Blueberry-Lavender Champagne Punch

Hey y’all. So this week was supposed to bring you another installment of All the Fixin’s, the series where we cook our way through our respective Southern heritages. But as you’ll know if you follow this blog, or our social media, or the world in general, this past weekend included that most hallowed of horsey days — the Derby — and we celebrated in a matter befitting the occasion. We did indeed cook things (many of them, in fact), but they were Bluegrass classics that make up the staples of each of our Derby parties: pie (in miniature, bite-sized form), bourbon ball cupcakes, benedictine, artichoke dip. And in the tornado of activity that was preparing for, throwing, and cleaning up after our annual Brooklyn celebration, we did not, alas, have time to venture into something new from one of our respective cookbooks.

Not to fret, All the Fixin’s will be back next month. But today, in its stead, we’re bringing you the one new thing we did try for this year’s party: a cocktail. Now we all know the correct drink to imbibe on the first Saturday in May is, of course, a mint julep. But despite our better judgement, we are friends with some people who do not partake of the browner liquors. So we decided to indulge them with an alternative option. Call us soft if you will: We prefer to celebrate our tolerance and generosity. Also Zelda will seize any opportunity to try out a new big-batch cocktail (punch bowls for one on a Wednesday afternoon seeming more sad than celebratory, she has to wait for parties to pull out all the stops).

We wanted something light and festive, full of bubbles and springtime flavors. And after some thorough Googling, Zelda settled on this Southern Living classic-with-a-twist: blueberry-lavender champagne punch. Champagne punches are a party staple: easy to throw together, pleasing to a crowd, with all the pop and fizz you want in a celebratory glass. This one punches up the traditional simple syrup with fresh blueberries and dried lavender, infusing the drink with sweet floral notes and a lovely purple tint to boot. We can’t honestly say we partook much ourselves, aside from taste testing to make sure the proportions are right — we are julep gals, through and through — but our guests swore it was positively divine, and the empty bowl at evening’s end backed their claims up. Mint and lavender alike, we all raised a glass (or several) and sang one song for our old Kentucky home — far, far away.

Ingredients

1 cup mashed fresh blueberries

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon dried culinary lavender

3 bottles (750 mL) champagne (prosecco will also do the trick)

3 cups gin

1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 lemons’ worth)

Directions

To make the simple syrup, stir together the mashed blueberries, sugar, water, and lavender in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour through a mesh sieve and strain out the solid bits, then set aside to cool completely (at least 45 minutes, but we recommend making it the evening before your gathering and letting it sit in the fridge overnight).

In a punch bowl or pitcher, combine the champagne, gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup. The proportions listed here are for a big batch, using all of the simple, but if you’re entertaining a smaller number of guests, use 1 cup gin, 1/3 cup simple syrup, and 1/4 cup lemon juice for every bottle of champagne.

Garnish with lemon slices, frozen blueberries, and/or lavender sprigs. Enjoy!

A Short History of the Mint Julep

The first week of May has us here at Zelda & Scout in intense party prep mode. This Saturday, we dust off our wide-brim hats and our fascinators, and pull out our many years’ worth of glassware, and make some probably-less-than-stellar decisions regarding both gambling and inebriation. Because the first Saturday in May brings the Kentucky Derby, which at Churchill Downs means the consumption of hundreds of thousands of mint juleps.

And sure there are people who will tell you that mint juleps are gross, and taste like soap, and are only good on Derby. But we are staunch defenders of the julep tradition and its importance as a truly Kentuckian drink, no matter what some articles in the course of this research might like to suggest. Most agree that while the julep probably wasn’t invented in Kentucky, (though the lore does state we can lay claim to another classic bourbon cocktail — the old fashioned — so our whiskey bona fides still check out), since its inception, the great Commonwealth has become its one true home.

The mint julep has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1938, but the julep has a long and storied history before that. In the 18th century, “julep” was a general term that applied to a number of sugar-based cocktails popular during the Revolutionary War period. Often these sugary elixirs were used as means of masking the taste when ingesting medicine…or you know just alcohol, which was also medicine. It could be made with a number of spirits: rum, gin, brandy etc. But bourbon whiskey is what stuck.

