Ask the Bartender, Ask the Plants, Ask Karoline #85

Memorabilia...It's hard to believe that summer is already over.  I swear that I must have missed it this year.  I suppose that I'll be saying that every season from now on ñ the years just zoom by after you hit that 30 year old bench mark (and I hit that a few years back).  I remember when my mom turned 50, she remarked 'well, that went fast!' and I can still recall that intense feeling of dread I experienced at that moment.  I hate how everything just seems to be over and done with in the blink of an eye.  Luckily we've got out memories to sustain the moments a little bit longer.  Ah, yes...i'm already getting sappy and I've barely even started my column.  Excellent.

From the Compost Heap... Our household embarked on a bigger gardening project this year and it was (for the most part) a success.  We still haven't graduated to starting seeds indoors yet.  I'm a procrastinator and a work-a-holic, so I haven't found the time or the energy to experiment with that much pre-preparation.  Perhaps next year.  We were successful with herbs (basil, lettuce leaf basil, pineapple sage, sage, chocolate mint, marjoram, lemon thyme, spearmint, melissa, parsley, garlic chives and thai basil)  Other winners include:  8 ball zucchini squash, yellow squash, purple peppers, habaneros, green beans, edamame, spinach, broccoli,  jalapenos, brussel sprouts and collard greens.  We definitely ate more squash this summer than we could've possibly imagined.  There was even a squash lasagna in there somewhere.  The sore losers of the summer were tomatoes (which we tried planting in big whiskey barrels), cauliflower, cantaloupes, strawberries, carrots and daikon radishes.  We fought a constant battle between the elements (no rain) and the wildlife (squirrels, racoons, neighborhood kids and mystery insects).  I'm gonna start putting the garden to bed for the winter next week...I can't wait to harvest our big, beautiful collard greens!  There have been a couple of cold snaps, so they should be sweet and tender by now.

Spearmint & Basil... I was going to write about these two wondrous herbs earlier in the summer (which would've been better, as they are readily available then) but I got too caught up in going on a short tour with the almighty Citizen Fish and seeing old friends around the country.  It was my 10th year of traveling with the Bath boys and we got to include Jessica on saxaphone - we even tried to kidnap Christine for a long drive, but she came to her senses at the last minute.  Shucks.  Anyway...here's a little herb lore for you.  Spearmint:  Mentha Spicata, is a migrant from cultivation.  It has a pinkish lavender, four lobed flower that grows on a terminal cluster that is long and tapered.  The blossoms occur midñsummer.  Spearmint is generally unbranched, leaves ar stalkless.   Mints are aromatic, antispasmodic, carminative, stomachic and analgesic.  These properties make it useful in treating upset stomachs and indigestion, and mint tea can often be used after a heavy or disagreeable meal to lessen nausea and cramping or bloating. As an antispasmodic, the herb can also be useful in tension and anxiety, where it produces a relaxing effect and its aromatic scent is soothing.  Mints are also diaphoretic, producing a mild sweat and therefore helping the body to reduce fever in a natural way.  Mint is a good adjunct to any therapy for colds and flu for this reason.  If the only spearmint you can think of is gum, please seek this herb out...it smells divine and no gum i've ever smelled could ever do it justice!  Highly recommended with a nice black sun tea, or even just infused in ice water.  Chew on it for fresh breath and a happy stomach.  Basil:  Ocimum Basilicum, comes from the Greek, basilicon, meaning royal ointment, and basil oil was used to anoint kings.  The benefits of basil are as varied as the ways to take it:  in salads, pesto, sauces, soups; as tincture, infusion and tea.  Fresh basil has an incredible nerve soothing aroma.  Fresh basil infused in honey is delicious.  Adding basil to a bath helps relieve fatigue and exhaustion and brings strength/clarity to the thoughts.  Drinking and infusion of dried basil leaves and flowers can soothe nerves and relieve depression.  Basil can also be effective with bronchial and sinus problems. (Recommended Reading - Opening Our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs, Gail Faith Edwards / Herbal Remedies from the Wild, Corinne Martin) I was lucky enough to have a thriving pot of each of these on my porch this summer.  I used basil on all of my sandwiches instead of lettuce.  Every salsa I made had both basil and spearmint mixed in with the usual tomato, onion, jalapeno/habanero, green chile mix.  It is amazing what a little bit of spearmint can add to a salsa.  I know it sounds weird, but give it a spin sometime.  On the bartending end of things, I managed to have a few encounters with both of these combos - gin/basil and tequila/spearmint.  Here are my concoctions:  Hendrick's Scottish Gin and Tonic with fresh basil and cucumber muddled together in the glass before adding any liquid or ice.  Approximately 3 cuke slices and 4 or 5 leaves of basil will do the trick.  Any gin would probably work, but Hendrick's is full of all kinds of fun stuff like coriander and roses.  It's a luxury gin, but well worth it.    Next up is Cazadores (Reposado) Tequila Margaritas in a blender with a whole bunch of fresh spearmint.  Throw tequila, triple sec, fresh lime juice, fresh lemon juice, lemonade and ice in a blender with spearmint and you're in for a taste sensation (I should've gone into advertising!).  Frothy, green foamy icy delight - you can't beat that on a hot summer night.  Both of these drinks are recommended for home consumption - don't torment your local bartender with excessive muddling or blender drinks.  Besides, then you can experiment with impunity.  Havana Hard Times... I can't do a fall column without at least a few words for Matty Luv.  I can't believe that it has been two years since you passed away.  It still feels like a raw, fresh wound when I think about it.  Long live the Naked Cult of Hickey.  Aesop and Rizzler - thanks for still being around - I love both of you more than I could ever tell you with words.  Take care of yourselves. Happy Hibernation... That about wraps it up for this go 'round.  Big thanks to Christine, Arwen Curry, Famous, Fly, Jessica, Chrissy, Chloe, China and Robyn for being such incredible sources of strength, beauty and inspiration.  Thanks to all of the Philly Crew for the hospitality and drunken mayhem in the streets - margaretarded and loving it!   Limp Wrist and Citizen Fish - you made my whole fucking summer.  I hope the winter flies by as fast as the summer did.  Oh yeah, if you should find yourself kicking around Milwaukee, check out Comet Cafe (1947 N. Farwell Ave.) for awesome vegan food and cheap drink specials.  -karoline/ Fuel Cafe / 818 E. Center St. / Milwaukee, WI  53212