Sunday, December 22, 2013

Stock your bar with homemade bitters

In case you're not familiar, bitters are a common cocktail ingredient with an intriguing history and an even more compelling present. Originally developed as medicinal tonics, bitters are now sought after for the flavors- both subtle and bold- that they bring to all manner of delicious drinks.  Some baked goods even call for bitters as a flavoring agent.  The basic formula consists of a variety of herbs, spices, fruits, and more that are steeped in a base liquor. And there is really no limit to what you can mix up: I made four different types of bitters in less than an hour, and I'm pretty confident that I'll find a use for each one. It might take some experimentation, but hey, that's half the fun.

In terms of the process, you can use Everclear as a base, and vodka is fine, too. Just find something that is both strong (high proof) and neutral, and pour it into a mason jar. At this point, you can get creative or you can stick to a recipe. I like to improvise, so I basically just combine things that sound like they'd go well together. If needed, I can always make adjustments later.
Some ingredients may need to be ground or cut up- remember, the finer they are, the more flavor they can release. Once the ingredients have been added, just put on the lid, and shake the jars daily to help mix things up. After a week, you can strain off the solids and bottle the bitters.  You can dilute the bitters with straight alcohol at this point if you'd like, or leave them as is.  If you have a bottle with a dropper, that adds a lot of convenience, since bitters are used sparingly most of the time.

Here are the four varieties that I made up this time around. The quantities of ingredients that I added were determined pretty indiscriminately, so I'm not presenting them as recipes; they're more to provide inspiration:

Rosemary and sage
Dried blueberry
Thai chili and mango
Coconut, crystallized ginger, and cumin

At first the vodka was totally clear, but it changed within a day.

In terms of actual recipes, here's one from

2 cups grain alcohol
8 oz dried orange peel, minced
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp caraway or anise water
3/4 cup granulated sugar

The process is that same as the one I outlined above.

Whether you decide to wing it or dig around online for more precise recipes, you'll have fun making homemade bitters. And they make a fantastic gift- in less than an hour, you can have the equivalent of 12 bottles to give away or keep. You'll also save money- I spent less than $20 on a quantity of ingredients that made over $90 worth of bitters if I paid retail.of bitters began as medicinal tonics, although this application has pretty much fallen by the wayside. Nowadays, it is all about the flavor.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Throwing in the Towel- the Hand Towel, that is

This may be the world's shortest blog post, but why use a thousand words when six or seven will do the trick? Anyway, I was surfing around Etsy (again) and I came across some of the greatest hand-towels ever. I'm going to go ahead and fess up to having a real thing for cute, quirky hand towels, despite the fact that I don't actually own all that many. This year, I think I'll treat myself to a couple. I've been a good boy, Santa, right? Right? Uh, Santa? Are you there, Santa, its me, Christopher? Anyway, if you like hand-printed stuff, check this out. They're SO...STINKING...CUTE. Just click on the image for more info.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Keeping it Local for the Holidays

Here's the reality check: I've got a five-year old daughter, so unless somebody around here starts crafting plastic My Little Ponies, complete with the little heart stamps on the ass, I'm definitely gonna have to buy a certain amount of plastic crap from China in the next couple of weeks.  And I accept that.  I accept it in the way that I accept that my car runs on gasoline and not good vibes and pixie dust.  However, having been self-employed for the better part of 20 years now, I know first-hand what a huge impact it makes when people make a conscious decision to redirect even a portion of their spending toward the talented folks in their own community.  I'm grateful to those who have supported me and my work over the years, and that prompts me to get all circle of life-y and do what I can to support and promote some of the people in our town who make awesome stuff.  In the end, that is the real function of this blog: to celebrate the handmade & homegrown, and because I want to live in a place with those kind of values, writing is one of the ways that I live those values.

To create a nice, orderly list, I used Etsy.  I used to have mixed feelings about Etsy, but its growing on me, especially the feature that allows you to search by area.  Convenient?  Yeah.  Wherever you live, you can buy local without getting out of your pj's.  As it is currently 7 degrees out in Salt Lake, this works for me.

Anyway, here's a quick run-down of some of the artists & artisans that I've got my eye on around here.  Just click on the image for more info.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Holiday Craftiness

There is so much homemade and homegrown stuff to celebrate around the holidays that I just can't find enough time to take it all in.  If only there were two of me...  sigh.  Anyway, since I'm limited for time, I guess I'll just pick one of the things that I look forward to most: decorating our house.  We don't go in for lots of outdoor lights, but indoors we go hog-wild with paper, scissors,tape, and paint.  Since I have a 5 year-old daughter, and she is always game for just about any kind of project (that's my girl!), we now have a ton of homemade decorations of all kinds.  For example, I'd guess that 90% of the ornaments on our tree each year are ones that we've made, starting since she was old enough to hold a paintbrush.  And, they're all really, really modest, but that's part of the charm.  You can always buy "fancy" if you spend enough, but of course its way more fun to go for colorful and creative and spend nothing at all!

Abigail helps make so many ornaments every year that we could
easily outgrow one tree.  But there's worse problems, right?
Grandma Skopec gets in on the action.
Every year we make a gingerbread house.  The trick is to keep the dog from eating it afterward.

What kind of stuff do you make for the holidays?  Gifts?  Food?  Decor?  I'd love to hear about it!  Feel free to leave comments, or hit me up on Facebook with your input.  How about holiday craft fairs?  Ever buy anything nifty at one?  Ever sell anything nifty at one?  My next post will be all about Craft Sabbath, the regular Craft fairs at Salt Lake's Downtown Library, so stay tuned.