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Archive for June, 2010

Turning Sunshine into Moonshine

Disclaimer: Last week, I asserted in this post that some of my ancestors were moonshiners, only because that was what I was told. Let me preface this post by writing that I have never seen any of my ancestors or more recent relatives making moonshine; consuming moonshine either before, during or after production; contributing any component to the making of moonshine; constructing a still; owning or harboring a still on any property; socializing or visiting a location where a still may be present; or having anything to do with devil water and stills whatsoever. Never mind that they hail from an area where walking through the woods and hollers to this day would probably conjure up more stills than human beings. I’m sure that they all refrained.

Whew.

Having made that disclaimer, I will admit that I like to make moonshine of a sort, though my husband and I do it right in our very own kitchen, sans the still and secretiveness. Our backyard may be overgrown enough at times to hide a still back there, but we’ve found that the stove, a freezer, some basic ingredients and time can make some tasty hooch. Specifically, we like to make arancello and blackberry liqueur. Both of them are exquisite summertime sippers and toppers for ice cream.

For those of you who’ve never tried it, arancello is Italian in origin, an orange flavored sweet liqueur. While limoncello, the lemon flavored version, is very common in the United States, I rarely see arancello anywhere. In my own experiences with dining in Italy, arancello is what they often serve at the very end of the meal to cleanse the palate. Once we were introduced to it and couldn’t find it anywhere, we decided to try to make our own at home. Luckily, the sunshine smiles on our back yard orange tree enough to give us an ample supply of oranges for our tiny distillery.

Making arancello starts with the following tools: a large sealable glass container and a micro plane grater. You will also need a fine mesh strainer and some glass bottles further in the process. While many recipes call for vodka, we’ve found that Everclear makes a tastier, more rounded liqueur given time.

Arancello Ingredients

Zest of 20 oranges
500 milliters (2 cups) Everclear
1 cup water
2 cups sugar

Zest the 20 oranges with the micro plane grater. Place Everclear in the large sealable glass container and add orange zest. Store in refrigerator for 2 – 4 weeks, shaking periodically to distribute the flavor. Once the mixture appears ready (and this takes some experimentation), remove and strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove impurities.

To make simple syrup, dissolve 2 cups sugar in 1 cup water on the stove, stirring constantly until the sugar is fully incorporated. Remove from heat and let cool.

Mix together 2 cups simple syrup in 1 cup of the alcohol mixture. Place in glass bottles and chill in freezer for at least 2 months before tasting. Initially, the combination tastes like cough syrup, but given time, it becomes very sweet. The longer it is left in the freezer, the sweeter it gets. In fact, the batch we made two Christmases ago is at its peak right now.

Sip as a refreshing after dinner drink or pour over ice cream for a kick.

One final note: This process is more a technique than a recipe. You may prefer different proportions. Enjoy your time experimenting and tasting!

Tomorrow, I will post the variation of this recipe to make blackberry liqueur. Because blackberries are in season in much of the US right now, it’s the perfect time to try it.

Dump the Crappy Things an Ex-Friend Gives You

And, I go straight from saying “good morning” to everyone I see in rabid self-improvement mode to purging an object that causes a bad memory for me every time I open my purse. When a former friend does nothing but suck the life out of you and talk about herself non-stop in every encounter and e-mail, though, there’s nothing wrong with getting rid of that cilantro and anything that reminds you of it, I say.

Several years ago, a former friend gave me the wallet on the left, the green one. It was almost identical to hers, but a different color. Dutifully, I loaded it up and put it in my purse. While it wasn’t what I would’ve chosen for myself, it was a decent wallet and a thoughtful gift.

The very next time I saw her, she ripped my purse out of my hands and proceeded to plunder through it to see whether or not I was using said wallet. Maybe I am thick, but I suppose I should’ve known what a dubious “friend” she was right then and there. Who actually does that anyway, especially when they’re an adult? What did she think I would do, re-gift it?

I used that wallet for close to five years, cursing every time things fell out of it because of its poor design, detesting how fat it was even though I actually put very little in it, and deploring its total lack of functionality in general. However, I kept using it in fear of her raping my purse again the very next time we were together.

Well, no more. She unfriended herself months ago, and her wallet was a sickly cilantriffic reminder of her every time I opened my pocketbook.

I am the proud new owner of the lovely black zipper Comme des Garcons wallet on the right. Just the right number of pockets and slots, plus a cool change purse and Tiffany blue leather on the inside. Take that, you crummy former friend and your even crappier wallet! (Somehow, I hope getting rid of things that cause bad feelings is a form of self-improvement, too.)

The English Are So Bloody Nice

Why are the English so bloody, freaking nice? The thing, I think, that I will miss most about being immersed in England is the sing-song “thank you!” they attribute to almost every single minor event; the blissful “good mornings!” I received from my hosts, all of them; and the genuine kisses of “hello” and “goodbye.”

