Traditional recipes

Violet Hour Designs In-House Malört

Violet Hour Designs In-House Malört

Does the world really need another Malört? The jury’s still out on whether the world actually needed one Malört to begin with, but Chicago’s Violet Hour is working on bringing a second version of the mouth-rending spirit into the world as part of a collaboration with Letherbee Distillers.

Like deep-dish pizza and hot dogs buried under eight pounds of salad, Malört is a Chicago thing. The Carl Jeppson Company started producing the spirit in Chicago in the 1930s, and until now they’ve been only place in the U.S. that produces the stuff.

The New York Times compares the flavor of Malört to rubbing alcohol, bile, gasoline, car wax, tires, and paint thinner. Most of the spirit’s fans would agree with that description, but it still turns up in some of Chicago’s fanciest cocktails. Spend enough time in Chicago bars, and a bartender will eventually offer a shot in a move that’s about half prank and half initiation.

Most people find their first taste of Malört highly unpleasant, as evidenced by the growing “Malört Face” photo pool dedicated to capturing the terrible faces people make when they try it for the first time. It’s some serious stuff.

But there’s something appealing about Malört’s face-twisting flavor and lack of mass appeal. The Jeppson’s Malört Twitter feed is almost entirely devoted to mocking its own product.

“Best part of my job: Telling people who I work for AFTER they do a shot then watching them compliment it while their face turns inside out,” the Tweeter crows.

But the shock eventually wears off and Malört starts to taste like a normal thing to put in one’s mouth. Apparently that’s a problem for The Violet Hour’s bar manager, who is looking to recapture that first rush with a new, in-house version of the spirit.

“The first time I tasted Malört five years ago,” said Robby Haynes to the New York Times, “I didn’t find it unpleasant, but I thought ‘Wow, what was that?’ It was intense and bitter and floral and all these things. Now, when I take a sip, I find it to be less remarkable. I don’t know if my palate changed or what happened. I wanted to make something that lived up to what Malört was like in my head.”

God only knows what he’s going to do to recapture that initial rush, but for starters it will have a lot more alcohol. Jeppson’s Malört is 70 proof, while Haynes’ version weighs in at 100. The new product will be called R. Franklin’s Original Recipe and is made with wormwood, grapefruit peel, juniper, elderflower, star anise, and other botanicals. It will only be served at Violet Hour and won’t be for sale to consumers.

10 Low-Maintenance Houseplants You Only Have To Water Once A Month

Add some greenery to your home&mdashno green thumb needed.

Plants shouldn&rsquot be a lot of work&mdashat least that's my philosophy. As the author of Plants You Can&rsquot Kill, I&rsquom a big fan of low-maintenance, especially when it comes to indoor greenery.

Sure, those orchids and azaleas look pretty, at least when you first bring them home. But unless you're diligent about caring for them, you're likely to feel pretty bummed when they wither away in a matter of months (or even weeks). While you might assume you simply have a black thumb, that's probably not the case. The key to enjoying the beauty (and health perks) of plants while stressing less about them is to pick the right ones.

(Want to pick up some healthier habits? Sign up for FREE to get healthy living tips, weight loss inspiration, slimming recipes and more delivered straight to your inbox!)

Here are 10 hardy houseplants that you should only have to water about once a month. (The exact watering schedule may vary a little depending on the size of plant and the time of year.) Be sure to make note of the botanical name listed for each of plant, which is in italics. This info will help you when searching for the plant online or buying at your local garden center.

Malört and Muhammad The Wormwood Connection

The Chicago Tribune has called it “sweaty socks wrapped in spoiled grapefruit after marinating in a trash can.” It’s like “Jägermeister heavily diluted in pond water, but less piney,” says the A.V. Club Taste Test blog. It’s “fox poison,” even to its Scandinavian enthusiasts. It’s malört: liquor so nasty even Carl Jeppson, the company that makes it, calls it “punishment.”

It’s also probably Chicago’s dearest liquor. A local blogger who calls herself “Chicago Quirk” has written, “Oh dear lord I wish I could un-taste that”–but she also called a shot of this beverage “a Chicago rite of passage.” No joke. The city is home to the sole US producer and some ninety percent of their sales are made in Cook County. And business is good: in the past couple years, bars that used to give the stuff away as a prank have begun mixing it into cocktails.

