Monday, May 26, 2014

The Results Are In...

"You know what you made? You made Jagermeister!"

Said my brother-in-law Brian, kidding but sort of serious, after he read my Fig Cordial blog entry. Brian was going to visit us for the long Memorial Day weekend. While he is not a big drinker at all, he is probably my #1 go-to source for information on liquor. Or liqueurs. Or, in my case, cordials. He knows his stuff. So before he arrived, I remembered I had jars of figs and things marinating in vodka in our closet. I asked him to read my blog entry, think about what could be mixed with my fig cordial, bring some mixers with him, and we'd have a taste-testing good time. It just so happens that Jagermeister is one of his favorite sipping drinks. Score!

I knew my fig cordial needed some help. I tasted it weeks ago and my first thought was that I made cough syrup--or something that could be used to possibly make me feel better when I'm sick. Now, that's a pretty low bar for this stuff to jump over. I wasn't impressed, and thought I had basically wasted a gallon of cheap vodka, which is kind of a shame in its own way, and goes to show what I thought of this concoction. But it WAS very pretty--a deep ruby-amber color, and I had hope that we'd find something that would work.

After Brian e-mailed me back with his comparison to Jagermeister, he sent me a couple links to websites listing HUNDREDS of cocktails to make using Jagermeister, as well as the Jagermeister webpage, found here. With those links in hand, plus the Wikipedia page, I find out that he's pretty dang close. I didn't crack the nut that is the secret combination of 56 herbs and spices that makes the true Jagermeister, but it rings true--especially the commonality that I made a product that some people will hate, and others will love--just like Jagermeister.

The real Jagermeister was rolled out to the world, for better or worse, in 1935 by Wilhelm and Curt Mast of Germany. The name, meaning "Master Hunter," was a reflection of Curt's passion for hunting. While Jagermeister's recipe is largely still a secret, several taste-connoisseurs have determined that some of the ingredients include cinnamon, anise, and ginger (all three of which went into my fig cordial), plus things like citrus peel, juniper berries, and ginseng. Another website mentioned cardamom (check!) and possibly vanilla (check!). And, it is truly either loved or despised. I wanted to find ways to make my fig cordial loved.

I read through some of the cocktail recipes. Some were your basic "mix with a bunch of liquors" to come up with something that completely masks all the individual flavors plus ____ (sweet juice goes here; take your pick) that overpowers even THAT.

Some of the comments people added at the end of various websites included vows that Jagermeister cured them of stomach ailments; that they take a shot of the "old Jager" every night to help with indigestion; that when sick, nothing makes them improve better than a cup of black tea, a hit of Jager, and a sugar cube. And maybe there is a nugget of reason there, given ginger (aids nausea, good for digestion) and other supposed ingredients that are antioxidants or anti-inflammatories (cinnamon) it contains.

Suggested mixers included things I wouldn't really be surprised to hear: pineapple, cranberry, and orange juices, vodka (which is already a part of my cordial), Squirt soda, and even cola.

Others were surprising--peppermint schnapps? Kahlua, coffee, cream, and a hit of Jager? Other sweet liqueurs like blackberry schnapps? Jack Daniels, Coke, and Jager? Kool-Aid? What about making a JagerBomb--Jagermeister with Red Bull? Whoa. Even grape soda, mentioned several times. Yes, the grape soda you had when you were a kid--that fizzy, dark purple (I don't even want to know how much dye goes into it) sickly-sweet pop that makes my stomach churn just thinking about it.

So the day Brian showed up, I pawed through my cabinets. I found an old can of pineapple juice, some plain sparkling water that I thought could cut its powerful taste, and we had bought a real pineapple for the weekend, not thinking it'd be a lab rat for soaking in fig cordial. Brian (I knew I picked the right person for this!) showed up with papaya and pineapple schnapps; cherry cola; ginger ale; Squirt; can of the dreaded grape soda. Honestly, I didn't think they still sold this garbage (I never peruse the soda aisle).

Testing one thing and another separately with fig cordial and then mixing one, two, or three things together, we had fun trying things out. At one point, my neighbor and friend Pat came by. She had a totally different set of taste buds than we did, and what was almost bearable to us was unbearable to her. All good--that's what experimenting is for.

Now, the results!

The first mix that I could live with was a blend of papaya and pineapple schnapps, a hit of Jack Daniels, a splash of sparkling water, and fig cordial. I can see your face....please, I know. Stop. It wasn't bad.