If I started going around kissing everyone, people would probably think me affected, but I wondered whether or not I could try to be nicer in some miniscule way. The English en masse made me aware of what a boorish prat I really am, in spite of my Southern-ness.

So, since I woke up entirely too early this morning, I decided to get my 5 mile Ravenel Bridge walk out of the way. What better way to test my English courtesy skills than on my first bout of exercise after three weeks of trying every cider I could find in the United Kingdom? Dragging my extra weight across the bridge in the hellish heat that I’m now not used to would certainly test my mettle, no?

In an effort to be completely aware of my surroundings, I left my i-pod at home and instead carried a big bottle of water. I charged up the bridge and immediately fell upon three victims of my booming “good morning!” As I continued up the incline, I sang “good morning!” to each person I passed, whether they acknowledged me or not. It felt liberating to be so nice.

Until I was about a third of the way up, with a stitch in my side, already sodden with sweat, and lugging a water bottle that felt like it weighed 10 pounds. My “good morning!” probably resembled a snarl more than a song by this point, but I kept at it, each recipient probably wondering about my sanity. The few regulars I saw likely thought I’d snorted something before I got out of bed this morning, because I normally don’t speak to anyone up there.

On the Mt. Pleasant side, I filled my water bottle at the fountain, as it was easier to gulp the dang thing down than it was to carry it. I stared back at the steep incline that was my return and felt defeated. Now, I had to go back and remember which people I’d greeted with “good morning!” so that I could say “have a good day!” to them, all while hiking uphill in a breeze that feels more like what happens when I open the oven door after it’s been on a while. My brain felt like hot mush.

I bared my teeth and persisted, all the way to the other side. While I may’ve looked more like a puddle who’d peed her pants by the end, I was actually strutting when I came off the bridge. I’d been nice to everyone, and most of them had been a surprised manner of nice right back to me. It felt really good to be more aware of the people around me up there than I normally am.

Maybe the English are on to something.

Who’s Got the Funk? Not I……

I’m sitting on a bed in a dumpy hotel at Gatwick Airport, watching the USA lose to Ghana in the World Cup. In a mere few hours, I have to get up and go back to Charleston, a place I’ve had a love/cilantro relationship with for a while now.

I’m not one of those people who thinks the grass is always greener somewhere else, but I have always had this wanderlust, this obsession with never staying home for very long. On some level, it is ludicrous that I’ve lived in Charleston for twenty years, given how much I enjoy leaving it.

That’s not to intimate that I don’t love where I live. The problem hasn’t been with where I park myself when I’m going home. It’s been more with my attitude, engrossed in a seeping staleness that I haven’t been able to pull myself out of. Boredom and lack of direction have ruled my outlook for far too long.

I’m coming back to Charleston fearless, and I’m going after the things I really, truly want.

If any dear readers have stories of their own workings through funks, I’d love to read them and share them with readers. I welcome your comments.

Who Are We and Why Do We Care?

On the eve of returning home from England, I’m in a reflective mood. I spent more than a year organizing this trip and had the pleasure of spending two weeks getting to know Rotarians in both South Carolina and England. It was a lot of work, too, but I hope I’ve made a few new friends in the process of organizing, worrying and blogging about our experiences.

Secretly, I wanted to come on this trip to get in touch with a piece of my past. I’ve always known a lot about my Dad’s family history, but I never really knew much about my Mom’s, until she gave me a series of print outs that asserted an interesting connection. I had hopes of exploring it fully on this trip, but between all of my other responsibilities, it didn’t pan out.

The piece of paper stipulated that the Wells family is descended from a bastard of William the Conqueror. Of course, pretty much everyone with English roots has that connection somewhere. Three separate people in my extended family have done the research and have drawn the same conclusion. Standing in front of a fragment of one of his castles in Stamford was therefore very special for me.

Does a possible connection to someone who was powerfully gifted, who changed the course of history, who introduced many of the French inflections into the English language make me anyone of note? Why do people cling so steadfastly to names, to titles, to perceived notions of who is “somebody” and who is not?

And, while we’re on that subject, what is family history anyway? I’ve always yearned to know all the glorious and all the seedy about where I came from, grasping at the nuggets of information thrown my way. I think people are more viable when they are people, warts and all.

I’m coming home chastened, in a way. I’ve always tried so hard to win awards, to put more letters behind my name, to make sure that people know what I’ve accomplished. All of that is just another form of self-important nonsense. I’ve been a wily builder of my own PR machine to hide behind the fact that I feel intimidated by others and don’t respect myself and my own accomplishments as I should.

Respect has to come from within myself. Whether anyone else gives it to me or not.

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