But while it’s a local favorite, malört also has a hidden connection to places far away, including the Arabian Peninsula circa 620 AD. That connection is wormwood, the plant that gives malört its intense flavor. Wormwood is associated with Aisha, a wife of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Aisha was one of several women Muhammad married after the death of his true love Khadija. She was said to be his clear favorite in his later years, but Aisha wasn’t above possessiveness when someone else laid claim to his time. In “Muhammad: The First Muslim” (Riverhead Trade, 2013), journalist Lesley Hazleton writes, “Muhammad spent too long for her liking with another wife who had made a ‘honeyed drink’ for him… Knowing that he was very particular about bad breath, Aisha turned her face away when he finally came into the room, and asked what he had been eating. When told… she wrinkled her nose in distaste. ‘The bees that made that honey must have been eating wormwood,’ she insisted.”

The stuff of malört, wormwood, in other words, has been making people pull ugly faces for at least the last fourteen centuries.

Photo: Sodla/Wikimedia Commons

The plant has multiple subspecies, and one, Artemisia annua, is the source for artemisinin, a medicinal plant grown in East Africa. In 2015, Chinese researcher Youyou Tu received the Nobel Prize for Medicine for discovering its efficacy against malaria.

Although living in Cook County might convince you otherwise, most people’s encounters with the bitter plant haven’t involved alcohol.

Drawing from a translation of eighth-century author Muhammad Ibn Ishaq’s account of Muhammad’s life, Hazleton calls the drink “a kind of Arabian syllabub,” a dessert beverage made of milk, egg whites and honey. Wine is commonly included in recipes from the 1700s, the last point in time syllabubs were popular—but in an interview, Hazleton said she did not mean to indicate the Prophet was drinking alcohol. (Nonetheless, the Prophet took his favorite wife’s advice about his breath to heart. Hazleton writes, “Muhammad refused the drink the next time he was offered it.”)

Chicagoans can’t get a good Arabian syllabub anywhere these days, either with or without the wormwood kicker. A few years back, Wicker Park bar The Violet Hour offered a drink featuring sweetened egg whites, orange flower water and malört. But it seems to have been pulled off the menu. Sam Mechling, former Jeppson’s marketing director, says he’s never encountered a dairy-based malört cocktail, adding “I’ll challenge anyone,” to make one, the reward being “a very firm handshake.”

The Violet Hour

Even if you do know where you're going, it's still easy to miss The Violet Hour's entrance, thanks to the building's constantly changing facade, which can range from a neutral paint job to colorful murals by local artists. So instead keep your eye out for the overhead lamp—if it's lit, you'll find the unlocked entrance to this modern speakeasy right below. There's no cell phone use or shoddy attire allowed once you pass through the towering curtains and into the dimly lit, slate-blue room with high-backed velvet chairs and elegant, minimal decor.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Hard Freeze and Frost Protection for your Garden

In graduate school I had a "Graduate Assistantship" whereby I worked 20 hours a week in the International Student Services office and was paid minimum wage, however all of my tuition was waived. It was worth it! Not only did I take the required courses for an MBA, but I also took German, Vegetable Gardening, and a variety of other fun classes. Furthermore I worked for Handicapped Student Services taking notes for two students, one a quadriplegic junior and the other visually impaired freshman. So not only did I have my classes, but I sat in their classes taking notes. I love classes. I love to learn. It was a fun gig.

In Vegetable Gardening I learned that a tomato is biologically a fruit but legally a veggie. Who knew? I also learned that in middle Tennessee April 15 is the 50% mark for a hard freeze. Meaning you have a 50% chance of frost after this date. April 16 is a 40% chance of having a frost after this date. Just to be on the safe side, I would never plant my annual garden before May 1, and I have planted as late as June 1. But that is the annual garden. The perennial garden is another story.

Some years spring comes early to middle Tennessee. Last year on January 31 I painted en plein air at Andrew Jackson's Hermitage, and it was sunny and 70*. This year in February we enjoyed many days in the 70* range and one day hit 80*. However tonight, March 7, temperatures are predicted to dip into the 20*s, and we are expecting flurries. Many of my perennials are already showing tender shoots. And there is no guarantee, but in order to give them a fighting chance I'll cover most of them.

Soft woods, actively blooming plants, and potted plants are the most susceptible to frost damage. It's best just to bring the potted plants indoors. For those planted in the ground, it's best to use natural fabrics like cotton or linen or even newspaper as a covering to protect plants from frost. Do not use plastic bags or plastic tarp. Plastic can hold the moisture in that will freeze and ruin your budding plants.

Fabric coverings will allow moisture to escape but will still protect plants from frost by preventing the freezing air from coming into direct contact with the moisture. Bed sheets work well for covering large plants and shrubs.

I had to use a sheet on the cluster of Quince, tulips, and peonies.

