Category Archives: Beverages

The Original Coconut Water

the original coconut water

 You know how freshly squeezed apple juice tastes more appley and therefore infinitely better than bottled apple juice? Coconut water is the same way. I’ve heard quite a few people shake their heads at the coconut water trend, remarking that they simply don’t like the taste of coconut water.  And for the most part, I agree with them.*

two coconut

“But,” I say to these skeptics, “Have you tried the original coconut water?” No, it’s not some brand name; it’s simply coconut water straight from the coconut. You see, coconut water straight from the coconut is a different story than the bottled stuff. Light and refreshing, it’s a delicious afternoon beverage on a hot summer afternoon when another cup of caffeine would make you jittery or it’s too early for a cocktail. I also find coconut water to be the perfect tonic whenever I get a headache, which makes sense because coconut water contains a good bit of potassium. Besides tasting more delicious than bottled coconut water, the other plus of “making” your own coconut water is that you can snack on the coconut flesh after you drain the coconut. When you buy a whole coconut, you’re getting two tasty treats for the price of one. (Just make sure you have an ax lying around to break open the coconut.)

a tough coconut to crack

Coconuts aren’t too tricky to come by. We buy our coconuts at a Chinese produce store for $2 each, but they’re also available at Safeway and Whole Foods for a bit more than that. Sam is our master coconut selector, and he always looks for the biggest coconut and shakes it to hear the water sloshing around inside. Try to choose one that sounds like it has the most water inside.

And remember, terroir, the concept that the land where the food is grown affects its taste, isn’t limited to wine—coconut water tastes different based upon where the coconuts are grown. If you shop at a store like The Berkeley Bowl that sells coconuts from different parts of the world, try a few to see which one you like best. Are you a Thai coconut lover or is the Caribbean coconut more your thing? Or maybe the Florida coconuts hit the spot.

coconut water and coconut draining

Once you buy your coconut, it’s time to crack out the hammer and screwdriver (or other sharp, pointy object). Place the pointed edge of the screwdriver over one of the eyes of the coconut, and tap the screwdriver with the hammer until the screwdriver completely pierces the flesh. Once the screwdriver breaks through, wiggle it around to make the hole a little bigger. Remove the screwdriver from the coconut and invert the coconut on a tall, narrow receptacle. We like to use a glass measuring cup. Let the water drain from the coconut for a few minutes, shaking the coconut to coax those final few drops out. Fill two glasses with ice, pour the coconut water over the ice and serve. The ice part is really important—coconut water tastes best when chilled.

coconut water in measuring cup

*I do think Taste Nirvana’s Real Coconut Water with pulp come pretty close to the real thing—and they’re not paying me to say this. Confession: In the middle of writing this post I was struck by a strong craving for coconut water. Since we’d already polished off the coconut water pictured in the blog, I walked to the store and bought some of this Taste Nirvana. Still! Try making your own coconut water—it’s fun!


espresso cupsThis week the only meal item more consistent than the lattes we’ve been drinking with breakfast are the homemade affogatos we’ve been making for dessert.  These grown-up ice cream floats are easy-peasy: scoop vanilla ice cream into a bowl, pull a shot of espresso and drown the ice cream in the hot espresso. Affogato means “drowned” in Italian, and once you pour the hot espresso over the ice cream, it’s easy to see how the dessert got its name. As the espresso crema melds with the sweetened cream of the ice cream, it creates a velvety and luxurious indulgence.

ice creamWe like to use Three Twins Madagascar Vanilla ice cream in our affogatos because it’s a creamy rather than icy ice cream. As for espresso, well, I’ll reveal the real reason we’ve been splurging on affogatos nearly every night: we bought a Nespresso machine last weekend. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this line of espresso machines, it uses a capsule system to brew espresso quickly and easily. I can hear the coffee purists (and romantics) groaning at the thought of a capsule system—and until last weekend, I did too. At first I felt guilty for using such an automated system. I use an electric toothbrush, read books on my iPad and now use an espresso machine that is as automated as it gets? Was this machine bringing me one step closer to the utterly unromantic food capsule system of The Jetsons?

affogato espresso poured over ice cream The more I thought about it, the more I began to feel a kinship with the characters in the Industrial Revolution-era mini series Lark Rise to Candleford and Cranford, who shudder at how the imminent railway will change their quiet, close-knit communities. Today we’re already well into the technological revolution of the digital age, but how do we balance the new with the old? What do we hold on to and what do we let go?

History is the great teacher that helps us make sense of our current times, and if I look back to reactions to the Industrial Revolution, I think of the art nouveau movement. In reaction to the monotony of the mass produced art created by machines, the art nouveau artists sought inspiration in nature and infused their work with sinuous curves they saw in nature. If I look around me today, I can see people making concerted efforts to unplug from technology and relearn the forgotten arts of previous generations: handmade goods are popular, canning classes are popping up and the DIY movement is as strong as ever. I know I don’t want to live in the past—Midnight in Paris showed me the folly of that mindset—but I also don’t want to forget where I came from, so to speak. Perhaps the answer lies not in rejecting this or embracing that but in observing how the changes affect us and living intentionally in light of that. One thing’s for sure: this isn’t something I can solve in one blog post and package neatly with a bow. In the meantime, I’m going to say I can live with the more frequent affogato ritual.

affogato finishedAs far as I’m concerned, there’s no wrong or right way to make an affogato. Experiment with different flavors of ice cream (Sam likes cardamom ice cream) or adding a spoonful of amaretto or hazelnut liqueur. If you don’t have espresso readily available, use a strong, dark coffee.


