about fun, not emotional torture. Don’t break any workplace rules, either… and, as always… use your best judgement when carrying out a prank. Know your office culture and don’t do something that’ll get you fired. If your office has a tight office supply budget, wasting a thousand Post-It notes to cover someone’s cube might not be the best idea. Enjoy.

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