The word “julep” itself is originally derived from the Spanish julepe, which in turn comes from the Persian root gulab meaning rosewater. Thus julep was applied to any drinks in which sweetness was the dominant note. The addition of mint to what we now recognize as our mint julep may have originally been intended to soothe stomach pains, but there is no definitive proof.

The julep slowly changed from a medicinal mixture into one of leisure. As its popularity increased, it became a status symbol, largely because of the ice. Ice was, rather ironically, a hot commodity at the time: Only those with a certain amount of wealth had access to ice houses, much less the ability to crush the ice as fine as we know it today. By the time people began serving their juleps in silver cups, it was officially the drink of the elite.

So you see the julep is an old drink, and a simple one: just sugar, bourbon whiskey and mint (you can find Zelda’s tried and true recipe here, along with laments of New York juleps gone wrong). And while it may not have been born in the Bluegrass state, it did come into its own in Kentucky, as a way to imbibe in the local libation of choice: bourbon. Eventually it was introduced to our nation’s capital, legend has it, by Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, and once the politicians got a hold of it, we were off to the races. And though some may associate it with lazy Southern afternoons, sweating daintily on verandas, we Kentuckians know better.

The julep is a city drink, one that gained fame at the bars of the ritziest hotels in the South’s grandest cities, and as such, it is a drink of action. It’s the drink you hold aloft with one hand as your horse crosses the finish line to win your big bet of the day. It’s the drink you probably spill a little of in your haste to hold onto your hat as you run across a muddy infield. It’s the perfect drink for a hot and humid Saturday in May, whether you’re in the grandstand, the infield, or even on a roof somewhere in Brooklyn.

The julep helps us lean into the decadence, with our fancy cups and our perfect sprigs of mint garnish. It helps us embrace the depravity as we make some questionable decisions after our third, or fourth, or fifth julep of the evening (wait, what do you mean it’s only 4:30?). There will always be those who claim it’s too sweet, or that it tastes like medicine. There will be those who can only stomach it, begrudgingly, on Derby Day. But for Zelda & Scout, whether it’s the traditional Early Times or the updated Old Forester, on every day of the year, the mint julep tastes like home.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Late Spring 2017 Playlist: Call to the Post

It’s our favorite time of year y’all. Winter has finally ceded the reins to Spring, flowers are blooming, and it’s time for the most decadent and depraved event in all of the South. Dust off your seersucker and unpack your fancy hat, it’s Derby Time! Now, as we reiterate each year around this time, while many hail Derby as “the fastest two minutes in sports,” we Louisvillians know better. Derby is actually a two-and-a-half-week long festival that contains multitudes of fun, food, fashion…and a healthy amount of depravity.

As we prepare to throw the fourth annual Zelda & Scout Derby Bash, we’re looking to our musical roots to build a playlist that really reflects the feeling of Derby time. We pulled classic country favorites like Patsy Cline, Kentucky favorites like Ben Sollee, the always applicable Dixie Chicks. And this year, we even brought in Zelda’s sister to consult on the current country music landscape to really get us in the mood.

So make a mint julep, place your bets, heed this non-traditional call to the post, and get yourself ready for Derby time. Listen here, on Spotify, or on YouTube.


Making Matzah You Want to Eat

It’s that time of year again! My favorite Jewish holiday is upon us. Yes, Passover is here, and along with all my favorite things — gathering around the table with friends, drinking wine, and opening doors for invisible guests — it also means eight days without the comfort of leavened carbs. If you know me, you knows that this definitely qualifies as a hardship. Instead of the glorious wheat products that normally make up the bulk of my diet, we get eight days of the cardboard-adjacent cracker substance known as “matzah.” But all is not lost! Today, the first full day of Passover 2017, I have scoured the edges of the internet to bring you ten recipes that make matzah actually tasty. The Jews of the internet have taken to Pinterest and Tumblr and what-have-you to take matzah to a palatable, even delicious, level. Enjoy.

Matzah Brittle: This recipe is first on my list just because I firmly believe the best way to make anything taste better is to cover it in chocolate and caramel. There’s really nothing better. If you make this right you’ll want to eat it even when it’s not Passover. In fact it’s so addictive, in Zelda’s house it’s known as matzah crack.

