wild things roundup: little winter sips & shots

Intending to make holiday gifts for my loved ones, I really went nuts with liquers this year. Once I had about ten luscious little brews going I realized that most of my gift-ees either don’t drink or only like Bud Light or Hot Damn. Aaand…it takes more than 2 weeks of macerating to get the most flava out of some of these babies. So, now  merry christmas to me I have a LOT of liquers. Here are a few of the winners:

The most inspired was a Mexican-style chocolate liquer. The idea was to blend “spicy” and “lovely” into  the perfect drink. I took 2 dried chipotles, 3 cinnamon sticks, a whole nutmeg and several large pinches of raw cacao nibs, a whole vanilla bean and some brandy. Into a quart jar. Let me tell you. 2 whole chipotles is too much.  Half of one would be just right for me–experiment according to your own taste.

ruby slippers

The more boring but truly versatile and also drinkable was: Ruby Slippers. Very easy! Take a whole bag of frozen raspberries. Blend with enough vodka to fill a 1/2 gallon jar. Wait. Press it out. It  is brilliantly red. Adding a vanilla bean is a bonus here, as is a little cinnamon if desired. This is blendable too.

hello. is it me you’re looking for?

The most fancypants liquer i made was chestnut. I had read in the NYTimes(dining) that Italian chestnut liquer was over a hundred  dollars a bottle and thought
“screw that, i’ll make my own!”

Sure, theirs was probably aged and European and sold in a lovely bottle and all…but this was good enough.

So I roasted 2 pounds of fresh chestnuts in  a cast iron pan in the oven. Just keep an eye on that. After they cooled,  I halved them and filled quart jars halfway. To one I added 2 scoops of raw honey, to the other I did not. I prefer the unsweetened, but both were interesting. Amounts are adjustable, experiment! It is really rather exquisite. And easy! It’s like “what is that flavor?”

i don’t need your fancy italian bottle!

I also tried a roasted hazelnut liquer, along the lines of Frangelico. My tastes are inspired by ancient monks, I guess. Same idea as the chestnut. very smooth. This combines well with vanilla and nutmeg too.

I came across some very nice satsumas at the market and I peeled 3 and filled a jar with the pieces.  ( Can use peels if desired) I added a little maple syrup and several cinnamon sticks. This one does not have a snappy name yet. When you use whole fruit it helps to press it out in your tincture press or a jam or cheese press. To really get that juicy goodness some muscles should be working, you know what i’m saying?

Or…you can save the fruit in there and enjoy a little summer flavor  in the dead of winter. for example, I will cut up some peaches, cover in brandy, then eat  them as a dessert in winter. mmm.

ah, staring into the infinite red well of longing. again.

For a real warmer try the  blend I call “ice fishing”–though we haven’t had much ice this year, it’s an homage to my childhood. I filled a quart jar about 1/8 of the way with dried ginger, added a vanilla bean and filled it with brandy. Yes, that was a little too much ginger,  I need to dilute it. So I would suggest more like 1/10-just cover the bottom of the jar. Or cut with seltzer later. This is very nice with citrus zest. Truly warming, good with anything apple…pie, crisp, baked apples, etc. Also lovely in a mug of tea. Ginger hot toddy, anyone?


The solstice liquer I make every year– but change just a little bit each time. It is a fruity  winter warmer with as many unsprayed oranges as I can fit into a big jar. I add a lot of cinnamon sticks, or chips, 1-2 vanilla beans depending on how fancy you are, whole  cardamon pods, a nutmeg, and a few peppercorns.any kind.  Fill the jar with brandy and sit for about 6 weeks. This one requires a press to squeeeze out the orange juice. It is delicious– the peel stays on while macerating  to give a little hint of  bitter. I don’t feel the need to mix it with anything, it is very orangey. This one is my go-to holiday brew, it’s  warming and practically health food.

too much ginger

There is nothing like a nip of handmade warming goodness on a cold night to warm and relax or a toast with friends and family to celebrate the bounty of  earth. I encourage you to try your hand at a little something, and of course to drink responsibly and don’t drive or operate heavy machinery.

fostering dogs as medicine for the soul

At times healing comes in the form of medicinal herbs. at other times it comes in the form of a changed diet, yoga, a massage, brain surgery or a miraculous saintly visitation. and..sometimes it comes in the form of a furball with 4 legs. yes, i’m talking about a dog.

lydia walks scruffy

Perhaps you are aware that our culture has a mixed relationship with dogs right now. At one extreme we make them fight, at the other we coddle them, even buying diapers and babylike clothes. We value looks  over health and behavior, and seek “papers” that say our dog’s daddy was good-lookin’. And we do everything possible to avoid seeing the truth of how many unwanted dogs get abandoned, gassed and just plain neglected every day. Puppies are cute, their baby faces call out to us every time we ovulate, giving us the false promise of a furry friend replacing all that we do not have.

