The Big Reveal of Our New Kitchen!

The new year is off to a slow start for me and Comfort du Jour, but it isn’t for lack of trying. I have begun at least five times to write an introduction to our beautiful new kitchen, and here’s the thing—I just have too many favorite features to put it into words!

If I could invite you all over for dinner (or breakfast, brunch, lunch, coffee, cocktails), which would be my preference, we could demonstrate all the cool things we like about our new space and you could touch the textured backsplash tile and try out the features of the faucet and we would have a grand time. Until that is an option, and without trying to use so many words to explain what I want you to see, I am going to do the big reveal mainly in pictures. There are a ton of them ahead, and I would like to recommend that a computer, or at least a tablet, is a better way to view this post than a smartphone. You will see the detail better and the captions will not cover the photos. If you typically visit my site on the WordPress Reader, I recommend that you use this link to visit my actual page for a better experience as well. The slideshows do not translate as well in the reader.

Dear friends, you were terrific about supporting my husband, Les, and me as we stumbled through those awkward weeks of renovation, and we thank you for your comments, suggestions and “been there, done that” empathy. As we all know (or at least as the Bible teaches), God created the world in six days, but you can count on a minimum of six to eight weeks for a new kitchen. It was quite a ride, and well worth it in the end.

Here we go!

When we sat down with Matt (our general contractor) back in June 2021, Les and I discussed with him three primary trouble spots in our tired old kitchen: not enough counter space, poor traffic flow and lousy lighting. We asked for storage solutions, reworking of some of the existing layout, premium materials, under-cabinet lighting and a few fun bells and whistles, and I am pleased to report that we got everything we asked for and more!

Sometimes when I walk into the kitchen, I still can’t believe it’s ours!

Let’s begin with the layout, which mainly affected the sink and fridge side of the kitchen. You would think, with a 22-foot length, space would not be an issue. But things were not arranged well in the original design.

The changes to the stove side of the kitchen are less dramatic, but still noticeably improved. We went for symmetry on this side, swapping out a standard base cabinet for drawers to match the other side, and each side was increased by 3 inches. You’d be amazed at the difference that made in the big picture.

We worked with a designer to select our cabinets, countertop and hardware, and we were intentional to choose as many American-made products as possible. Our cabinets were made in Minnesota by Legend Cabinetry, and we liked the sleek, Shaker-style doors with light gray stain over birch hardwood. The color is warm, but fresh, and the movement of the grain is evident underneath.

We invested in a few splurges, including the Kohler sink, which I call the “Queen of the Kitchen.” We paired it with a Kohler faucet, primarily because both are made in the U.S. and also for the special features it offered.

The apron front, cast-iron sink has been on my “dream kitchen” list for years and I love it. This kind of sink may not be for you, especially if you stand taller than me. It is deep to begin with; being mounted underneath a slab of stone makes it seem even deeper. Even I, at 5-foot-5, find myself stooping at times to clean the dishes. I don’t mind it, but it is something to keep in mind if you are considering a remodel.

When I first spotted the plugmolds (on Pinterest, of course), I got so excited! Part of my frustration with outlets on the backsplash has been pure vanity; I didn’t like them photo-bombing my food photos for Comfort du Jour, and I cursed them every time I tried to get a good image. But my blog is not for profit, so that was not the only justification for our splurge on this unusual item. We need all the counter space we have, and our appliances do not live there permanently (well, except for my coffee grinder, which uses a very small footprint in one corner). The plugmolds keep cords and charger cables up and out of the way when we use our small appliances, and there is nothing to obstruct the view of our gorgeous subway tile when we don’t. We like the clean look very much, but if you prefer always having appliances within easy reach, or always plugged in, this may not be for you.

Also, the plugmolds do not afford the convenience of a ground fault interrupter, so all the kitchen outlets must be on a breaker box circuit. If we get crazy and trip a breaker, we will need to trudge to the garage to reset it. So far, so good, as that hasn’t happened. Had this been explained to us on the front end, I would have agreed to one GFCI outlet in the kitchen, right there in the space where my coffee grinder lives.

This arrangement gives the impression of a built-in microwave, but with more flexibility.

