‘Cello Time!

I’ve always wanted to make limoncello. My husband and I enjoy after dinner drinks like port, sherry and limoncello and thought it would be nice to have a homemade selection of the latter in the freezer for guests or just an icy cold nip. I finally found my chance when I found key limes at Iovine’s. I picked up a bag (not inexpensive at $4.99,) tossing it into my basket with thoughts of key lime cheesecake. A few feet down the aisle, I happened upon blood oranges on sale–3 for a dollar. That’s my kind of citrus sale! I grabbed about 10 of them and the wheels started spinning. We’ve had excess vodka in our house for ages–the only alcohol left over from our wedding that we didn’t drink ourselves. After the homemade vanilla and those Sex and the City drinks (what are they called? Cosmos?) I made for my best friend’s bachelorette party we still had vodka to burn.

I perused the internet and found a variety of recipes. All of them started with peeling the citrus and soaking it in 750ml of vodka for four days to one month. I thought I would get more flavor by zesting the fruit. I will not do that in the future. Have you ever tried to zest key limes? Do it. Then you will know why I will never do it again. Beautiful color and scent though.

A month later I opened up the containers to a beautiful, rich orange and green.

I made a quick simple syrup of 2 1/2 cups of sugar and 3 1/2 cups of water (per 750ml vodka) Check it out simmering away.


Once the simple syrup cooled, I combined it with the vodka/citrus mixture and let it sit overnight. Then the fun began. Because I decided to finely zest the peel, it was impossible to strain the mixture–I had to do it about three different times. At some point during that process I remembered that my mesh sieve had mysteriously gone missing and had to fun out to Fante’s (poor me) to pick up a new one. I also grabbed a funnel because that walked too. Oh, and some pretty bottles because limoncello (well, key lime and blood orange ‘cello) can only be served in pretty bottles.

The straining process took a long, long time.

Did I mention it took a long time? Eventually I finished and poured it into my pretty bottles.

Each 750ml bottle of vodka gave me enough for one of those big bottles, two smaller bottles and a taste for my husband and myself.  The color has subsided in the fridge a bit and the ‘cello is awfully sweet–I prefer the tang of the key lime–but it’s been fun to break out the bottle for recent special occasions like my mother’s birthday or my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s visit.

Goodbye Party

Why is it that I go out to drinks and dinner with my family and end up with three pictures?

My younger brother just got a reporting job with a newspaper in Orlando.  Prior to his departure, my family got together, as we have many times before, for a send-off dinner. My brother, unlike me, is a bit of a traveller. Don’t get me wrong–I love traveling. However, when it comes to settling down, I prefer to be in Philadelphia. My brother, on the other hand, has lived in a Cairo, London, Ohio, Salt Lake City and a small town in Jordan (it’s questionable which of the latter two was more of a culture shock.)

The night before he took off to join a land of Mickey Mice, old folks and (friendly) killer sharks, the family got together for one last hurrah. We began with drinks at Vietnam Cafe with plans to dine around the corner at Vientiane, a little Laotian BYOB on Baltimore Avenue.

When my husband, sister and I arrived, my brother, parents and brother’s friend, Artemis, had already ordered their drinks. I usually flip flop between the lemongrass and the French martinis at Vietnam (this is my favorite restaurant, by the way, and I am quite familiar with the menu) and I decided to go with the French martini. As my martini arrived to the table,

So did this monstrosity.

While the picture does not do it justice, my brother and Artemis had chosen to order the most outrageous drink on the menu–the flaming volcano (the most outrageously NAMED drink, on the other hand, is the suffering bastard…) Once again, I wish I had a better camera so that I could have better captured the capsule of “151” rum in the center that was brought to the table afire, hence the name “flaming volcano.” I will tell you, though, that this drink brought us barrels and barrels of laughter. Suffice it to say, there were rarely less than two people sipping from the punch bowl simultaneously.

The guest of honor enjoyed himself immensely.

After rallying a joint effort to finish this bottomless pit, we sauntered around the corner to Vientiane for dinner. I must say, it was a tease to enjoy a drink at my very favorite restaurant only to be torn away when it came time to eat. Vientiane is fine. It’s good, I suppose. But nothing, in my mind, holds a candle to Vietnam Restaurant.  I don’t have much to write as I forgot to take pictures, but we started with appetizers: chicken satay, crispy spring rolls and fried shrimp. The shrimp and spring rolls were good, if not a bit underwhelming. The satay, on the other hand, won me over. I especially enjoyed the silky mellowness of the peanut dipping sauce.

For entrees, my mother got the mussels appetizer, as she is wont to do (order an appetizer as an entree, that is.) They were a decent-sized dish, although I can’t report on the taste. My husband and sister ordered the Pad See-Eew, which are sauteed wide rice noodles with vegetables and soy sauce. The noodle dishes and curries all come with your choice of protein (beef, chicken, shrimp or tofu.) I believe they went with shrimp and received a less than generous serving. My father and brother ordered the shrimp pad thai, which my brother is addicted to (ah, I did it. I ended a sentence in a preposition.) Artemis and I ordered the curry–green for her and red for me.  I don’t eat Thai (or Laotian) food often and never cook it at home as my husband doesn’t love coconut milk flavors or red curries. I love red curry and was looking forward to my entree. It was good. The milky coconut was definitely present along with big chunks of vegetables (the peppers could have been cut into smaller pieces) and a generous amount of chewy beef. I ate about half and polished it off for breakfast the following morning.

The night got really interesting when Artemis (Disclaimer: she’s Greek and a female. She has nothing to do with the man named Artemis on the show or movie Wild, Wild West) broke out the bottle of tsipouro she brought back from her most recent visit to Greece. Tsipouro, if you haven’t taken the time to click the link I so painstakingly provided, is a distilled alcohol from Greece that tastes nothing like the more well-known, anise-flavored ouzo.  In fact, my dear friend, Wikipedia, tells me that tsipouro is a predecessor of ouzo. Another member of the family is raki, that I’ve been so lucky as to taste homemade by my Cretan friend’s father (true story: I kept trying to spell that “Cretian” and was wondering why it was coming up on spellcheck. You learn something new every day.) Jeez, add this to my affinity for limoncello (which, in case you were keeping track, also comes up as a misspelled word) and I’ve become quite the fan of Mediterranean aperitifs.

Where were we???

Oh right, Artemis brought out the tsipouro and the evening quickly took a turn for the crazy. It ended with the bottle being passed around the table for all to share. The waitress then told my mother than she remembered our family because my father is always, ahem, memorable. There was much storytelling and laughter and we sent my brother off with a bang. It’s funny what a good dose of tsipouro can do to a family function. Good luck in Orlando!