The Great Pumpkin Pie Cocktail

DSCN2353It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  That is, if you happen to love autumn, as I do.  The leaves are changing colors, it’s cool enough to wear scarves again, and the time is right to watch repetitively It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  Speaking of great pumpkins, have you yet stocked up on all of the cans of pumpkin that you’ll need for the next three months?  If not, I trust that you’re working on it.  While you’re gearing up to make the first of many pumpkin pies, why not really get into the spirit of the season with a little pumpkin pie cocktail?  Yes, please.

This easy-peezy martini has all of the flavor of pumpkin pie and takes a fraction of the time to assemble and serve.  It involves pumpkin, spices, and a milk product, just like the real thing, but with the pleasant additions of Kahlua and butterscotch schnapps.  If you don’t yet have Kahlua and/or butterscotch schnapps on hand, I highly recommend investing in both; they both can be used throughout the holiday season(s) to make any number of festive cocktails.  For now, however, let’s focus on making this liquid pumpkin pie dream a reality.

The Great Pumpkin Pie Cocktail

Makes 1 cocktail


1.25 oz. Kahlua or another coffee liqueur

1.25 oz. butterscotch schnapps

2 oz. cold milk (any kind)

.75 oz pumpkin puree

1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

dollop of whipped cream (optional, for garnish)

To Make the Cocktail:

Halfway fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes.  Atop the ice, ad the Kahlua, butterscotch schnapps, milk, pumpkin, and pumpkin pie spice.  Gently mix with a spoon to start to incorporate the pumpkin and spices.  Vigorously shake the shaker for 30 seconds.  Pour the contents of the shaker into a martini glass.  If you like, garnish the cocktail with whipped cream.  Enjoy!


My Own Private Portland

“Hmmm.  What a lovely room of death,” I thought upon walking into a most unusual store stocked with all manner of taxidermied, mummified, and otherwise deceased creatures.  I would be exaggerating if I said that that the variety of unusual articles offered by the shop was downright terrifying, but the vibe erred well onto the side of spooky.  Despite my misgivings about the overwhelming presence of dead animals, the store’s singularity and the pleasant nonchalance of its staff made my visit memorable, to say the least.  Where does one find such a store?  Why, in Portland, Oregon, of course.

A mere 6 hour drive southwest of Spokane lies fabled Portland, a Mecca for beer lovers and connoisseurs of the charmingly peculiar.  Prior to my most recent trip, I hadn’t visited the Beaver State for several years, nor had I made brewery-hopping an objective of my visit.  A number of sources informed me that there was far more to Portland than the obvious draws, like Powell’s City of Books, Hopworks Urban Brewery, and Voodoo Doughnuts, though, heaven knows, I couldn’t help but check them out (again), anyway.  This trip, I resolved to jump off of my previously beaten path so that the question wouldn’t be what was I going to do, but what wasn’t I going to do?

I ate tofu at a small neighborhood restaurants I’d never heard of with signature cocktails served in (what else?) wide-mouthed Mason jars.  I satiated a spontaneous fit of curiosity by popping into a comic book store that just happened to catch my eye.  I was utterly enamored by the outrageous combination of pear-blue cheese and IPA-upside down cake ice creams served up in a homemade waffle cone (totally worth the twenty minute wait).  I proved to my cousin that perfect strangers regularly walk up to me and ask me questions about the store/brewery/park we’re in for reasons largely unbeknownst to me.  I watched the most magnificent group of nerds reenact a classic Star Trek episode (“The Trouble with Tribbles”) at a packed outdoor amphitheater.  I drank a beautiful golden British ale whose flavor elicited a delightful slew of childhood memories.  I bought more books than I honestly need or have the time to read, and I escaped from a doughnut shop without being accosted by maple-bacon-loving passersby.  I had a packed, exhausting, and completely fantastic weekend in P-town.