The microwave cabinet was under discussion from selection of our materials all the way to installation. We wanted to move the microwave from its previous position above the range, where it not only obstructed my view of the back burners but created havoc when Les and I worked in the kitchen at the same time. He could not warm leftovers or give our breakfast bacon a quick zap to rewarm it without bumping into me as I finished an omelet.

Many people choose to place a built-in microwave above a wall-mounted oven, but that was not an option for our kitchen footprint. Our house is on a slab and we were not interested in the enormous expense of moving walls or plumbing to make room for wall ovens. And for sure, we did not want to lose counter space to a microwave. We chose the GE Spacemaker microwave, which is low-profile and only 12 inches deep, but housing it remained a challenge.

Our cabinet designer, Molly, presented the terrific option that we chose—she ordered from the cabinet manufacturer a 24-inch depth microwave cabinet (the same kind that would be used for a standard built-in), and her cabinet technicians modified the cabinet to a 15-inch depth and added a secure shelf for our microwave, leaving space below for storage of our cutting boards! There is plenty of space around the microwave for ventilation (this was confirmed by the microwave manufacturer as well), and if we should ditch the microwave in the future, the shelf will be perfect for displaying our favorite cookbooks.

All my favorite baking tools live in this butcher block-topped station. Is this the sweetest little setup? ❤

The butcher block countertop makes my baking station feel special—even the lighting seems warmer reflected off the wood tones—and I love the surface for bread dough and pasta dough. The water-based finish is every bit as smooth as our lovely quartz countertops and does not require any special maintenance. We ordered the block with a greater overhang than what is standard, and that gives me plenty of space to attach my pasta machine to the counter—something I could not easily do on our other counters.

Finally, the special little touches that give our kitchen pizzazz. We wanted the former dinette area to feel cozy and inviting, so we did not choose to have bright wafer lights in this part of the ceiling; rather, we changed out the frazzled old fixture with a beautiful piece that was handmade from recycled glass, by Bicycle Glass, a company dedicated to sustainability, and you know how much I like that.

We also added a uniquely handcrafted table that was made locally, and we now refer to this region of the kitchen as “the bistro.” 🙂

The end of our remodel means the beginning of a new chapter of food adventures. We have already enjoyed our first holiday season in the new space, and many more fun meals will be served up soon, so stay tuned!

Thanks for sharing the journey with me.

Dry January.

In my radio days, I had a co-worker who proclaimed that every month had a color. March was green, July was red, October was orange and January was (as if we couldn’t guess) gray. It couldn’t be truer, right? The twinkly lights are all packed away, the parties are over (or in the case of the past two years, they never even got started), the festive music is no longer playing 24/7 on the iHeartRadio station and it’s back to work as usual. One of my least favorite things about the holiday season ending is taking down the Christmas tree. This year, our tree made it clear that it, too, was “over it,” and it did so by drying up and dropping all its needles into the corner of our living room. Dry and gray.

The month is already off to such a gloomy start that I have procrastinated more than usual on writing up something for Comfort du Jour, though I have been busy in the kitchen. I have made soup and baked bread and used up leftovers. Most of our meals have been from the archives, so there isn’t much new to share. More gray.

As if the month of January is not already dismal enough, I made a reluctant decision to participate in the no-alcohol-for-a-month event known as Dry January. The concept has plenty of appeal, with the lure of better sleep, reduced inflammation, higher productivity, likely weight loss and improved overall health. All of those things sound great, but in January? What in the world was I thinking?

Could it have been the complete absence of having anything to wear when we rang in the new year last week? It’s true that none of the cute things in my closet even come close to fitting me because of the weight I’ve gained in the past two years. Leave it to me to choose an international lockdown as the time to both begin a food blog and go through menopause. So, yeah, that was part of it. And it didn’t help that in the middle of December, I got reckless and went shopping for a new bra (because none of those fit me anymore either) and found myself stunned and disgusted by the semi-naked figure gawking back at me from the full-length mirror in the try-on room. I knew the calories from all of my food and drink experiments would add up, but when did Mrs. Doubtfire’s costume team take over my body?