But something goes wrong. Walking every day seems like too much work, the fuzzy puppy behavior isn’t so cute anymore at 50 pounds, and whoops we forgot to train the dog to pee outside only!  Whatever happens, literally  millions of dogs end up at the shelters every year. Many are quickly labeled “unadoptable”, and probably a few truly are, but most could be just fine with a little training. Others are rescued and enter the dog foster system. Many dogs on petfinder are in foster care. This is a volunter network of  nationwide dog-lovers who have stepped forward to care for shelter dogs  and train, exercise and love them while they wait for a new home.

lydia with jasmine

Why do people foster? We are helping the dogs, and that is a beautiful and fulfilling thing. But also I believe when we care for these dogs we are helping ourselves. Yes, people, when you foster a dog you can learn about dogs, other humans, and yourself. You can learn about training dogs. You can learn about healing dogs. The love I have gotten back from my fosters and adopted dogs so far is unmeasurable. It is infinite. It is medicine.

There are  myths about fostering or adopting an older dog as opposed to a puppy. Most importantly, the dog will not bond to you like a puppy. false. Guess what? AN OLDER DOG CAN BOND TO YOU. Yes, there is the possibility that an older dog will need rehabilitation. And that is not appropriate for everyone. But most just need consistency!

2 catahoula females from shelters: aster and jasmine

So–that is the why. What about the how? You love dogs, you are upset by the excess gassing and abuse, you want to help. What next?

Find a shelter or rescue in your area. an internet search or petfinder are both ways to do so. Also, check with your local animal control officer, dog trainer, pet supply store or ask around at  a dog park or dog-friendly event to find recues you can work with. Talk to them. You usually have to do a basic application. You can request particular dogs, or only big/small dogs, or only males, or a specific breed that you like. You will  tell them if you have kids, or cats, or other dogs. You can say “give me whomever!” You will take photos of your foster dog, take her out to the park and when people say how great she is, mention that “she’s adoptable!” You are this dog’s new agent and you promote her like a rock star.

In the meantime, you are training the dog. Assess what she needs to work on-is it socializing? housetraining? walking nicely on leash? The potential adopters will look to you for answers about the dog. So be honest and upfront about her limits-please don’t say “oh, she loves cats” —for example— but leave out “for dinner”!!

scrufy does not let life get her down

Your house and yard should be dog-proofed. I will not introduce a new dog with bones and balls lying about. Do not be afraid to use tools in the management of your foster dog. Some people use crates, prong collars, liver bits and baby gates to help train the dog. It depends on the level of training needed and your personal style. Using calm energy, anticipating problems BEFORE they happen and exercising the dog are all great free methods.

"sit, please!"

When the reality of the shelter systems is too much for us to handle, we need to ask ourselves what to do. “can i foster”?  If not, what else can I do for dogs ? Support fosters! Support rescues and shelters. Offer to walk a dog, buy some dog food and share photos and information about adoptable dogs with your network. Talk to others about adoption. Do not shop at stores which sell puppy mill dogs. Talk about the realities of puppy mills. Offer support to pet owners who are struggling with behavioral or logisitical issues and considering giving up a pet.

Becoming a foster was a great decision for me. I am setting a good example for my kids. Fostering gives my own dog a job to do and a friend to play with.  It is a lesson in letting go. When I see a dog who was literally cast aside like garbage running, playing and being healed by nature my heart just sings. And every time the van pulls up full of dogs, and they go to their new adoptive home or foster home, my heart is bursting with joy. It is a wonderful moment to share and i am thankful to have the opportunity and ability to be a part of something so actively helpful. Fostering dogs provides healing to ME and helps me to see what love and devotion actually looks like. It has been oneof the best experiences of my life.

don't jump, aster!