The quarter-day drive home allowed me to plenty of time to reflect on the weekend that was, and I realized that the unfamiliar wasn’t quite as foreign as I’d feared it may have been.  I already knew full-well that Mason jars make for excellent glasses and that it’s never a bad idea to drop into a new bookstore.  I knew that a fresh beer in the sun with a good friend is one of life’s simplest and greatest pleasures and that seemingly bizarre flavor combinations will often surprise you in a very good way.  Truthfully, though some of the content differed, the feel and presentation of the places I visited in Portland were not too unlike those found in my own hometown of Spokane.

Spokane has its own local book haven (Auntie’s), an eccentric doughnut shop that sells its goods in eye-catching pink boxes (Dawn of the Donut), and a slew of top-notch breweries (No-Li, Iron Goat, 12 String, etc.).  Brain Freeze Creamery has been known to produce a few off-centered flavors (cinnamon ice cream with lentils, anyone?), and Manito Park frequently plays host to outdoor concerts throughout the warmer months.  The idyllic South Perry neighborhood, even without a shop full of dead animals, could fit right in to the quietly lively retail strips that dot the ‘burbs of PDX.

I love to excurse out of town whenever I can; there are far too many places to visit and experiences to try to be content sitting at home every weekend.  Nevertheless, most of my weekends are, indeed, spent in here, in my hometown.  I absolutely adored Portland, and I’d jump at an opportunity to spend more time there.  However, since that is not the case at present, I’m glad that I’ve taken the time to ponder what it was I really enjoyed the most about the City of Roses, for that reflection has allowed me to see a little bit of it in the Lilac City.  I don’t need to travel across the state and over a river to recreate some of the best parts of such a unique city.  My own little slice of Portland has been hiding here, in plain sight, all along.

Day Out: The Shop on South Perry

DSCN2246As of late, Spokane’s South Perry neighborhood has become my favorite miniature getaway/hiding spot.  It’s just far enough away from the Valley to feel like a minor excursion, but close enough that I can scurry downtown or back to the Valley in a timely manner if need be.  The neighborhood’s got just about everything you could possibly need or want, too: a pizza parlor, a natural foods store, a fitness clothing boutique, a great place for fine dining, and a quaint little cafe for meet-ups throughout the day.  The latter, simply named “The Shop”, is really a catch-all for the neighborhood: it’s got coffee, ice cream, pastries, lunch fare, vegan and gluten-free options, beer on-tap, and outdoor movies in the summertime.  Sounds pretty good, right?  I thought so, so I scootered on up there and checked it out.

I first happened upon The Shop by accident during a dinner outing this winter.  A friend and I pulled up to Casper Fry one evening, eager to check it out after hearing so many great things about the eatery, only to find that we had arrived on the one day of the week it was closed (Tuesdays, for future reference).  Feeling slightly let down that we’d driven all the way up there just to be shut out, we resolved to head across the street to drown our sorrows in a pistachio-topped pie at South Perry Pizza (it was terrific).  On our way out, we noticed a wee cafe hidden behind the parking lot next to Casper Fry.  Lo and behold, we’d found The Shop.

"Voluptuous" is how I'd best describe the blueberries on this scone.

“Voluptuous” is how I’d best describe the blueberries on this scone.

The Shop opens bright and early at 6am on weekdays, and after an hour or so, the house-made pastries and tarts start to appear.  To go with your fresh-out-of-the-oven scone or quiche slice, The Shop offers locally roasted Anvil Coffee.  If you’re after something a bit chillier to counter the heat of these sweltering July days, ice cream from Spokane’s very own Brain Freeze Creamery is also ready and waiting for your order.  The cafe also hosts six taps, a couple of which serve area brews from breweries such as No-Li, Iron Goat, and Paradise Creek.  By the way, The Shop has a killer Thirsty Thursday deal: $2 pints all day!  The Shop is ready and waiting to offer air conditioning and a cold one for those seeking shelter from the heat and excitement of the farmer’s market that takes place in front of the cafe every Thursday afternoon.