I would say that this Dry January commitment was a spontaneous opt-in, a last-minute positive peer pressure kind of thing, but that wouldn’t be true. I have considered it in previous recent years; I have friends who have done it and found it cleansing and rejuvenating after an indulgent holiday season—but I always made excuses about doing it myself, from a desire to use up the lingering champagne from New Year’s or to keep mid-month brunch plans with a girlfriend or just to give myself a distraction from the boredom and low-grade depression that always hits me after Christmas. I even considered it last year, for about five seconds, but no way was I going sober for a month under the grim circumstances of COVID without vaccines. This afternoon, when we reach the one-year anniversary of the insurrection, I will probably be rethinking this whole thing again. Would Democracy be safer if I have a cocktail in my hand?

But this year, my decision was intentional, and though I am reluctant, I am curious to see what I may learn about myself this time. A good number of years ago, I entered a voluntary period of total sobriety for about eight weeks—long enough to drop 16 pounds without even trying, and long enough to find the courage to confront inexcusable abuse from my childhood. I was only 27 then, and it was an important emotional exercise for me at that time. Perhaps I am overdue for a personal revelation, or maybe I am finally finding the maturity to realize that my body needs a break from all this “moderation.”

Either way, I won’t be doing it alone. It is estimated that 1 in 7 people participate in Dry January, and when I casually mentioned it last week to my supportive husband, he instantly said, “Yeah, I’ll do that with you, Babe.” Thank goodness only one of us overthinks everything.


‘Tis the Season.

No matter your religious leaning or background, this time of year is meant to inspire joy and wonder. It is inevitable as the new year approaches that we take stock of the year that is almost done, and we will begin to make plans (if we haven’t already) for the next one. As if our best-laid plans really set the course for anything these days. I can barely get things off the ground for a weekend, so I dare not even look ahead to the coming year just yet.

As the year closes, I find myself as frazzled and worn out as I always seem to be this time of year, and though some of my exhaustion is my own doing, the rest is the culmination of a busy season at my job, preparations for the holidays and confusion in the wake of our kitchen remodel (I still can’t find everything). I am convinced that peace does not come from getting everything done, but from letting things go.

Peace requires us to surrender our illusions of control.

Jack Kornfield, American author and Buddhist teacher

We put up our tree last Friday night, an endeavor that always seems to provoke passionate differences of opinion. My Jewish husband (who only began erecting Christmas trees a few slight years ago when he hooked up with me) had some unconventional ideas about how to stabilize the wobbly tree in our cheapo plastic Christmas tree stand. And I (of course, being me) provided a fair amount of pushback on his helpful suggestions. To some degree, I admit my resistance to Les’s ideas was result of my perfectionism, but mostly, I was having flashbacks of Christmas trees past, toppled over in the middle of the night, with microscopic shards of glass splayed in every direction. This is no fun, especially with pets in the house, and given that our tree is adorned with special, impossible-to-replace ornaments, some of which I have had since I was a child.

After several rounds of shouting over the problem of stabilizing the tree (obviously, that didn’t help anything), I did what any reasonable (and utterly exasperated) person would do. I asked the internet if anyone, after all these centuries of decorating indoor trees, had yet discovered a better way to prop the damn thing up. Lo and behold, a German-based company has cracked the code on Christmas tree stands with a carefully engineered cable-and-lever system. So we shoved the half-steady, strung-with-lights tree into the corner and made a run to Ace Hardware the next morning to get this stand, which has an ingenious method for securing the tree, and even alerts me to the water level. Best $79 I’ve spent so far this Christmas. To be fair, since I haven’t yet begun my shopping, it is the only $79 I have spent. But this tree stand is not playing.

As we began digging through our box of whimsical ornaments, including the one we picked up in Asbury Park at the end of our summer vacation, we realized that it had been exactly two years to the day since we lost our sweet cat, Zoe. This little girl looooved Christmas, especially lying beneath the tree, and she even knew which stocking was hers. I still miss her so much. When she left for the Rainbow Bridge, I had printed her sweet face onto a sheet of vellum paper and inserted it into a glass ornament tied up with ribbon.

Placing her precious kitty face in the best, most prominent spot on the tree was a reset button on our moods, and we spent the rest of the day reminiscing over the stories behind our eclectic ornament collection and eventually lighting the menorah on that seventh night of Hanukkah. And a short-lived peace fell upon us.

With the tree secured and decorated, it was officially “Christmukkah” at our house!