Another decent mix was orange juice and fig cordial, straight up. Possibly coming in just by a nose ahead of that was OJ, champagne, and a hit of fig cordial. We decided to have that play on a mimosa the next morning. The thing about OJ and fig cordial--put it in an opaque glass. The thick orange juice combined with the glossy ruby-brown cordial created the unappetizing color known as "mud." You really don't want to see it as it's going down.

Another success? Pineapple chunks marinating in fig cordial.

But what was our favorite? You guessed it---GRAPE SODA!!!! Yuck!!! But yum!!!! It's unbelievable how the two flavors played upon each other to come up with a not-sweet-soda, not-too-herby/spicy drink.

Worst? Fig cordial and ginger ale. We both thought that may be worthy, but...nah. Terrible.

I actually think that I'll like it with hot tea and a sugar cube. I may have to wait until I'm down with a cold to attempt that. Or maybe I'll try it tonight. Who knows. I do know that I'm going to have to swallow a lot of pride if I end up having to buy a six-pack of grape soda. Maybe I know a kid I can pay to walk into Safeway and buy grape soda for me. Regardless, I have enough of the stuff to last. Once the figs and other ingredients were removed, I ended up with about two quarts. Want some?

Smile, my pretty!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Nestbox. Bird. Challenge. Victory.

   Several years ago, my husband was browsing the web for something to pop out on the screen as a good birthday present for his wife (me). He found this quaint wooden nest box that had a carved caricature of an old man with a large nose, holding a pair of binoculars. The entry holes for the birds are the man's nostrils. It is very cute, and we hang it on a tree near our back deck every spring.

   The box is made for wrens, the entry holes being in the configuration that wrens like (facing horizontally out so they can go up and in). It's been checked out over the years by nuthatches, but there's never been any use of it by any bird--because our yard isn't really good wren habitat. The only time our yard was visited by a house wren (the most common wren species up here), it was a fly-by out front. Hello, no thanks, nothing good here, goodbye.
This is what the box looked like in 2005. 2006. 2007.
2008. 2009. 2010. 2011. 2012. And 2013.

Here is John James Audubon's illustration of a House Wren, note the nest configuration, in an old hat:

    Imagine our surprise when, just a couple weeks ago, a male house wren inspected our little man, and decided it was the perfect pad for a mate. We know it was a male, because in House Wren World, males find a nest spot (or a few spots), build the start of a nest (or a few nests), attract a mate, and then SHE gets to choose which nest they'll use. So there was this proud dude, flying inside with sticks and soft stuff, and then perching himself on a nearby branch, busting with pride and singing his wee little heart out. Like this:

    Singing singing singing. This would go on for hours, I am not kidding you. He'd move to a different branch, and start over. Hours. It was heartbreaking, like watching Cyrano de Bergerac trying desperately to woo his Roxanne. Wait. Cyrano. Cyr-wren-o.....perfect!!!

    After a couple days of this lone, ever more desperate song piercing our souls, I mentioned to Bruce that, you know, Cyrano may not get his Roxanne, considering Roxanne may never come within a half-mile of this property. We could only hope and watch.

    Bruce had a lot of chances to watch, too, because he had many, many yard projects going on. When Bruce works in the yard, he pulls out this boombox, tunes into the local oldies radio station, and plays it loud enough to hear it from all over the yard. A week or so ago, I came home from work to find Bruce in the yard, constructing whatever. The boombox was pulled out like normal, but it wasn't on. I talked to him a bit about our day, and inquired "why aren't you listening to the radio?"

    With this sheepish voice, he said quietly, "The wren wouldn't be heard by any females...I didn't have the heart to drown him out." (all together now "aaaawwwwwwwwwwwww...").

    And that is why I married him.

    But back to the story. Cyrano continued to sing, we continued to wait. Day after day.

    Today, I went on my morning walk with Carly, and Bruce hung back in the yard to fix, build, or water something. Upon our return, Bruce motioned me over to him. With a twinkle in his eye and barely a smile, he asked "What would be the best news you could possibly hear right now?" I thought a bit, and then it hit me.


   We grinned at each other and cheered. Score one for perseverance. You go, Cyrano.

   Over breakfast on the back deck, I saw both Cyrano and Roxanne. One was singing, one was fluffing up the nest--both reminding me that sometimes, it's the little things in life that count, big time.

Our Cyrano

His Roxanne