Matzah Brei: Matzah Brei is probably the most traditional way we Ashkenazi Jews have to make the unleavened fare of our ancestors taste better. The concept is simple. Take some matzah, break it into pieces, soften with water or milk, add eggs, and fry. It’s like a Passover frittata, or Pesach french toast. Slather with syrup and you can almost dream it’s a waffle.

Matzah Granola: Snacking is the hardest part of staying #Kosher4Passover, so do yourself a favor and prepare a bunch of this munchy-worthy granola ahead of time. Then you can snack away to your heart’s content!

Matzah S’mores: S’mores are always amazing, and while the loss of the graham cracker shell does hurt the overall s’more taste, the flavor of the matzah is mostly hidden by all the good-good melty chocolate and marshmallow. For a cross-cultural Easter/Passover experience, use marshmallow peeps instead of regular marshmallows.  

Matzah Latkes: Why not combine these two bastions of Jewish food? Latkes aren’t just for Chanukah, people. We can savor the delight of the potato pancake all year round! Even if it’s more potato than pancake during Passover.

Matzah Lasagna: Anything you can do with noodles, you can do with matzah, or so this recipe posits. Having experimented thoroughly in my younger years, I believe it to be true. Your matzah lasagna is going to be slightly more crunchy than the traditional sort, but it will still be good.

Matzah Pizza: Teenage Scout’s favorite way to eat matzah, covered in cheese and marinara sauce. It’s just pizza! Really, really, really thin-crust pizza. There’s room for a lot of variety in toppings here, so you can really hide the taste of cardboard if you try hard enough.

Matzah Puppy Chow: For some Jews (cough-Zelda-cough), kitniyot are not off limits, so there’s really no need for this recipe as rice or corn Chex are #K4P. But alas for us Ashkenazi’s they are not…for some inexplicable reason. So we have resorted to re-creating a beloved recipe with Matzah to…mixed results. We’re sticking with the theme here: If you cover something in enough chocolate, it can never really be bad.

Matzah Cake: This is one for the more ambitious among you. It turns matzah into a dessert that almost looks restaurant-worthy. It does require two whole boxes of of the stuff though, so it’s mostly for the people who stocked up beforehand (not the Scout’s of the world, who will wander into the grocery the day before Passover and be relegated to making the last box of off-brand matzah on the shelf last the entire eight days of the holiday).

Matzoah Kugel: It’s fitting to end with this recipe. My children, what we’ve learned today is that the key to making matzah taste less like cardboard and more like actual food is drown it in as many other ingredients as possible. Hide it under apples and brown sugar and eggs and never look back.

Photos via: The kitchn, Love + Cupcakes, Martha Stewart Living, Ingredients Inc, Martha Stewart, DelishSkinny taste, What Jew Wanna eat, Living sweet moments, Epicurious

Thankful

It goes without saying that 2016 has been a bit of a year. From shootings and refugee crises and legends lost to the festering dumpster fire that was this year’s presidential election, there is no shortage of doom and gloom around us. Even in this season of twinkly lights and cocoa, it can be hard to muster up much good cheer after a year this heartbreaking, soul-crushing, utterly devastating in so many ways. I began last week thinking 2016 had dealt us all the bad cards we could take (and then some), hoping to finish up the year with holiday festivities and the quiet hope that somehow next year would be better. And then, I sprained my ankle.

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I am no stranger to injuries of the pedal variety. In college, I managed to break my foot not once but twice, losing two whole semesters to crutches and casts and physical therapy appointments. So when, as I have done too many times before, I tripped on some stairs last Tuesday, my overwhelming feeling — other than the searing pain at my insole — was anger. I was mad at myself, for somehow managing to do this yet again. I was mad at my feet and their seeming inability to remain in one piece for more than 5 years at a time. And I was mad, so mad, at 2016, for delivering yet another kick when I was already so far down.

But here’s the thing: As I lay on my couch these past few days, a bag of frozen mango chunks on my foot, drowsy from pain meds and hydrating like it was my job, slowly that rage began to be supplanted by another feeling: gratitude.

In spite of everything and against all odds, I am thankful.