I have been reflecting on a message that our rabbi shared in his Hanukkah message, pondering the miracle of the oil. It is easy enough to understand what made the overall event of Hanukkah miraculous—the oil being enough to keep the eternal lamps going for eight nights, despite the fact there was only one night’s worth of oil in the jar—but what was the big deal about the first night, for which the oil was already sufficient? As Rabbi Mark put it, the miracle of the first night was that the people had faith to go ahead and light the lamp. They had no idea what would happen on the other nights, but they trusted that things would work out, and that it wouldn’t be by their own figuring or planning or careful conservation of oil. Without their faith on that first night, the miracle would not have been realized.

This is a good message for me. During the holiday season (and any other time I feel overwhelmed), my default mode is to freeze up and fret about whatever it is I’m running short of, and it’s always something: time, resources, strength, faith, help, extension cords. This year feels particularly rough—we had no sooner returned from our fabulous, much-needed vacation, and it was time to dismantle the kitchen for six weeks of remodeling, which wrapped up (mostly) at the start of what was literally the busiest, most hectic two weeks of the year for my day job. Amid the chaos of long workdays, Les and I had to move everything back into the kitchen, then it was time for aesthetic adjustments to the new cabinets just two days before Thanksgiving. Whew. Not 72 hours later came Hanukkah, and now here we are staring down the Advent season and barreling toward Christmas. Yep, I’m pretty well frozen in terms of getting things done, including sharing any of it here on Comfort du Jour. But another thing happened last weekend to give me pause and put my priorities under a microscope.

On Sunday, Les suggested that we take our dog, Nilla, to her favorite downtown brew pub for a relaxing afternoon. Nilla knows everyone at Fiddlin’ Fish, it seems, and we love watching her soak up the attention of the staff, fellow patrons and other dogs. It was a beautiful day and we should have gone. But we stayed home because I felt strangely obligated to follow through on making more latkes (using parsnips, carrots and purple sweet potatoes). I wanted to get that done and posted on the blog while it was still Hanukkah, as if it made any difference. My day in the kitchen did not end well, and if I could go back to that afternoon, I’d make a different decision. Our Nilla turned 13 at Thanksgiving and one (hopefully far away) day, we will have to memorialize her sweet face on the Christmas tree. Doing something together that is fun for Nilla brings joy, and I hate that we gave it up for lousy latkes. This weekend, we will be there.

She even gets a sip of beer when we chill at the brew pub!

It is not only the Hanukkah miracle that has been on my mind. There is a well-known story in the Bible’s New Testament about two sisters entertaining Jesus in their home. One of the sisters, Mary, sat at Jesus’s feet, enthralled at every word He spoke. And the other sister, Martha, was busy as a beaver in the kitchen and she complained that Mary was not helping and that she had to prepare the meal by herself. Jesus gently informed her that Mary had the right idea. Martha was missing out on the wonder.

When I’m doing Martha’s kind of “busy,” I can be robbing myself of peace, and when I am caught up in all the self-imposed trappings of the season, I do miss the joy and wonder. What I want most of all is to be fully present for the holiday season, and I will be thankful to see people face-to-face rather than on Zoom calls. I want to experience the pleasure of simple things like sipping hot cocoa by our chiminea on a cold December night. I want to make Christmas cookies—not for the blog, but just because I love making them and never seem to make the time. And this year, for the first time by myself, I’m going to make “crub,” a traditional Norwegian dish that was always on the table at my great-grandparents’ tiny little house on Christmas Eve. It is not a photogenic dish and I may or may not post it later, but it is special to me and tastes like home. Great-Gram, whose crub recipe is scattered across the country with her descendants, had words of wisdom for times like these. She’d say, regarding things that went wrong or didn’t get done, “a hundred years from now, nobody will ever know the difference.” It’s funny how that comes back to me now, and I’m grateful that I knew her.

Les asked me the other night if I was ever going to post the story from our vacation about the fantastic VIP tour I experienced at one of the nation’s top-ranked pizzerias. I’ve been sitting on it for three months now, and yes, eventually I will share it. Others (maybe even you, dear reader) have wondered, “Are you ever going to show us your kitchen?” Yes, and I’ll be excited to do it. But I am busy actually using the kitchen for Christmas and I don’t want to stop to tidy it up for pictures just now. But I promise, soon.

