There are contemporary drinks, throwback drinks, retro drinks, vintage drinks… and then there’s sarsaparilla. Until a few weeks ago, I had only heard sarsaparilla mentioned in cowboy movies.  However, at a recent visit to Tilth (Oprah voice: amaaaaazing) I saw it on the menu and had to try it out.  It is refreshing, herbal, lightly carbonated and (to my surprise) non-alcoholic.  Maria Hines, the lovely and talented chef/owner of Tilth was generous enough to share her recipe, which I’ve adapted below. 

Total kitchen time: 10 minutes
Makes: 2 liters

Shopping list:

  • 3 cups organic brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups cut sarsaparilla root (available from online sources)
  • 1 liter club soda
  • Special equipment: French press
  1. Add the sugar and water to a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil.
  2. Remove the lid and strainer from your French press and add the sarsaparilla root.  Fill with the hot simple syrup (sugar water) and let steep for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Reattach the strainer and top of the French press and, well, press.  Pour the liquid into a container (glass iced tea bottles work great).  Refrigerate until ready to serve, or store cold for up to 2 weeks.
  3. When ready to serve, combine 1 part sarsaparilla syrup with one part club soda over ice. 

This is a really delicious, refreshing afternoon drink.  Plus, there’s no high-fructose corn syrup – just good ‘ol fashioned brown sugar and water.  At Tilth, the drink is served with a beautiful shard of ice in lieu of ice cubes, which we all know are totally played out.  To make your own ice shard, freeze a small Tupperware container full of water, then go all Psycho on it with a screwdriver and mallet. 

Reading time: 1 min

I had the recent privilege of attending a “Farmhouse Dinner,” a sort of underground dinner club hosted by a Seattle-area farmer and prepared by a local chef.  Underground dinner clubs are neither new nor rare in Seattle, but I will remember (and rave about) this meal until I’m old and senile. 

Usually terms like locally grown, organic, hormone-free, hell, even fresh have a distant, intangible relationship with the foods we normally eat.  When I stand in front of a pile of organic grapes at Whole Foods, I’m not necessarily moved by the extra care and attention paid to the grapes in order to earn that badge of superiority.  But, when you eat a meal knowing that all of its components were grown, raised, picked or slaughtered within a triangle bell’s ring from the dining room… there is a tangible relationship. 

Anyone could, presumably, go to the farmer’s market and grab a dinner’s worth of locally grown ingredients and invite some guests over – I’d even recommend it.  But that is child’s play compared to the dinners served at the farm.  Literally everything except salt, pepper, flour, coffee beans and wine came directly from the farm.  Everything.  That includes butter, cheese, pancetta, pickles, chilies, and of course all the meat and vegetables you can shake a fork at.  And if you’ve ever doubted that freshness makes a difference, I hope you get an invitation.

We ate 10 or so courses, beginning with thin crust, wood oven fired pizzas eaten casually with a glass of wine as the evening’s guests arrived.  We moved to the table to enjoy a divine beef broth and pea soup.  Next we tasted thinly-shaved pigs heart with pickled shallots, braised ox tail, tomato jam, fresh pickles, and an assortment of homemade cheeses.  Then there were several vegetable courses: the freshest, most vibrant carrots I’ve ever seen, a slaw of brussels sprouts and roasted peppers, and a superb roasted squash.  The main courses (yes, there were multiple) included handmade pasta with braised lamb shoulder and what I declare to be the best roast beef I’ve ever tasted.  I guess it helps when the guy cooking the beef knew the cow personally.

So, what’s the message here, that we should slaughter our own cows and only eat carrots that we’ve personally removed from the ground?  Of course not.  For most of us, its infeasible – both economically, and practically.  However, if you have the opportunity to experience the staggering impact of really fresh ingredients in a place where you are one degree of freedom away from the person who grew your food, don’t let it pass you by.  I guarantee it will be an meal to remember!

Reading time: 2 min