I am in the season of life that’s chock-full of kid activities. I often refer to our crazy weeknight evenings as an Uber shift as I drive between school pickups, sports practices, orthodontist appointments and the occasional quick grocery run mixed into the barely controlled chaos. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but I’m certainly seeing a lot of the inside of my car these days.
Hello and happy spring! My name is Andrea and I am a food writer, blogger, home cook, mom and wannabe gardener. I’m so happy to share a few words and recipes with you. You can find more of my recipes and daily fodder over on my website at thesaltandstone.com, in Yakima Magazine and now, right here a couple of times a month.
My son found a German shepherd puppy running around the orchard next to our house over spring break. He was very skinny, timid and sick. We thought we would nurse him back to health and find his owner or secure a forever home. Fast forward several weeks, and no owner claimed him. In the meantime, Max has completely settled into our hearts and family.
So, if you’re keeping track or remember from a few years back when I regularly wrote in this space, that’s three kids, three dogs, a cat, a few cows, one turkey (that’s a story for another day) and a giant garden I’m crossing my fingers comes back to life this spring.
Because we now have a couple of rambunctious young dogs, daily walks through the orchard are a must. Rain or shine, the dogs and I head out on our loop. We climb through a mature pear orchard where white blossoms practically drip from the tree limbs. The blossoms are so fragrant that I can smell the trees from the road. The bees are hard at work and their low hum is music to my ears. A little farther up, the pears turn to apple trees where pink blossoms are just beginning to bloom. The bright pink against the tender green leaves almost stops me in my tracks, it’s so beautiful. I obviously can’t stop or those darn dogs will run too far ahead, but I make a mental note to re-create that beautiful pink color in some way.
Still thinking about those gorgeous, delicate blossoms, I decide the obvious answer is something with rhubarb. Rhubarb (along with asparagus) is always one of the first crops to enjoy in the spring. I love rhubarb for its tart and almost bitter flavor, and one of my favorite ways to enjoy it is to cook the stalks down with sugar and water until I have a thick, flavorful, bright rhubarb syrup. The sugar mellows the tartness of the rhubarb and a little vanilla bean and orange zest brightens and balances the flavor. I love to use the for cocktails during the spring or as a drizzle syrup over vanilla ice cream. In years past, when I’ve had a bumper rhubarb crop, I’ll make several batches of this special syrup and gift it to friends for birthdays, Mother’s Day or just because. Also, the cooked rhubarb leftover after straining the syrup makes an excellent topper for plain Greek yogurt or stirred into oatmeal.
Rhubarb Simple Syrup
1 pound rhubarb stalks, stems removed
2 cups of water
1 cup of granulated sugar
Zest of small/medium orange (about 1/2 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean powder*
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Pinch of kosher salt
Wash rhubarb stalks and chop into half-inch pieces. In a medium pot, combine rhubarb, water, sugar, orange zest, vanilla bean, vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. Bring to a low boil, stirring occasionally. Allow rhubarb mixture to simmer at a low boil for 15-20 minutes until the rhubarb is soft, the syrup is bright pink and the liquid has reduced by about half. Turn the heat off to the pot and allow to cool for about 15 minutes. When the mixture has cooled, strain into a small mixing bowl. Pour syrup into a lidded jar and store in the refrigerator for up to a week. Save cooked rhubarb in a separate container and add to yogurt, oatmeal or as a spread on toast.
For a special spring cocktail, mix 2 ounces rhubarb syrup with 2 ounces gin in a glass filled with ice. Add a splash of tonic water and a squeeze of lemon juice. Garnish with a lemon peel.
*If you don’t have vanilla bean, swap for an additional 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.
Andrea McCoy’s “Salt and Stone” column and recipes will appear twice a month in Explore.