Adjacent to The Shop is Casper Fry, and the two eateries are separated by the latter’s north-facing brick wall.  Not wanting a blank canvas to go to waste, the wall is painted to look like the screen of a movie theater, which, on summery Saturday nights, it is.  Throughout the summer, The Shop hosts outdoor movies at dusk each Saturday night, each benefiting a different local charity, and this year’s lineup has something for everyone: The Princess Bride is this Satuday’s feature, and upcoming shows include Jurassic Park, Wreck It Ralph, and, to my delight, The Avengers (remember how awesome IronFest 2013 was?  I do).  Grab your favorite lawn chair and a bag of popcorn and enjoy a free (FREE!) showing in one of the most charming neighborhoods in town.

It can really be a challenge for a business to try to be everything to everyone, but The Shop does an impressive job at it.  Offering a place for locals to grab breakfast, lunch, an ice cream cone, or a cold brew, this hidden gem hits all the right notes.  As my last trip there resulted in an unexpected sighting of some rabbits sitting at the table next to me (I couldn’t make this up), I’m curious to see what surprises my next trip to The Shop will have in store (fingers crossed that it involves another peculiar farm animal!).

Bourbon-Cherry Hand Pies

DSCN2255How’s your 4th of July party planning coming along?  Are you like me, racking your brain for a clever and patriotic dessert sure to delight the masses?  You can never go wrong with a flag cake made of strawberries, blueberries, and whipped cream, because, really, who doesn’t like (nay, love) berries ‘n cream?  However, if you’re looking for something that tackles Americana from a slightly different angle, I think that I may have a solution.

Well… seeing as Americans love pie, bourbon is a distinctly American liquor, and cherries are presently in season, hows about we make a bourbon and cherry pie?  Did you just start playing “Cherry Pie” by Warrant in your head?  I did.  To kick things up a notch, why not make them single-serve hand pies, too?  Yes, please.

I’m a fan of any cherry for the purposes of making pie, but for this go-around, I went with bing cherries.  Their deep crimson color is particularly eye-catching, and they’re not quite as sweet at Rainiers or as tart as pie cherries.  This subdued sweetness wonderfully pairs with the vanilla notes in bourbon.  This pie will turn out like the edible version of a Manhattan.  Very American, indeed.

Bourbon-Cherry Handpies

Makes 6 hand pies

Filling Ingredients:

1.5 lbs bing cherries (or the cherries of your choosing), pitted and halved

3 oz. bourbon

1/3 cup turbinado (raw) sugar

2 Tbs. flour

Crust Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

10 Tbs. (1 1/4 sticks) cold, unsalted butter

1/2 cup buttermilk


1/3 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup turbinado (raw) sugar

To Make the Crust:

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and butter.  Using either a pastry blender or your fingers, blend the butter into the flour until it’s reduced to pea-sized pieces and the mixture resembles course oatmeal.  Create a small well in the center of the mixture, and add about half of the 1/2 cup of buttermilk.  Using a large spatula, combine the buttermilk and flour mixture.  Continue adding the buttermilk, about 1 Tbs. at a time, until the mixture comes together in a shaggy ball.  You may have to use your hands to get it all to stick together.  Form the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, and allow it to chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

To Make the Filling:

In a medium bowl, combine the pitted and halved cherries and the bourbon.  Allow the cherries to soak in the bourbon for at least an hour or, preferably, overnight.  Toss the cherries every once in a while to make sure that they are evenly coated in bourbon.  Just before using, add the 1/3 cup sugar and flour, stirring to combine.  Set aside until ready to use.

To Assemble the Pies:

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Roll out the chilled crust dough until about 1/4″ thin.  Using a hand pie mold (I found one for $6 at Target) or a 5″ cookie cutter, cut six circles out of the dough.  Using your finger, wet the perimeter of the circles with water; this will help the pies stay shut when you fold them over.  Fill each pie with 1/4 – 1/3 cup of the pie filling.  Fold over the pie crust, creating a semi-circle.  Use your fingers to pinch and crease the pie closed.

Transfer the hand pies to a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.  Brush each pie with buttermilk and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.  Use a small knife to cut 1″ slits in the top of each pie.  Bake the pies for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown.  Allow to cool on a baking sheet for at least 10 minutes before serving.  Enjoy!

