Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lemon Basil Brew

Chopped whole lemon and basil in a jar with simple syrup on a white chopping board
Lemon Basil
I can't remember if I have talked about this here but I don't drink. Okay! I actually do drink water and such. I guess a better way to frame this is "I don't drink alcohol." Never have, never will. For some people that is so hard to fathom. And just to avoid confusion, "No, I did not grow up in a household with an alcoholic." Some people will point out that it has something to do with being Muslim. Yes, it does but it goes beyond being a Muslim. I generally find that I don't like anything that will alter my body and mind. And no, just a little alcohol is also still going to alter your brain's processes. There is no such thing as being sober with just a little alcohol. So, alcohol for me is scary.

I am glad I grew up in a sober household because the expectation of growing up to drink alcohol is something that I never had. On the other hand, I grew up in a culture where alcohol was widely available. Any one who knows anything about Lagos can attest to the fact that getting your hands on alcohol as a child is so easy. The street corner mallam who sells sweets will also sell cigarettes and alcohol. It was not uncommon for children to be sent to the street mallam or bar to get a bottle of Guinness or Star, a few sticks of cigarettes plus a few candies as a treat for running the errands.

When I came to school in the US, I remember seeing my university mates drinking like there was no tomorrow. From the alcohol fueled craziness of Sun God festivities at University of California San Diego to the alcohol fueled Friday night jaunts to Tijuana clubs, these were things my Johnny Just Come (JJC)* self saw and avoided. When I went to study abroad at Sussex University in England for the summer, I remember my fellow students from America being crazed at their ability to buy unlimited amounts of alcohol. The age restrictions of America suddenly gave away to the unabashed drunken stupors of the clubs and bars that lined the streets of Brighton. I was called many a name for being one of the few people who was not drinking during the summer semester. I was simply uncool. Heck, I was even called asexual because my sober self could not see the Adonis that resided in the drunk boys that my drunken "friends" saw.

Generally, being sober has defined my social experiences negatives only at certain points of my life. When I lived in Manchester, I never felt left out. I was still invited out to the clubs by my fellow grad students. I still danced like a crazed person in the club even though I was sober and could remember every bit of it. When I moved back to Lagos, it was a non-issue. My sister is a sober person as well.

Then, there was the monster called Boston. I remember moving here thinking I was coming to meet to reasonable adults. Turns out that in Boston the average successful young adult working in the start-up scene can't function without alcohol. Heck, the availability of alcohol in the office is a recruiting tool for some firms. I can't tell you the number of social media post I see everyday with someone boasting about the alcohol games and paraphernalia that makes their office so cool. I could tell you about the social events I went to as a networking move at many offices and the drunken stupor among attendants. I could tell you about going to events at start-up offices and realizing that they did not even have decent drinking water for the sober attendees.

Of course in the way life works, when I complained or brought it up, the problem was mine. I am the no-fun, uptight, untalented start-up community wannabe who can't admit that the reason I am uncomfortable going to events is because I can't cut it. It has nothing to do with realizing that I don't want to imagine my career being in a community where a prerequisite to acceptance is how well you play beer pong or how many shots you can down. The problem is all mine that I see a bunch of young adults misbehaving because they have lost all inhibitions to alcohol. The problem is mine that the inevitable gossip about who touched people inappropriately at that office party last night gets to me and makes me cringe. The problem really is mine that I would rather remember having fun.

I don't work in the start-up community today because of a bunch of BS that I observed with very clear eyes in the months I spent networking. I much prefer the life I live now. I very much prefer my uncool and unsexy existence living in a house outside of Boston with people who don't come home in a drunken fit. I much prefer my co-workers who drink but don't feel the need to go over their limits.

What does this rant have to do with food you ask? Well, I got majorly pissed off by a Jamie Oliver Drinkstube competition this afternoon because the rules require you to make a cocktail recipe with alcohol. I was excited to submit a recipe until I read the rule. Once again, I felt excluded. I mean it is not a big deal because they do have the right to create boundaries for their competition. It just got me thinking how interesting non-alcoholic drinks could be.

Being sober should not mean having to drink sugary drinks that have no depth or flavor. One of the things that I am discovering as I play around with making non-alcoholic drinks is many layers that make a good drinking experience. There are so many sensory pathways that can be appealed to when making a drink. There is the visual experience that gives way to the smell. One of the reasons why I felt in love with this recipe is the smell of the basil and lemon while it was brewing. As you might remember from my pesto post, I got a 2 pounds of really awesome fragrant basil as a gift. This drink recipe is one of way I took advantage of the distinctive floral fragrance of the basil.

The other thing I really wanted to explore with this recipe is the flavor of lemon beyond lemon juice. This is not a lemonade in the classic tradition of squeezing the lemon juice. This recipe actually does not have the tartness of a lemon because I brewed it without squeezing the lemon. I brewed it with whole chopped up lemon so I got the flavor of the lemon oil in the zest, the bitterness of the pith and the citrus elements from the pulpy part of the lemon.This is a very simple recipe that gives birth to a robust drink if you a patient and allow it to cold brew properly. The chief ingredient in this drink is time. Now, if you are ready, the recipe is below. It is your reward for reading my rant. And, if you just skipped the rant to get to the recipe, you get rewarded for your impatience as well. Enjoy!

Chopped whole lemon and basil in a jar with simple syrup
Lemon Basil Cordial

Lemon Basil Brew

3 Organic Lemon chopped into small cubes
8Oz Basil shredded rougly
1.5 Cup Simple Syrup

1. In a glass jar/bowl with a tight cover preferably, combine all the elements. You don't want to brew this is in plastic, especially a plastic jar/bowl you are reusing, because plastic absorbs and releases flavors that can interfere with the brewing process. Cover the jar/bowl and put it in the fridge. Allow this to cold-brew for at least 3 days but no more than 5 days. Don't try to quicken it up by heating it up. You will get too much of the flavors. The cold brew allows for a soft extraction of the different layers of flavor.

2.Strain out the brew without squeezing the lemon. You should strain this out without using any pressure. You can use a cheese bag or strainer and let it slowly drip in the fridge. You will get about a cup and a half of cordial this way.

3.Mix brew with sparkling water at a ratio of 1part lemon basil extract to 3 parts water. So 2oz of lemon basil brew to 6oz of sparkling water.

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