Gettin Gin-ny With It

Ok, lame title, but I couldn’t think of a better way to describe how I spent last Saturday. I recently found out that Washington has it’s very own gin distillery, New Columbia Distillers. People have been talking about the craft breweries that have been popping up around town, like this one, this one, and this one, but I only just discovered the gin.

Not only do I love a good G+T on a hot summer day, it should also be noted that as a native Washingtonian, I get really excited when we attract new, different businesses in this town. Living in a city that’s entirely centered around the government is super boring, so I love that people are diversifying the economy here. They are breathing much-needed new life into the city and making it a little cooler and more fun to live here. Way to go, New Columbia!

Anyway, I got on the Green Hat Gin website (that’s their brand) a few weeks ago to see what it’s all about. Upon quick inspection, I found out that you can sign up to volunteer to help them bottle on weekends. It’s free to volunteer, and you know I need weekend activities that don’t involve me spending money. Clearly, I was intrigued, so I signed up online and last weekend my number got called.

It’s a pretty easy process, and they let you do a little bit of everything. It took about 2 hours, but it went by quickly because they gave me a few gin and tonics for my trouble. Not too shabby!

The whole volunteer process starts with what they call the gin cow. That huge silver canister to the left is full of gin, and they raise it up so that it drips into the machine with the funny looking udders below.

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Once the cow is full, then it’s go time. We dispensed the gin into the bottles, corked it, labeled it, and sealed it to go off to be sold.

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Here I am in the final step of the process, blow-drying the plastic top onto the bottle. Notice the beads of sweat on my brow, I was working hard!

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And, here is the finished product from my batch. If you happen to pick up a bottle from batch 43, you’ll know it was hand bottled by yours truly (and a band of other volunteers).

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The lovely owners gave us a discount on our work, so I took home a bottle for safe keeping. I was thinking of using to make this punch that I had at a party a few weeks ago. Or, I could try my hand at some of these.

So how about it? Have any of you had my hometown gin before?

The Ultimate Condiment: Caramelized Onion Jam

Every other week, I get a delivery of local fruits and vegetables from Washington’s Green Grocer. They deliver in-season fruits and veggies year-round and straight to your door. It’s a total indulgence, but I have loved doing it. (Incidentally, their website has a great blog and a whole host of yummy recipes for using their deliveries in the right way)

The issue I have about using the Green Grocer is trying to figure out how to use the entire contents of the box each week. It can be tricky, but I hate throwing away food so I try to get creative. Recently, they’ve been big on onions, so this past weekend, I took advantage of the rainy Sunday to make caramelized onion jam.

The beauty of this stuff is that it’s good on everything and it keeps for weeks. You can use it to top chicken or pork, add it to softened cream cheese and serve it with crackers for an hors d’oeurve, toss it in chicken salad, or my personal favorite, add it to a grilled cheese sandwich. Total perfection.

It does take a while, but you don’t have to pay much attention to it so you can get other things done. I highly recommend it. Here’s the recipe (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen).

Caramelized Onion Jam

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 pounds onions, halved and sliced through root end into ¼-inch-thick pieces
Salt and pepper
¾ cup dry red wine
½ cup water
⅓ cup sugar
¼ cup balsamic vinegar (preferably aged/good quality)
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and place the rack to lower-middle portion. Spray the inside of Dutch oven with vegetable oil spray.  Add oil and heat until it shimmers. Stir in onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover, put the pot in the oven, and cook for 1 hour. (The onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume.)

Remove pot from oven and stir onions, scraping bottom and sides of pot. Return pot to oven, partially covered, and continue to cook, until onions are dark golden brown, about 1½ to 1¾ hours. Stir the onions and scrape bottom and sides of pot about every 30 minutes to ensure they cook evenly. Transfer onions to cutting board, let cool slightly, and then chop into rough 1-inch pieces.

Put the chopped onions back into the dutch oven, stir in wine, water, sugar, vinegar, and thyme to deglaze the pan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until liquid is reduced and rubber spatula or wooden spoon leaves distinct trail when scraped across bottom of saucepan, about 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Transfer jam to jar with tight-fitting lid, let cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate. The jam can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature before using.

Here is the finished product. It’s hard to imagine that all of those onions are jammed into this one little jar (no pun intended…well, maybe a little).

 

 

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There are a million variations to this recipe, so you can feel free to experiment as you like. Here are some other versions to get you started – try this from the Green Grocers site, this one from Oh Cake that uses sweet and regular onions , or this one which uses bourbon to add the sweet, tart flavor.

A Weekend Experiment in Hybrid Living

I have always driven old, foreign cars. I’ve gone from a gas guzzling Volvo to a glorified Honda wind-up toy. I’m currently driving a 15 year-old BMW that I bought for its automatic windows last year. Clearly, the idea of having a new car is somewhat…well…foreign to me.

So, when Ford recently reached out to offer me a new car for the week, I decided to see what a new, American car had to offer. Being the Discountess, I requested a hybrid to see what all the hubbub was about. Plus, I wanted to make that free tank of gas last all week (and last it did!)

Now, when someone offers you a spanking new (and bright blue, I might add) C-Max for the week, it’s only natural to take a road trip. So last weekend, some friends and I tested out the open roads in my new car. Meet the “boo berry,” our sweet ride.

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The purchasing budget for the weekend was $200. Our destination – the new and improved J. Crew outlet. The new location is twice the size, and therefore has twice the deals. Yes, please! We used the Sirius satellite radio to pump ourselves up for the savings.

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The new store was even bigger and better than I had imagined.

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Yet, we each managed to stick to our respective budgets (total miracle). Here’s all of our loot.

 

 

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I got a dress, two skirts, a bracelet, a silk blouse, and a pair of pants for $148.36, approximately $52 under budget. Wahoo! I decided to use that $52 of savings to buy my groceries for the week on the way home. There is a Wegman’s right before you get on to 66, so we pulled in to check it out.

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Wegman’s is like an amusement park for people who love the grocery store (and I LOVE the grocery store). You could get lost in there, seriously. Somehow, I managed to keep it in check, and I walked out with $47 worth of groceries for the week.

Weekend expenditures:
Clothes: $148.36
Groceries: $47.00
Gas: $0 (!!)

Total: $195.36. Not bad if I do say so myself.

And, the best part is that I arrived home, after putting 400+ miles on the car, with just over a quarter tank of gas. That’s some pretty awesome gas mileage. I’m not in the market for a new car now, but I will say that driving this car made a pretty convincing argument for buying a hybrid when it’s time.

Sadly, I had to say goodbye to the boo berry last week, but we’ll always have our road trip memories together…