We will always fall short of something at the holiday season. This year, I want to fall short of stress, and I want to open the door for joy and wonder to enter. I hope the same for you! ❤

Heading Into the Home Stretch

We are heading into Week 5 of our “life without a kitchen” project, and remodel fatigue is officially hitting me. I have been restless, tired, sleepless, pessimistic and flat-out grumpy over the smallest things, and biting off my husband’s head for having the audacity to relax on the sofa for five minutes after a long day of listening to his counseling clients’ problems.

Caution ahead: this post has a lot of pictures, but they tell the story so please bear with me. 🙂

At least we’re cooking!

I am dealing OK with the cooking-without-a-kitchen side of things—better than I expected, to be honest. It helps to have a few multi-purpose appliances, and I don’t mean Instant Pot. No, we are relying on old-school appliances we already had. The slow cooker that my husband, Les, used to make the thick and meaty bison chili posted yesterday also saved the day for me last week when I made a batch of from-scratch chicken soup, which began with an overnight roast of a whole chicken. A few days before that, I used the slow cooker to make a recipe that caught my eye on my blog buddy Bernadette’s site: PASTA FAGIOLI WITH KALE – not a love story – New Classic Recipe. I had to make a few minor substitutions, but it still turned out terrific—I’ve linked it here, in case you’d like to try making it in an actual kitchen. We have also employed our Cuisinart Griddler for hash brown waffles, panini sandwiches and bacon.

Thankfully, Les and I have both focused on cooking foods that provide ample leftovers, and that has saved a lot of time and effort during these kitchen-less weeks.

Where did all these dirty dishes come from?

But the other concessions we have made to realize our dreams of a better kitchen are, quite frankly, pushing me to the brink.

For example, doing dishes in the bathroom has proven to be the single greatest pain in the ass. I had the presence of mind, at least, to purchase a plastic dish pan that travels to and from the dining room, on a schedule not unlike the trains moving in and out of Penn Station. That was one of my best under-$5 purchases ever. But even that has a couple of downsides—first, the dish pan never seems to be in the location where I most need it, so I am trudging back and forth to opposite ends of the house to retrieve it. Plus, the thing only holds about one meal’s worth of dishes at a time, and that means I am washing dishes three times a day, or else struggling to wash what is in the dish pan because it is too full.

On a positive note, at least I am not filling up the oceans with more plastic.

Thank goodness we are using disposable Chinet plates for most of our at-home meals, so the only things to be washed are pans, silverware, mugs and glasses, but I’m astonished at how quickly those things accumulate. It doesn’t help that it takes approximately five minutes for our water to heat up at that end of the house, but that’s another story.

Let me out! Let me in!

The long-term effects of the kitchen commotion on our pets remains to be seen, but we know the daily impact because we are constantly responding to their physical needs (or whims, in the cat’s case) to go outside. All doors to the kitchen are taped off in protective plastic so the doggy door is not available as usual. Even when the remodel crew is not working, and we are able to roll up the temporary plastic doors, the appliances are situated so that the door still isn’t easy to use. What this means for Nilla, who has enjoyed free, on-demand access to the backyard pretty much since she was a puppy, is that she needs to come find one of us (usually me, given that I work from home) when she needs a potty break. Bless her 13-year old heart, she has only had one incident that she couldn’t wait until her daddy got the leash on and the door opened. That girl is a team player.

And Taz, our sweet-but-demanding calico, is also missing the luxury of doggy-door, but in the opposite way. She enjoys being outside when the weather is nice (and it has been, for the most part), but she will spend hours surveilling the cul-de-sac and exploring the front garden beds, only to clamor at the front door to come inside, so she can use the litter box. As one of my friends put it, “she has standards.” We have only had one nasty thunderstorm since the kitchen project began, and when Taz scurried to the back door looking for protection that day, I had only one choice—to rip off the plastic door, lift the heavy blockage and get that baby inside, much the way someone might experience an emergency surge of adrenaline to lift a Volkswagen off their child. In further demonstration of Taz’s “standards,” this spoiled kitty refuses to drink pure, filtered water from an etched crystal bowl. No, she will only drink directly from the faucet in the bathroom sink—which, of course, is filled with dishes.

Thank God our discussions for getting a puppy this year did not come to fruition.