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I’m thankful to have a job with paid sick days, and a boss who was incredibly nice and accommodating and gave me the time I needed to heal.

I’m thankful to work with a group of incredibly kind, smart, and passionate colleagues, whose hearts are always in the right place. I’m thankful for all the emails and texts and snaps they sent me while I was gone.

I’m thankful for my roommates, who picked up prescriptions and made me dinner and watched infinite Christmas movies with me while I convalesced.

I’m thankful for my friends who surrounded me with love and support, offering help and food and puppy gifs to get me through the week. I’m thankful for the ones who gave me hugs, who texted, who brought me meatballs and cookies and refills so I could spend my apartment’s holiday party holding court on the couch. I’m thankful they slowed their steps to match my limps so I wouldn’t have to walk alone.

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I’m thankful for my family, who are always there for me no matter the geographic distances. I’m grateful for Skype and Facetime and bitmoji, which make the miles not seem quite as long. I’m thankful I’ll get to hug them in person in a few days.

I’m thankful for candy cane Hershey kisses and Seamless delivery people and Good Earth tea (now available online again!).

And I am thankful for art.

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I’m thankful for the ways artists of every media have helped me make some sense out of this truly surreal year. I’m thankful for the escape it offers, the comfort it provides, the conversations it sparks — how it keeps expanding the definition of humanity. And most of all, I’m thankful for the way it inspires hope. When countries and families — and ligaments — are being torn asunder and it seems that the forces of darkness have won, the best art inspires me to look for the light.

Five Golden Rules for Surviving the Holiday Season

Happy holidays, y’all! The great festive season is upon us, bursting with trees and carols and tinsel and mistletoe. It’s a truly wonderful time. But you know what isn’t so wonderful? The overwhelming stress, anxiety, and exhaustion that can result from trying to contend with the social demands of the Yuletide period. This season is not for amateurs, and it’s easy to be swept away by the great tide of happy hours, cocktail parties, festive outings, and more that crash into one’s Facebook come December 1st. Whether you’re an extroverted holiday lover like Zelda, or a more gathering averse but equally festive introvert like Scout, December can be a lot. So we teamed up with Casper and pooled our mental resources to come up with five golden rings rules to get you through the next few weeks relatively unscathed — with your social circle, Christmas spirit, and mental health intact.

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1. Plan ahead. The key to avoiding holiday-festivity-overload is to make a list, check it twice, and stick to it. Whether you go digital or hard copy is up to your personal preferences, but either way you need to get organized. And make sure you take into account transit between events. In an ideal world, your itinerary would start with the event farthest from your home and proceed in an orderly fashion, closer and closer to your bed. If this isn’t possible, assemble a team of rogues to travel with, for solidarity and to lessen the inevitable pain of shelling out for an end-of-night Uber.

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2. Prioritize. Even the most well-organized social butterfly will not be able to attend every function, gift exchange, and ice skating foray of the month. It’s okay to excuse yourself from that one ugly sweater party you know you don’t have the outfit for anyway. Pick the ones that you care most about, with the people you care most about, and be ok with that. (We made this post instead of our regularly scheduled All the Fixin’s, because we prioritized our own time this week. Trying to lead by example and all that). And pro tip: Try to stack the events you’re most interested in (or the ones hosted by those nearest and dearest to you) earlier in your day/evening, when you’re less likely to bail because of exhaustion.

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3. Pre-stock your bar. Let’s face it, all this socializing and carrying on and spending time with your family is going to require libations. So before your holiday season gets into full swing, buy a case of wine for hostess gifts and a fifth of bourbon (or other preferred liquor) for your flask. You’ll make it through. (Pro tip number two: Liquor and wine also make great last-minute gifts for any friends, acquaintances, or co-workers (of legal drinking age) who spring the dreaded “Here, I got you something!” on your unprepared self. We also recommend picking up a pack of stick-on bows; they work wonders when transforming any item in your household into a seasonal present.)

