Food and Drink

Cooking DNA

I started Italian-American Sunday last week on a whim. You can see my Google Plus collection about that; read the post at the bottom first. I am missing that part of my background so hard as I grow older, and don't know how to get any of it back except by cooking.

[I want to apologize for all this text before the cooking part; I don't like that very much as a rule. But I had a thought process going.]

This past week, as you know, Central Italy was upended by an earthquake. Amatrice was hit very hard. And so I thought I would make spaghetti all’amatriciana on Sunday in honor of the people there. I went to Jungle Jim’s on Thursday for Smoking Goose guanciale and a couple of other ingredients. I learned Jungle Jim's had the guanciale by asking them at Twitter. And here it is:

You’ve probably seen this dish with bucatini; the hollow spaghetti. I read this is because that’s how it evolved in Rome, but in Amatrice, they still use spaghetti. Hopefully, they can rebuild and continue to do so in the future.

I pretty much always use linguine. If a dish wants angel hair or something, generally it doesn’t appeal to me anyway.

So I Googled some recipes, found several that claim to be the most authenticest at all (try amatriciana ricetta tradizionale in the search window,) and decided to use two as influence for my dish today. I added the Serious Eats suggestion of white wine for deglazing the pan to this recipe I found which is charming in its English translation. I did not remove the guanciale before warming the tomatoes, as some other sites suggested.

Apparently, one important aspect in the original version is using a different pecorino than Romano. Romano is strong and salty, and according to the self-appointed authority, the sauce wants a milder one.

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However, I couldn’t find the right pecorino at Jungle Jim’s, not because they don't have a jillion cheeses, but because it's made in small amounts and isn't widely available.

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So I stood there and sniffed all the cheeses made with sheep’s milk to guess what might work, then ended up choosing something I decided would just be right because it’s what I’d have to use.

That’s how it works, you know.

The other aspect is whether to use fresh or boxed tomatoes or tomato sauce. I speak with someone on Google Plus occasionally who tells me that where she lives in Italy, the tomatoes and tomato sauce come in boxes instead of cans. So, I bought boxes at Jungle Jim’s when I shopped for the cheese and the very important guanciale. I do have fresh tomatoes, but all the ones coming in now are yellow, which we don’t want for this sauce.

Finally, I read today that people are encouraging restaurants to serve Bucatini All’Amatriciana and send the proceeds to the Italian Red Cross. You might see if a restaurant in your city is participating, or donate directly if you are able.

Ingredients for last night's Linguini All'Amatriciana:

8+ ounces (225-250 g) guanciale cut into small strips
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium heat chili pepper (you could use a few flakes)
1/3 cup (80 ml) dry sherry (when it calls for white wine, what I have for it is dry sherry or dry vermouth)
750 ml box Italian tomatoes (I used strained, but I think chunks would be better, or a large can of San Marzano tomatoes, squished with your hands like Lidia does.)
1 lb dry linguini
1/2 cup grated (microplaned) Pecorino Romano mixed with 1/2 cup Trugole
(I think that's 50 grams each, maybe don't quote me.)

And here's what to do with it:

Heat olive oil in wide pan large enough to hold all of the above. Add the guanciale and the chili pepper, and stir around until the guanciale is starting to become translucent. Serious Eats recommended medium high. I heated to medium high, then turned it down a little when I added the meat. This took about five minutes, but you could turn it down more after the oil is heated, and go more slowly. Guanciale
Turn it back up to medium high and add the sherry or white wine, and scrape the pan with a nice flat wooden spatula. Or what you have. After a minute or two, add the tomatoes and a pinch of salt. When it bubbles, turn it down to simmer. If you put in a whole pepper, take it out now. Pomi
Cook the linguini about two minutes short of done. Be sure to add plenty of salt to the water. Then take the pasta right out of the water and add it to the simmering tomato sauce. It's better to do that than draining it, but if you have one of those cool pasta pot inserts, yay, just be careful adding it all at once. Then add a half cup or so of the pasta water, stir it in, and add the cheese, stirring some more. Let it cook for a few minutes to thicken the sauce and finish the pasta. Cheesepan
You might be used to sauce just put over pasta at the very end, and this will have a different texture. You will love it, but it will thicken more as it cools, and be less nice later on. So eat it right away, and if you aren't going to eat this much at once, cut the whole recipe in half.