Old tea towels or hand towels work well on small, young sprouts. Newspaper can be used on low-growing foliage, but won’t stay on top of larger plants well. In fact, if wind is in the forecast, newspaper doesn't work well at all. You have to put towels on top to keep them from blowing away. Just use the towels, and for extra protection against the wind, I put these little wire border fence sections around the plants and tuck the towels.

I use tea towels on the peony spouts.

I use old T-Shirts to cover the small lilac bush and the rose bush I cut back drastically last fall. If the threat of frost is prolonged and temperatures remain low during the day, I leave the fabric covering on for several days. Just be sure to cover your plants before sunset.

I didn't cover the daffodils because they are pretty hardy. I didn't cover the lilies, iris, azaleas or the plum trees because they are not blooming yet. I also didn't cover the mature roses, figs, or hydrangeas. They've weathered foul weather for years without regret. But I'll say a little prayer for them anyway, and give thanks there is no such thing as a Sou'easter.

Help me keep our New England friends close in thought and prayer this evening as they have more to worry about than a frost-damaged peony.

Inside Look: The Balvenie Distillery

Balvenie Distillery was founded in 1892 in Dufftown, Scotland. Whisky production started at the Speyside distillery in 1893. Production begins with the barley, which is grown at Balvenie Mains, the thousand-acre farm owned by the distillery. One thing that makes Balvenie unique in the world of scotch is the malting floor, where barley is allowed to germinate. The barley is monitored and turned by hand on the malting floor. Balvenie has a coppersmith on site to maintain and repair the copper stills. Having so many craftspeople working onsite is one thing that makes the whisky so special, says brand ambassador Neil Strachan. Balvenie also has a cooperage on site, where the barrels are made. Coopers at the distillery build, repair, fill, and seal whisky casks all day. Brand ambassador Neil Strachan says about 70% of the flavor of the whisky is influenced by the casks.

Speyside has long been the spiritual home of single malt whisky, with more than 50 producers calling the northern region of Scotland home. Flanked by the rugged Highlands to the west and idyllic fields of barley farmland to the East, Speyside has a terroir that makes for whiskies often exhibiting flavors of fruit and vanilla and a mellow, honey-like sweetness. In the heart of the region, set near the river Fiddich (a tributary of the region&rsquos famous namesake river Spey), sits Dufftown, a small whisky-making community known for two distilleries that sprang from the same family tree: Glenfiddich and The Balvenie.

The story starts with William Grant and his seven sons and two daughters. &ldquoAfter they built Glenfiddich they had an opportunity to buy a mansion next door called New Balvenie Castle, which proved perfect for malting barley with an area big enough for a malting floor, perfect storage capacity, and areas to move the barley to when it was finished. They started working on that in 1892, and they start making whisky there the next Spring in 1893,&rdquo says The Balvenie brand ambassador Neil Strachan. &ldquoThe house that the distillery forms around was knocked down in the 1920&rsquos for a custom-built floor malting area, and then there were a few changes in 1956 when the coal-fired stills were removed, but other than that everything else is pretty much how it was.&rdquo

Strachan, who is from Scotland, says every time he travels back to Dufftown he&rsquos reminded of how deeply ingrained the town is in whisky production and its history. &ldquoDufftown at its heart is a community of whisky makers,&rdquo he says. &ldquoWhen people get a job in the distillery that&rsquos a very honorable (and well-paying) job. We have had individuals who have worked at The Balvenie for 55 years, all the way to the 22-year-old grandson who starts as an apprentice. That sense of community and passion goes through the generations It&rsquos beautiful to see those journeys in real time.&rdquo

This sense of loyalty and community is what makes the whisky, and visiting the distillery, so special, Strachan says. Unlike other whisky distilleries (and before the pandemic restricted tourism) The Balvenie offered limited tours&mdashone in the morning and one in the afternoon&mdashto ensure that visitors had a chance to see the production process in detail and also chat with the producers as they work. &ldquoI&rsquove seen a great deal of distilleries around the world, and at some of my favorites I haven&rsquot seen one person,&rdquo Strachan says. &ldquoWhere are the people making this whisky? At every stage at The Balvenie there are people and they will show you things like turning the barley. They will let you get your hands dirty while they&rsquore talking to you.&rdquo

Specifically, The Balvenie offers a few key production details that Strachan says are not particularly unique in their own right, but when combined make the distillery special within the world of single malts: the malting floor, the coppersmith, and the cooperage.

