[The happiest of hours, June 2012.]
Hello from San Francisco where it's a balmy 54 degrees today (in the fog; it might be a bit cooler in the shade) and I am wearing wool socks and clutching on to the thought of August in New England to get me through. It certainly doesn't seem at all like refreshing cocktail weather - yet refreshing cocktails are all that're on my mind today, specifically those made with a splash of gin, a splash of sparkling water, and a teaspoon or two of rhubarb syrup.
[Rhubarb-honey syrup, June 2012.]
Ah yes: rhubarb, there you are again my old-new friend. Let it never be said I don't appreciate a good thing: so far this spring (and now summer, though the wind whipping the tree branches around outside my window does belie the image that word creates) I've made a rhubarb-strawberry crumble, rhubarb compote, rhubarb cake, and rhubarb jam. Suffice to say I am into rhubarb this year. And why not? It's arguably one of the prettiest spring vegetables (close second: chard straight from the garden - but then again, I'm quite biased toward chard) around. If you're able to get very deep pink stalks the syrups and jams for which you use them will also turn an astonishingly vibrant pink, too. Not that we should choose our fruits and vegetables for their beauty (cabbage anyone? Although I don't find cabbage to be all that ugly, really ...) but I have a soft spot for pink. Rhubarb wins again.
I don't drink a lot of cocktails - I mean, I do like to try out new drinks on occasion, particularly if I'm at one of San Francisco's neat little hidey-holes that specializes in interesting drinks (or just is known for making a solid cocktail with good ingredients), such as Elixir or Bourbon and Branch (note: save that one for special occasions because it ain't cheap). Most of the bars in my neighborhood don't have a full liquor license so I happily stick to wine or beer if I'm out and about, and most of my friends are the wine-drinking sort so there's not a lot of mixing up of exotic drinks. Still, if my household has a 'house drink' it's definitely the gin and tonic, and it's drunk year round regardless of weather.
But (there's always a 'but') in the past year or so I've been finding either the tonic or the gin to be a bit too bitter for me, and I haven't indulged too much. I bought my husband a bottle of No. 209 gin for his birthday - locally produced right here in the city! - and it's lovely: smooth and crisp, with nary a hint of bitterness. When I landed on the idea of a boozy (or not) rhubarb-infused cocktail last night whilst perusing the produce aisle in Whole Foods after my yoga class, I knew immediately any drink I came up with must feature that delicious gin and perhaps a lot less of tonic.
So I put together a ridiculously easy-to-make rhubarb syrup of chopped rhubarb cooked down with just a bit of honey and water, stirred a healthy spoonful into a glass filled part-way with gin and ice, and finished the whole thing off with sparkling mineral water to make a drink I've dubbed the "R+G" ("rhubarb + gin").
(I find her to be be quite lovely, don't you?)
[R+Gs, June 2012.]
Were rhubarb and gin made for each other and I have lived on all this time blissfully unaware? It's possible. The two flavors complement each other so well: the slightly floral taste of the gin balanced by a touch of sweetness from the honey in the syrup and rhubarb's, well, rhubarbness. And it's pink! Oh, sweet spring and summer, you deserve a drink such as this: refreshing, light, sweetly perfumed and with just a hint of a blush. I don't know if this will become our new 'house drink' (it is manly enough, I wonder, for a guy who swims in the bay without a wetsuit?) but it's certainly going to become mine.
Of course you needn't use gin here; as I type, I'm sipping away on sparkling water dosed with a dollop of rhubarb syrup (the "R") and it's delicious. Just the thing for a chilly Friday afternoon with piles of work still to do and a messy house to tackle before the weekend descends. I'm wishing for sun despite the dismal forecast, and eying the rhubarb syrup on my counter wistfully as I imagine sipping on these beauties at a garden party ... on a deck in the sun ... at the beach, after a swim ... Well, a girl can dream.
Rhubarb Simple Syrup
Makes about 2 cups
4 stalks rhubarb, chopped
1 cup honey or sugar
1 cup water
In a saucepan over moderately-high heat, bring rhubarb, sugar, and water to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes until rhubarb is softened. Strain mixture, mashing rhubarb to extract as much liquid from it as possible. Allow to cool, and transfer to a jar. Store in the fridge for up to three weeks.
2 oz gin
6 oz sparkling water
2 oz rhubarb syrup
½ lime, juiced
Mix in a tall glass; add ice. Garnish with a slice of lime.
Pour the water into a tall glass, and stir in as much syrup as you like. Garnish with the lime slice.