Serve with more cheese for the top. You will just love the guanciale, and it will have been worth seeking it out. Other recipes will tell you it's okay to substitute pancetta or something, and I'm sure you can make something nice with it, but it won't be the same food at all.

birthday treats

The other day I found myself desiring a birthday cake. I wanted it to taste a bit fancy without much effort. Effort is for other people's birthday cakes. So I looked around for ideas and pieced this together from two or three sites. 

I used a Duncan Hines fancy cake mix, and made two 8-inch layers, coated with ganache. I made raspberry-lime sauce for the plate. 

The ganache has 8 oz dark chocolate chunks melted with 6 tbs of butter, 2 tbs Chambord, 2 tbs heavy cream, 2 tbs corn syrup, and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract.  I poured it over the cake layers after they cooled for a few minutes and put them in the refrigerator for about half an hour. 

Then I put a small package of raspberries in the food processor, squeezed in a couple of limes' juice, and some sugar, and then it wasn't enough sugar, so I added more. Maybe 1/4 cup altogether. Next time I'd splash in more Chambord, as well. 

Here's a phone pic of cake slices.

12 - 1 (1)

I also made dinner, which was not a perfect success, but a good trial for another effort sometime. 

This is a Vietnamese farmed fish I probably won't buy again, but it was there, and okay. It's firm and light. 

I made a pistou, processing basil leaves from the garden with garlic and olive oil, then stirring in a handful of shaved Grana Padana, and some pepper. And spread it on the fish. 

They're rolled up with bacon. I baked them at 350º for about half an hour, then broiled them for a couple minutes. 

The phone pic is awful. And you see I didn't trim the green beans, but I was tired of things just then. The salad is made of things from my garden; some lettuce, greens, and early onions, and white balsamic vinegar and olive oil. 

12 - 1
It was all very nice, and the nicest thing of all is that I picked my first tomato. I don't know why it ripened so early, but maybe it was just a birthday gift from the universe, or some such fun notion.


I am back! And I made tacos...

You are likely new to this blog, so here are a few things to know. First, I am always suffering under some photo disability. I have a better kitchen and better camera this year, and a new tripod. So, naturally, my overhead kitchen light has failed. C'est ma vie. Second, I do this blog from late spring to late autumn, then something goes wrong and I abandon it for awhile. Okay, and I do this differently than other people. But you might have guessed that already.

1. You already know what a fresh cracked egg looks like.

2. I think pictures are more interesting with context.

3. I'm not a food photographer. I am a good cook.

4. Cooking is often messy. 

5. Sometimes I post stuff just to make fun of it.

So, I made tacos. When I make them for me to enjoy, which is usually, they are made with pork. Usually pork shoulder, which is mad cheap, and the fat in it makes for great flavor. But Costco has this top roast pork loin right now for $1.99/lb, and it's great in the slow cooker, and so. I used about four pounds today,


and cut it into chunks, just about as big as you could eat, if you wanted to.Choppedpork

Seasoned with McCormick's Applewood Rub, browned in olive oil.

Isn't this a truly awful photo? I'm so proud. It's like I work for Better Homes & Gardens, circa 1966. Anyway. In the slow cooker I put the pork, one sliced onion, five sliced cloves of garlic, about a cup of salsa verde, and a cup of dark ale. When I do a roast, I put the meat on top of the vegetables, but for this it isn't necessary. High for one hour, low for about five hours. If you're gone all day, just start it on low; it'll be fine. 

When that was just about finished, I peeled and chopped two sweet potatoes. (Yams, don'tcha know.) The peel goes into my little compost container to be tossed outside whenever I get around to it. 

Then I shredded the pork, spread it on a cookie sheet, and poured about 2 cups of the cooker liquid over it. I tossed the sweet potato chunks with olive oil, sea salt, and a little chili powder, put them on a pan, and then put both pans in a 350 degree oven.

 After 30 minutes, I tossed the pork and sweet potatoes. After another 20 minutes, I did it again, traded racks, and added (two handfuls of) seasoned green beans to the sweet potato pan. Another 20 minutes, it was all finished.

I warmed some small flour tortillas, spread with a little sour cream, then added pork, sweet potatoes, and green beans.