1 scoop of vanilla ice cream
1 shot of hot espresso

Make the Affogato

Scoop the ice cream into a bowl, pour the espresso over the top and eat immediately.

Homemade Chai: The Real Deal

chai spices

The illusion of spring was short-lived. While the rest of the country was digging itself out of snow drifts for most of January, here in San Francisco we inhaled the five weeks of dry, balmy weather in the 60s and 70s. This week the rain—much-needed rain—returned and for the past five days rain has poured from the sky by the bucketfuls. There’s nothing like rain to make me want to crawl in bed and cuddle up with a novel and a cup of homemade chai. While I haven’t had the chance to relax and read this week, homemade chai has sustained me through the cool, dark afternoons.

Like many good things, chai’s true identity has been obscured its counterfeits. We’ll call them chai posers. I’ll be the first to admit that I have indulged in and loved these chai posers. In middle school, my best friend Erica and I were excited to discover this exotic yet familiarly-spiced tea. Following a recipe, we mixed powdered spices into condensed milk. A spoonful of this syrupy mixture added sweet hints of cinnamon and ginger to our cups of black tea.

Then, in high school, the Starbuck’s chai tea lattes took the hot beverage world by storm. These chai lattes were an obvious choice for the youth who hadn’t yet become a coffee drinker. While sipping this cloying beverage, my friends and I debated whether our snowy white chai lattes actually contain ed tea or not: the beverage name included the word “tea,” but it neither tasted nor looked anything like tea.

Next, visiting missionaries brought the thick, spiced, strong tea from Nepal. One sip of this chai and I knew it was The Real Deal. Made with black tea, milk, cardamom pods and other whole spices, there was no denying that this was the authentic chai after which so many chai-posers had been striving.

The word chai simply means tea. The other things we associate with chai—milk, spices, sugar—are added to the tea based on region and preference. For example, Sam grew up drinking chai in Pakistan that contained milk, cardamom and sugar in addition to black tea. In other places, the spices include ginger, cloves, cinnamon or black pepper. Kashmiri chai is pink in color and contains saffron and almonds. Each family has their own way of brewing chai, making it a highly personal beverage. This leaves plenty of room for playing around when you make your own chai. Stuck inside the house on a rainy day? Pull some spices from your cupboard and experiment with making chai just the way you like it. Then cuddle up with a good book and enjoy the rain.

chai loose leaf tea


Makes 2 servings


2 mugs of water
2-3 teaspoons strong loose leaf black tea, such as Tetley’s (see photo below)
Spices (choose what you like):
4 cardamom pods, crushed
9 black peppercorns, crushed
4 cloves, crushed
1 inch cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons diced fresh ginger
½ cup milk (whole milk is best)
Sugar (optional)

Make the Chai

Heat water, tea and spices in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and boil for at least 5 minutes. Pour in milk, turn heat to low and simmer for at least 5 more minutes, stirring frequently. Strain tea and sweeten to taste with sugar.

chai tetley's


Gluhwein: Mulled Red Wine


Christmas and New Year’s may be over, but winter is here to stay–at least for a few more months. Gluhwein, the German version of Mulled Red Wine, is the perfect way to chase away the chill of a winter’s day. Gluhwein is festive, easy to make and a satisfying beverage after a day of skiing or snowboarding.

When choosing a red wine for Gluhwein, use one that is fruity, dry and not oaky. A merlot or pinot noir works well. You do not need to use an expensive bottle of wine as you will be adding spices and citrus, which will alter the subtleties prized in expensive wine. Still, skip the Two-Buck Chuck and opt for a slightly nicer wine–you won’t regret it.

This recipe was given to me by my sister Caroline, who received it from acquaintances who own a winery in Germany.


Gluhwein spices

Serves 4.


½ orange, slice
½ lemon, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
2-3 cloves
1 star anise (this is a spice worth seeking if you don’t already own it)
¼ cup sugar (more or less to taste)
200 ml water (slightly less than 1 cup)
750 ml fruity, dry red wine
2 Tablespoons brandy (more or less to taste) (optional)

Make the Gluhwein

In a large pot, combine the orange slices, lemon slices, cinnamon stick, cloves, star anise, sugar and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar.

Once the sugar dissolves and the spices have infused the sugar water, turn the heat down to low and pour in the red wine and brandy, stirring to incorporate into spice mixture. Heat the Gluhwein until steaming but not boiling. Do not boil the Gluhwein; doing so will evaporate the alcohol.

Serve immediately. If there is still Gluhwein leftover within one hour of making it, remove the orange and lemon slices so they do not impart a bitter taste to the Gluhwein.

Gluhwein 3

A Little Nightcap

honey lemon brandy tea 011honey lemon brandy tea 030

November brings cooler days, darker evenings, anticipation of the holidays and–drat it!–colds and the flu! I have been very fortunate to not have more than a sore throat in the past few days because Sam has had an awful cold and over half of my mom’s 5th graders are sick with the flu! In addition to get getting lots and lots of sleep and taking my favorite Wellness Formula (it’s more effective than Airborne!), I’ve been drinking lots of hot water with lemon and honey to soothe that tickle in my throat. A couple days ago I discovered that a schluck of Brandy in my honey lemon water adds a delicious flavor (and calms that sore throat, of course!). This evening I had my little honey-lemon-Brandy nightcap in a lovely, wistful teapot from my Aunt Linda. There used to be a cup on the bottom, but it broke during a move. Not to worry, though, because I love to use my “A” cup that Dani gave me for Christmas last year. If you’re feeling under the weather, have a little nightcap tonight and stay tuned because tomorrow I will expound the wonders of Wellness Formula.

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