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4. Don’t be a mooch. That’s right, y’all, we said hostess gifts. If your mama raised you right, you know that it is rude to show up unprepared. Your hosts have invited you into their homes, decked their halls, gone to the trouble of preparing food and beverages (or at the very least an appropriate playlist). Bring a bottle of something boozy, or a festive treat (or if you’re going for extra credit, check out one of the items on Zelda’s 2016 Gift Guide!). Don’t make the ghost of Emily Post past haunt your ass: She will (she was a badass). And she’ll make you send her a “Thank you” note within a week of said haunting. Manners matter, children.

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5. Make time for me-time. Last but not least, make like the bears and be sure you hibernate a little this winter. Even the most extroverted of extroverts needs time to rest and recharge. The holiday season is a marathon, people, and there’s no way you’re going to be at your merriest and brightest if you’re running on zero sleep and too much mulled wine. Weekends packed full of parties? Set aside some weeknights to regroup. Weeknights full of office parties and gift exchanges? Reserve at least one weekend night this month for you, yourself, and some cozy fun.  And for maximum relaxation, allow us to suggest the above checklist! Pour yourself some cocoa, get under the covers, and turn on your favorite holiday classic (top of our list is White Christmas, guaranteed to chase all your humbugs away). There’s nothing like a pillow fort for a long winter’s nap.

Holiday Cocktails Three Ways

December is upon us, which means we are in the season of holiday parties and cocktails. Let’s be honest: Our real talent lies in drinking, and the holidays are when we really put thos skills to the test. Come December, you can find us throwing back festive libations at parties and pop-ups and bars, especially those that take the holiday spirit to a scale only possible in New York (see Rolf’s, below). But if you can’t make it to such a Christmas Mecca for your holiday cocktail fix, Zelda and Scout are here for you.

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First, eggnog. Like its October counterpart, pumpkin spice, it is divisive. Its milky goodness is not for everyone, but those who do love it love it a lot. I am one of those people — a Noghead, if you will — and really the only thing that makes this drink better is the addition of alcohol. If you want to get fancier than the sweet and simple classic, Southern Comfort Eggnog + Southern Comfort Whiskey (the only way to drink nog, according to friend of the blog Jason), see below:

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Salted Caramel Eggnog from The Cookie Rookie: This is one for the more ambitious in the kitchen (the Zeldas rather than the Scouts, if you will). You have to make the eggnog from scratch, see, which surpasses my three-step recipe limit. In a large saucepan, combine 3 cups whole milk, 1 cup heavy whipping cream, 4 cinnamon sticks, 3/4 tablespoon vanilla extract, and 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg, and bring to a boil over medium heat. As soon as the mixture starts to bubble, remove from heat and allow it to steep and cool for 5-10 minutes. While it’s brewing, in a stand mixer, beat five eggs and 2/3 cup sugar until fully combined. Pour your egg mixture into  your milk mixture and whisk together. Add 1/2 cup caramel syrup, 1 tablespoon sea salt, and 3/4 cups dark rum. Garnish with caramel and more nutmeg if you’re feeling fancy.

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Next up, milk punch. Bourbon Milk Punch is a traditional holiday drink throughout the Deep South, but especially in New Orleans. The drink dates back all the way to at least the 19th century, when it was featured in 1862’s How to Mix Drinks, perhaps the very first cocktail recipe book. This recipe from Arnaud’s French 75 bar seems to be the internet-accepted classic version of this cocktail, featured by the New York Times and Garden and Gun alike. Pour 1¼ oz bourbon (or, if you prefer, brandy), ½ oz dark rum, 2 oz whole milk or half-and-half, ¾ tsp vanilla extract, and ½ oz simple syrup into a cocktail shaker filled three-quarters full with ice. Shake until chilled (roughly 30 seconds). Strain into a rocks glass and dust with grated nutmeg.

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Finally, for the clear alcohol connoisseurs, we have a seasonal twist on a classic — an Apple Cider Mule. This drink. from Pretty Plain Janes, swaps the summery lime flavors of the typical Moscow Mule for wintry notes of apple and spice. In a copper mug full of ice, as is traditional, mix 1 1/5 oz of vodka (this recipe suggests caramel-flavored liquor, but you do you) and 3 oz apple cider,. Top off with ginger beer, and garnish with apple slices and cinnamon sticks.

Photos via: The Cookie Rookie, Johnny Autry, Pretty Plain Janes