You don't have all that time to waste so let me point out that you can skip the entire pork-in-oven process. Just take it out of the liquid, cook the vegetables of your choice, and you're good to go. But don't you dare throw out that cooking liquid. It can season a ton of things. Freeze it if you can't think of a reason to use it in the next few days; it'll keep for a couple months. 

Shrimp Creole Italiano-Americano

I was looking around at shrimp creole recipes yesterday, but just wasn't really in the mood for that flavor. I was in the mood for my flavor! Well, the day ran long, and I ordered pizza. Then today, I figured out how to take Emeril's shrimp creole recipe and wreck it into my own thing. 

Here's most of the ingredients:


Here's the shrimp. I don't have the photographic equipment to make raw shrimp not look disgusting. 

The little shrimp misters sat in a nice ice bath, doused with a liberal amount of sea salt, waiting to be rendered pink. 

So. I cooked about 6 ounces of no nitrate-added bacon. I'm into that now. 


Then added a chopped green pepper, two small thinly sliced onions, and 3 smashed garlic cloves


While that was humming along just below medium heat, I used two tsp butter, and 1 tsp olive oil, and 1 smashed garlic clove to season my rice pot. Then I added one cup of converted rice, stirred it til it sizzled, added 2 1/4 cups hot water, brought it to boil, put the lid on, turned it to simmer. 

What I'm trying to say is, I made rice. Use a tight-fitting lid and do not lift it until the rice is done. You can set a timer. I just listen to it, and when it sounds like all the water's gone, I turn it off but leave the lid on until I'm ready for it. 

I did say this was Italian-American. It's a sort of intuition thing.

Okay, then to the saute pan: two cans diced tomatoes (drain one) a couple dashes of southwest chipotle seasoning (or use something similar,) some hearty shakes of dried Italian seasoning, a spoonful of sugar, a couple dashes of salt. 

And two hearty splashes of vermouth



This cooks for about 15 minutes, then the rice is done. Then I added about 1.5 lbs of shrimp, peeled, deveined, tail-on. You can take the tails off. I didn't want to. They cook for about 5 minutes in the sauce. Then add 1/4-1/2 cups of heavy cream, stir around for a minute. 

Then you have this:


and this:


molto delizioso. 

Sunday Cookfest/Sunday Supper

It's been too long since I just enjoyed myself cooking all day. So I went to the store, 2011-05-15 09.59.17

Made some tasty coffee: 2011-05-15 10.35.52

Then I made chicken stock, of course, with a good chicken to use later this week. 2011-05-15 12.24.03

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And today's dinner was so delicious, I feel I outdid myself. :-)

I prepared back ribs, baked beans, cucumber salad, and mixed berry pie.

The baked beans are my favorite part. I took the Frugal Gourmet's recipe for Boston baked beans, and adapted it slightly for my slow cooker and ingredients. One bag of Great Northern beans soaked the quick way, with the addition of a teaspoon of baking soda, plus 3/4 lb bacon, a medium onion, maple syrup, brown sugar, red wine vinegar, ground mustard, salt and pepper. I made three layers of the soaked beans, chopped bacon and sliced onions, then mixed the rest of the ingredients with hot water and poured it over. Then I let it cook on high for about 5 hours. High is 300º so that could just be done in the oven in a crock with a good lid. 2011-05-15 12.56.09

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The cucumber salad is made of whatever I have around. I don't know why the picture makes it look thin and foamy. It isn't at all! Today's has sour cream, red wine vinegar, milk, sugar, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, mixed with cucumber, finely diced onion, and some chopped mint leaves. 2011-05-15 17.52.21

The ribs were just baked slowly all afternoon, coated in a seasoning blend and wrapped in foil. Wrapping them in foil helps them steam so they are very tender, and if you want to, you can put sauce on them at the end, turn up the temperature, and cook them a little longer. 2011-05-15 17.53.42

I love the mixed berry pie with the frozen triple berry blend from Costco. They taste amazingly fresh and go well together.