As with all whisky, production starts with the barley, of which a portion is grown on Balvenie Mains, a one-thousand-acre farm adjacent to the distillery. The grains are steeped in spring water for 48 hours, then spread out on the floor to germinate. Only a few distilleries have their own malting floor in Scotland. At The Balvenie, it&rsquos a similar size to a tennis court, says Strachan, not quite big enough for how much whisky they make (instead they use a marriage of three grains: some industrial malted, some unmalted then malted on site, and the home grown and home malted) but just the right size to allow the maltsters to turn it by hand until it&rsquos ready for to dry in the kiln. &ldquoThat building has been there since 1929 and when you get up into the roof space it&rsquos really beautiful. It&rsquos a nice historical piece of whisky making that more wish they could do on site.&rdquo

Next are the stills. Coppersmith Dennis McBain has been with the distillery for 64 years, so he knows each still inside and out. &ldquoHe can tap different parts of the stills to know how thin or thick they are. Parts of them get thinner because they are working harder than others, so he&rsquoll cut those out and replace them,&rdquo Strachan says. &ldquoEvery time he replaces part of a still, before we start making whisky, he grabs a big bush of juniper, throws it in there, and boils off some liquid. We don&rsquot have any scientific or technical reason for that, but it was the way Dennis was taught, and in his words, it sweetens the still. It&rsquos how they&rsquove always done it, how they will always do it so that the whisky will not change.&rdquo

Finally, having their own cooperage on site gives The Balvenie the freedom to control the quality of standard casks and also experiment with new and exciting one-off iterations. &ldquoWe say roughly 70% of the flavor of the whisky comes from the cask, so having our own cooperage is important. And nowhere brings whisky making to life more than the cooperage&mdashseeing the cooper working is pretty epic, the sights and the smells, seeing the flames as they char the barrels, feeling the heat, it all sums up whisky,&rdquo says Strachan.

All of these curated details make for a whisky that&rsquos brimming with honeyed sweetness. &ldquoGrowing up in northeast Scotland, when you mentioned The Balvenie to people they&rsquod have this smile across their face because it&rsquos so nice,&rdquo says Strachan. &ldquoIt&rsquos a whisky that&rsquos easy for beginners to enjoy, relatively low on alcohol, but also good for whisky experts because when you spend time with it, it&rsquoll give you more and more. You can talk about the human element all day, but if you have faulty quality on the liquid end, it doesn&rsquot matter. There aren&rsquot many people that would say there is a weak link in anything we produce.&rdquo

Want to learn more about the world of Scotch whisky? Click here to order a copy of our March/April 2021 Issue, which explores the spirit&rsquos history, production, geography, innovation and more.

Patio potted flower and plant tips:

1. Tier for cascading effect

I love this technique more than anything else. Planning tiered potted plants and flowers is like setting up bleacher seating. You want the front low and then each subsequent row rises above the preceding creating a cascading wall of flowers and plants. Even a simple cascade is stunning.

2. Use available railings privacy walls

Railings are ideal for planter boxes. Privacy walls are great for attaching planters with flowers to create a quasi living wall (also see our 50 vertical garden ideas).

3. Fill up the corners

Corners are great spaces for potted plants and flowers. You can place large pots or a series of small pots. They form the pillars of the patio or deck space.

4. Use flowers along edges

If a patio, lining up potted plants along the edge is a brilliant way to demarcate a patio from the rest of the yard.

5. Be mindful of the pots and boxes you use

While the flowers and plants are the star, don’t forget your choice of pots and planters. Pots and planters are a strong supporting role. Badly chosen pots/planters can detract from the overall effect.

6. Plan for the full season

I know my mother-in-law takes care in planning her deck flowers so the deck is in bloom from Spring through early Fall. This just takes some planning so you know what to plant and when.

The Right Way to Harvest Basil

Begin using the leaves as soon as the plant is large enough to spare some. Collect from the tops of the branches, cutting off several inches. Handle basil delicately so as not to bruise and blacken the leaves.

You can air-dry basil in small, loose bunches, but it keeps most flavorfully when frozen. To freeze basil, puree washed leaves in a blender or food processor, adding water as needed to make a thick but pourable puree. Pour the puree into ice-cube trays and freeze, then pop them out and store them in labeled freezer bags to use as needed in sauces, soups, and pesto.

Pesto (a creamy mixture of pureed basil, garlic, grated cheese, and olive oil) will keep for a long time in the refrigerator with a layer of olive oil on top.

Sunset Ombre Soap Tutorial

Here is the first of many, many recipes included with the brand spankin’ new Business in a Box Kit, exclusively from Bramble Berry. With the kit, you get this Ombre Soap advanced technique recipe along with another (soon to be revealed) technique option and a Business in a Box quick start guide all in a handy PDF. Read even more about all of the contents in the Business in a Box Kit here. Note that this recipe below uses the Quick Mix oils but this technique will work for any slow-moving recipe.