Day Out: Casper Fry

DSCN2232Just about everyone has one of those T-shirts with a terrible pun or a slightly (or heavily) crass phrase that makes readers either giggle or cringe.  My mom certainly has one.  It was obtained during moonshine-tasting extravaganza in Tennessee and reads “put the south in your mouth.”  She wears it with surprising frequency and hilarious pride.  It was all I could think about whilst reviewing the cocktail menu at Spokane’s own taste of the South, Casper Fry.

Named after the owners’ great/great-great grandfather, Casper Fry’s classic, locally inclined values harken back to a time before supermarkets and convenience stores, when produce was only available when it was locally in season and chefs were able to pick out exactly which steer to use for dinner that night (gruesome, but great, too).  A large chalkboard mounted on one of the exposed brick walls lists each and every local purveyor and which products come from which source.  The well-stocked bar proudly displays all manner of whiskey, including several brands of bourbon and moonshine, and is made all the more tempting by the additional offering of absinthe and the occasional appearance of a few small Woodinville Whiskey “Age Your Own” whiskey barrels (my family has one, and it’s way fun).  Steampunk-style furniture and the lack of superfluous artwork lend a utilitarian air to the wide-open space and emphasizes the points that Casper Fry lets its food do the talking and speaks for the restaurant as a whole.

shrimp po'boy

shrimp po’boy

On this particular visit, I went with my Texas born-and-raised granddad.  I mentioned to him that prior to visiting Casper Fry, I’d never tried grits before.  He reacted with shock and proudly declared, “I’m from Texas.  We eat grits all the time.”  As I myself lived in Texas for a few months a couple of summers ago, I, too, was surprised that I’d not jumped on the grits bandwagon earlier.  Better late than never, I suppose.  That said, it’s almost mandated that a Southern-style restaurant offer their own version of shrimp and grits, and Casper Fry is not exception.  Served with a hefty handful of monstrous prawns; roasted okra, peppers, and asparagus; a bit of ham; and cheddar red mule grits, this kickin’ dish will fill your mouth with the most savory spices and your head with visions of the French Quarter in no time at all.  If you’re more of a hands-on diner, they’ve got just the thing: the shrimp po’boy is full to bursting with four crispy fried shrimp, as well as fresh red onions, tomatoes, and lettuce.  Drizzled with sweet chili aoili, this behemoth of a sandwich is sure to satisfy even the most voracious appetite.

Omaha sour

Omaha sour

No trip to Casper Fry is complete without a bourbon or absinthe-laden cocktail.  For those feeling both fancy and dangerous, the Corpse Reviver may be just what you need to shake your day up.  Served in a small coupe glass, this mysterious green libation is  sweet, tart, and old-timey as can be.  Made with gin, lemon juice, Dolin Blanc, Cointreau, and absinthe, you won’t be able to resist clinking glasses with your pals and adding a slight drawl to your speech.  For the whiskey-inclined and absinthe-curious, I recommend the Omaha Sour.  This little number involves both bourbon and absinthe, as well as a bit of syrup and lime juice.  As fun as cocktails are, nothing compares to the calming simplicity of a beer, and Casper Fry’s got you covered there, too: they have several taps, including local breweries such as No-Li and Iron Goat, ready to slake persnickety drinkers’ thirsts.

Last Saturday, Casper Fry celebrated its one year anniversary, and I can only imagine that there will be many more anniversary parties to come for this treasure of the Perry St. neighborhood.  Within the past several years, the neighborhood has really turned around and is now home to numerous flourishing businesses and restaurants and a weekly farmers market.  With the upcoming addition of the South Perry Brewing Company, the neighborhood is all but guaranteed to continue to thrive.  Without a doubt, Casper Fry’s arrival and success have had terrific influences on the neighborhood, not only in terms of economy, but in introducing a bit of southern flare to Inland Northwest.  You will, truly, want to put the south in your mouth.