My usual crust is very basic; 2 1/4 cups flour (my flour is a 5:1 ratio of unbleached white flour to unbleached white whole wheat flour,) 1 tsp salt, 1 stick cold butter, chopped. I pulse that in the food processor, then add a mixture of 1/3 cup cold water, 1 egg, 1 tbs white vinegar, and pulse again just until it's all clumped together. Dumped out on a floury counter, kneaded very lightly and quickly, then refrigerated while the filling is prepared. It's important for the pie crust to be cold when it goes in the oven so the butter doesn't melt right at first. 2011-05-15 13.36.04

I use 6 cups of fruit with 3/4 cup sugar, 3 tbs flour, a splash of vanilla, and two splashes of orange liqueur. That's a basic fruit pie recipe, by the way, that you can easily adapt for different fruits. Some require a little more or a little less sugar, and some want cinnamon or nutmeg, as well, and a different type of juice or liqueur. I use almond extract for cherry pie, for example.

This pie looks messy because I didn't seal the top crust under the bottom as securely as usual. I was starting to have a random asthma event and got in a hurry. But it still tastes good! 2011-05-15 17.51.39

From the phone pic cooking files

None of these photos are any good. But I like documenting a process.

First, pizza. I can make pizza crust fine, but I really just like using Wegmans whole wheat pizza dough. And this time I used their sauce as well; Grandma's Pomodoro Sauce is good for pizza. But I went lavish with the ingredients. I'd been sick for awhile and wanted to give the kids something special.








The last two are of mine; I like to use tomatoes instead of sauce, and I like goat cheese best.

Then I made minestrone, with one vegan batch for my daughter's friend.







And I made Easter cookies. The recipe is at the end of this post.



And I made a cherry pie exactly the way my mom used to make it? We all enjoyed it but I realized I like it my way much better!

When I'm cooking just for myself, it tends to go a little differently.



Here's the Easter cookie recipe:

Italian Easter Cookies--this is culled together from an old yellowed piece of notebook paper, and some trials with various internet recipes. It's one of 4 or 5 recipes I should have asked my mother for, that I've been trying to conquer for a long time.

Yield up to 6 dozen.

6 medium eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup oil (I use butter, or half butter, but the recipe had oil written on it--I think they keep longer if you use only oil.)
1 tbs vanilla or anise flavoring (or almond extract, which is what I prefer.)
2 cups sugar
6 cups flour
2 tbs baking powder

Cream sugar and oil. Beat eggs until lemon-colored and foamy. Combine with sugar mixture, milk and extract and beat until light. Sift dry ingredients together. Combine with egg mixture, and knead lightly on a floured surface, until the dough is smooth and easy to handle, then roll dough into 1 inch balls. If you like, you can roll the balls into ropes about five inches long. Tie into loose knots or braid and place cookies one inch apart onto greased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned. Dip into icing when cool, and let dry on waxed paper.


1 ib powdered sugar
Several tablespoons milk, add a little at a time to the powdered sugar, until it's thin enough to dip cookies in.
2 teaspoons lemon, almond, or anise flavoring (I mean, you should probably only use the lemon or anise if you used vanilla in the dough. And you could combine some vanilla and anise or vanilla and lemon for the dough, but I just like almond.)
A few drops of food coloring can be added to make Easter colors—just be sure to start with only 2-3 drops, then add more, one at a time until you have the color you like.

My grandma made these at Easter, and we each got a special one which was a braided circle with a colored hard-boiled egg placed in the center of it. She put a cross made of dough over the top, and cooked it in a slower oven. They are not very sweet, especially if you leave off the icing. They are perfect for coffee or tea, and improve after a day or two.


The Mint Julep

I like sharp, classic, bracing cocktails most of the time. But I always have a mint julep on Derby Day and occasionally on a hot day in summer. My version is mostly traditional, just culled together from several methods I've tried.

You can use 2 tbs simple syrup instead of the brown sugar and water, but I prefer mixing it on the spot, and also in separate glasses for each person instead of all in one container.

1 tbs brown sugar, packed in the spoon
2 tbs water
3 sprigs spearmint; if you can get Kentucky Colonel mint, use that because it's awesome
3 oz good bourbon
1 tray of ice, chopped up or crushed, depending on your equipment and patience

Put the sugar and water in a double rocks or large wine glass or the like, and add two mint sprigs that each have several leaves on them. Muddle with a wooden spoon or stir vigorously for at least a minute. Set it aside.

Chop or crush your ice, or if yours already came that way, just let the mint syrup sit for about five minutes, add half the ice to the glass, stir vigorously, add the other half, then pour the bourbon over it and stir lots more. Garnish with the third mint sprig.