This soapmaking technique is for a super on-trend ombre look. Try out different color schemes with other LabColors from your Business in a Box kit for varied styles. Match colors to fragrance or essential oils, or create multiple colored soaps for a rainbow-esque display. Simply colored soap, when strategically layered, creates a light to dark fade that is sure to impress your customers. A seamless transition between colors will show off your expert sense of color and design.

If you’d love to try out this tutorial but aren’t ready for the full Business in a Box kit, click here to add ingredients for just this recipe to your Bramble Berry shopping cart!

If you have never made cold process soap before, I highly recommend you get a couple of basic recipes under your belt. Check out this (free!) 4-part series on cold process soap making, especially the episode on lye safety. Bramble Berry carries quite a few books on the topic as well, including this downloadable book on making cold process soap. The Business in a Box kit comes with four videos on soapmaking and a grand total of seven books and e-books, including four books on soapmaking and three on business, for your reading pleasure.

SAFETY FIRST: Suit up for safe handling practices! Long sleeves, gloves, and eye protection are necessary when making cold process soap. Eye glasses are not sufficient protection. Be sure that kids, pets, and other tripping/distraction hazards are out of the house or don’t have access to your soaping space. Always soap in a well-ventilated area.

ONE: Slowly and carefully add the lye to the water and stir until clear. Set aside to cool.

TWO: Heat the entire container of Lots of Lather Quick Mix and give it a good stir. Measure the appropriate amount of oil into a heat-safe container.

NOTE: Reheat the entire container of Lots of Later Quick Mix before each use. Like with Palm Oil, separation can occur with the different ingredients, causing unequal amounts to measure out if the oils aren’t reheated and mixed properly.

THREE: When the lye water has cooled to 130 degrees or below (and is within 10 degrees of the oils), add the lye water to the oils and mix with a stick blender until a light trace is achieved. To eliminate air bubbles from being mixed into the soap batter, pour the lye down the shaft of the stick blender and burp the stick blender by tapping it on the bottom of your container before turning it on.

FOUR: Divide the soap batter into 4 separate containers (one for each layer) by weighing out 12.2 oz of soap batter into each container. You’ll want to weigh out the soap for precision’s sake to make sure the soap batter is equally distributed between each layer to achieve a gradual and seamless gradient of color through your finished soap.

FIVE: Color to each portion of soap batter as follows: 1 teaspoon of diluted Orange LabColor to portion one 3/4 teaspoon of diluted Orange LabColor and 1/2 teaspoon diluted Canary LabColor to portion two 1/4 teaspoon diluted Orange LabColor and 3/4 teaspoon diluted Canary LabColor to portion three 1 teaspoon diluted Canary LabColor to portion four. Stir in the LabColors using a spoon or whisk. Keep the soap lined up in this order from now until you pour it into the mold.

SIX: Add 0.5 oz of Energy Fragrance Oil to each portion. Mix well using a spoon or whisk.

SEVEN: To create the ombre layers, start with the darkest orange color (portion one). Bring the first layer of soap to a thick trace with the stick blender and pour into the mold. Using a spatula, distribute the soap to create a smooth, level surface for the next layer. Bring the next lightest color (portion two) to a thick trace, and pour into the mold over a spatula to maintain straight, even layers. Repeat with portions three and four, always bringing to a thick trace before pouring and pouring over a spatula to maintain the integrity of the previous layer.

EIGHT: Spray the entire top with 91% Isopropyl Alcohol to help prevent soda ash. Cover and insulate for 24 hours and unmold after 3-4 days. Allow to cure for 4-6 weeks.

Easy Malted Chocolate Chip Toffee

Christmas candy making and cookie baking is in full swing! I love all of the smells this time of year. Whether it’s peppermint, gingerbread, or that amazing smell of sugar and butter cooking on the stove top, my kitchen makes the house smell so good! Every year I make a list of all of the goodies that I want to try. And, every year my list is way longer than the time I have to actually make recipes.

I usually end up rolling the list over from year to year! Last year I wanted to try making more candies like toffee and caramel, but ended up making more fudge and cookies. So, this year I made sure that toffee was at the top of the list. First up was this easy malted chocolate chip toffee. It still requires a candy thermometer to reach the right temperature, but the mixture is easy to throw together and easy to spread in the pan.

And, if you don’t cook it quite long enough, you’ll just end up with a softer toffee. Not bad at all! The malt powder in this toffee gives it a flavor slightly reminiscent of a caramel milkshake and the semi-sweet chocolate helps offset the super-sweet flavor of most toffees. Definitely a great recipe if you’re looking to try making toffee for the first time!