Don't add anything else. If you do, you've made some other kind of drink. Which is fine, but not at all the point.

If you actually have a silver cup, sure, use that. But if you're using a silver cup for a mint julep, you don't need anyone to tell you how to make one. :-)



More gin tales

So, I really like gin. I like classic drinks made with gin. I like several different gins for them, but my favorite is Hendrick's, which isn't at all classic, but is completely awesome. I would let Hendrick's be my boyfriend and do really dirty things to him every night if I didn't know it was going to turn into this whole awful enabling thing, possibly ending with me needing to permanently avoid Vicodin and Tylenol to save my liver. (Plus, Hen getting mad and blah-blahing at me for occasionally cheating with bourbon or vodka instead.)

I'm kinda boring about what I do with it, though. I am an old man in terms of cocktail drinking. It's like this—

I grew up here: Sportswhirl_1958.60203605_large
I (kinda sorta) dress like this: McCalls_Fall-Winter_1963_001.29133357_large
But when it comes to drinks? I'm mostly an old guy at the 19th Hole: 681ee78e06bf865a_large
The most creative I usually get is to add cucumber to my Hendrick's gimlet in summertime. Which, by the way, is so delicious. Do that.

Also, I have a lot of teenaged-type kids and not a lot of extra money for fancy liqueurs and mixers. I have what I have, and when I run out, maybe I get that again, or maybe I substitute with a different thing all the kids are talking about. (Not my kids. I mean, you all out there. And yes, I know, not you. But those others.)

Right now on my bar I have some Maker's 46 bourbon, Amaretto di Saronno, Bacardi Gold Rum, St-Germain, Patron Citronge, Patron XO, Noilly Prat Sweet and Dry Vermouth, Fee Brothers bitters, Chambord, Frangelico, Poma, and four cheesy liqueurs to (probably not as I mainly use them in cooking) be named later.

In the freezer (people do disagree on this, but really, shhh,) Hendrick's gin, Effe Black Cherry Vodka, and Absolut vodka.

The only constants are the Hendrick's and the Noilly Prat Dry. All else is negotiable.

Anyway. Someone gave me a portion of maraschino liqueur, and it leaked out of the container and made a mess. I keep wishing to use it, remember I can't, and then I make a drink with something else instead. I'm trying to branch out, people, without putting much more money into the thing.

Tonight I started to make a not-Aviation, and then a not-Martinez, and so I ended up with this. If it already has a name, well, allrighty.

80 ml Hendrick's gin
40 ml Amaretto di Saronno (it does have a certain similar profile to the cherry liqueurs)
20 ml sweet vermouth
20 ml Meyer lemon juice
2 dashes of "regular" bitters, which may not be necessary for balance in this case, but I like the cinnamony nature of the Fee Bros. mixed with amaretto.

Shaken, strained, with a wee lemon almost-wedge, which is my current cool garnish. 2011-03-07 18.30.46
It's much sweeter than my usual martini or gibson for winter or gimlet for summer. But not cloying or girly. And I'm digging it.

nella cucina di mamma

I was in such a bad mood yesterday. Well, all week. And people just grew more and more tiresome, which made it seem worse. But then I got a few groceries, including two chicken breast halves for 1.49/lb.  You can make quick(er) stock with those than with a whole chicken if you need to. I mean, of course, the breasts that still have the bones in. Don't make stock with no bones. It's got no soul, for one thing. And etc., but that's for another post or Google, if you like.

Here are three photos I took of preparing to cook, because I realized it was just what I needed to find a better frame of mind. For the past few days, I've just been cooking to feed, but yesterday I cooked with pleasure to feed with pleasure.

I didn't add carrots and celery tops to my stock; instead I used some organic (since I didn't get it from my own garden) rosemary, thyme, and sage. And an onion, garlic, and peppercorns. It cooked  for only an hour, but then I had lots of beautiful tender breast meat I can use for something today.


There's at least 4 cups of meat there.

So then I went to work making split-pea soup. Now, I make that for a lot of people. And I never make it precisely the same way twice. But you can do this, generally, in half quantities, and it will be nice.

14 cups of broth and/or water My quick stock came to 10 cups, so I add 4 of water.

2 lbs split peas. You can add yellow ones, okay by me.

1.5 lbs boneless ham. (Usually I start with a smoked ham hock or two, but the store had only ginormous packages of them, for some reason. It was hardly economical since I wanted some ham as well.)


1-2 cups chopped carrots
. If you have celery, add some of that so that it's about 2 cups total. The tops are nice and peppery-tasting, but you want to chop them well.

An onion and plenty of garlic


A spoonful of mixed dried Italian seasoning with no salt (My mama would say, "a nice amount of it.") Because it's winter and nothing grows well inside here. If you have fresh, go for it. Oregano or marjoram, thyme, etc., but add them late in the game instead of how I do it below.

Lots of pepper, and some sea salt, depending on your ham. Check near the end of cooking.

I chop the onions and garlic in the food processor so my youngest daughter (19) won't complain the onions are in the way (but I'd prefer very thin slices,) soften them briefly with the dried seasoning in a tablespoon of butter inside a large pot, then add the liquid and other ingredients. Bring to a boil, simmer and stir every few minutes for about an hour and a half. Add more pepper as you like and check for salt.


If you use a smoked ham hock or two, take it out after about an hour and pull the meat off the bone, then put it back in. You can add a little ham to it then, if you like.

And serve it with cornbread! Here's a VERY casual presentation because I was in the middle of other things.

By the way, I've rarely had homemade cornbread that was better, at least in soup and things, than the Jiffy mix. It's like 35 cents a box and you can add stuff to it if you want to. I use two boxes and usually bake it in a 13x9 cake pan. You can crumble it up for lovely stuffing/dressing, as well.

While the soup was simmering, I made cookies. I wanted to make a pie or cobbler, but was a bit low on fruit. So, cookies. I'd been promising chocolate chip lately but there weren't many left! (The trend you sense is that *today* is restocking pantry/freezer day.)

That's a 3 lb bag, by the way. So anyway, to make up for the lack of chips, I added coconut. If it were all up to me, I'd have added finely chopped walnuts as well, but a couple people here prefer for that to be a rare addition. And the coconut was a good idea, as it turns out. They are a nice balance of crispy and chewy.

A couple more things; you may have notice the trend in food blogs to show a photo of every. step. of. the. process. I think they're just in love with their pretty photos. But you know what eggs in a bowl look like by now. However, this was all about making me feel more happy, so here are a couple more things I love. :-)

I don't know how much brown sugar this is; I think maybe 3 lbs. The container holds 5 lbs of flour. I LOVE having lots of fresh brown sugar. My mom cooked and baked a lot, too, but I seem to recall there always being insufficient, dried-out brown sugar in her canister when I wanted it for my oatmeal.

Whirring dough in my magical machine! And lots and lots of lovely vanilla.

Well, and here's my little table where only I sit, for happy cooking mama time.

old-fashioned new cocktail

(regular-type food post later tonight)

This website has some cool old genever recipes, but I can't keep a lot of special little bar items around, so I, as usual, modified the Gin Daisy recipe—as follows:

2 oz Bols Genever
2 tsp St-Germain
2 tsp almond (orgeat) syrup
juice from 1/2 Meyer lemon
2 shakes Fee Bros bitters

Shake, strain, pour over ice with a splash of soda and a thin lemon wedge.

I like it; it's very mild in flavor, but has a nice strong underbelly. It definitely tastes old-fashioned. It needs the tiniest bit of brightening, gonna think on that.

Here you go:

2011-03-03 17.57.51
You see I have a tiny bottle of St-Germain? Well. I ran out of the big beautiful expensive one, and put off replacing it. And then Joe Canal's had a 99 cent special on the samples, so I bought four of them. The lovely things will last through to summer, probably, for 4 dollars instead of 32.

2011-03-03 18.05.03

I've struggled to fully appreciate the Bols Genever, though I could tell I was tasting something kind of awesome when I first tasted it almost straight with just the tiniest squeeze of lemon. But it's rather fermented in character, and doesn't mix well with my usual combinations. It's cool, though, because it's forcing me to try some new things, and I'm liking them so far. It mixes just beautifully with the almond syrup. And I prefer it over ice; maybe I'm just not man enough to enjoy it up! For that, I need my usual Hendrick's gin. It's lovely to have both to choose from.