At least there’s takeout

We have, of course, taken advantage of the many take-out opportunities available to us, and for the most part, we have done so from a few of our favorite local places. But leave it to me to take a simple solution and push it into ridiculous territory. I could have called up a local sandwich shop that makes a perfectly good Reuben, but nooooo. I had to get online and place an order with Katz’s Delicatessen in NYC, paying through the nose for this package, “A Taste of New York,” delivered to my doorstep in huge, insulated boxes.

I’ll have what she’s having.

The shipment included a pound each of Katz’s incomparable pastrami and corned beef, a package of Kosher beef frankfurters, six New York bagels, a loaf of Katz’s deli rye, plus sauerkraut, mustard and full-sour pickles. It did make us smile, because we didn’t have enough time to visit Katz’s on our visit to N.Y. a couple of months ago. The only thing left from the Katz’s delivery is an enormous Kosher beef salami, which we will probably save for Super Bowl entertaining, and that will be here before we know it.

Trial runs in the kitchen

Our first meal from the Katz’s box gave us some disappointing, but helpful, information about the installation of our undercabinet lighting. Without intending to post any pictures of it, I plated up a pair of corned beef on rye sandwiches, along with the giant deli pickles. These pictures were not about the food, but about the orientation of the light strips that are supposed to be helping me with presentation of recipes on Comfort du Jour (not to mention cooking). What do you see here, besides the best corned beef this side of Manhattan?

Shadows. Lots of shadows. After two grueling days in the kitchen, the electrician had installed the under-cabinet lights at the back of the cabinets, rather than in the front, where the action is. Maybe that works for some people, and it would certainly illuminate the backsplash, but in all our discussions of under-cabinet lighting, we had emphasized that we needed task lighting.

On the same weekend, I intentionally decided to make breakfast pancakes on my large, dual-sided griddle, and we set it up on the counter in the kitchen so we could test another feature. The pancakes—made with browned butter, applesauce and cinnamon—were delicious, and so was the bacon we cooked on the Griddler, but I’ll share that recipe another day because the food isn’t the point. The plugmold outlet the griddle was plugged into, which was intended to help us keep cords out of the way, also was not configured correctly and the cord was dangling out into the middle of the counter rather than down from the underside of the cabinet. Plus, the “in-cabinet” lighting strip, which was supposed to be concealed inside the glass-door cabinets, wasn’t. Strike three. We put in a call to Matt, our contractor, to let him know we needed to pump the brakes and fix a few things before we could move forward. That was a rough (and sleepless) weekend for me.

Les and I are reasonable people, and we don’t complain for the fun of it. Thankfully, Matt heard our concerns and even agreed on several of our points. I’m pleased to report that all the lighting and under-cabinet problems were corrected within the week.

And now, the good stuff

We are getting excited to have this project behind us in plenty of time to get organized and start cooking for our favorite holiday—Thanksgiving. With the electrical concerns covered, things are beginning to move quickly. The drywall has been repaired, soon to be sanded for a fresh coat of paint. The overhead wafer lights have been installed, throwing even more light onto our situation, and covering all the task zones of the kitchen. I am especially excited about the between-stud cubby that will host my most-reached-for cooking oils and my salt and pepper mills. And please, for goodness sake, have a look at this backsplash in the works!

Kinda makes that pile of dirty dishes in the bathroom a little more tolerable. 😉

Fiesta Madness!

Controlled chaos. That was the scene inside the enormous white tent just outside the northern West Virginia factory where Fiesta Ware has been produced since 1936. It was the moment I had been anticipating for weeks, and as I stood among so many other Fiesta fans who, unlike me, knew exactly what they were doing, I realized all at once that I was in way over my head. I couldn’t articulate what I had expected at the annual Fiesta tent sale, but it definitely wasn’t this.

It was like playing Jenga, but with dishes!

Before I overwhelm you, dear reader, allow me to back up to explain how this most colorful adventure began. For many months, even before my husband and I began our kitchen remodel project, we had discussed ideas for buying new dishes to replace my beloved “Garden Harvest” pattern. The dishes you have seen so many times here on Comfort du Jour have seen me through some interesting times, and I was ready to bring in something new. I have been enamored of Fiesta dinnerware for as long as I can remember. My grandmother had some random pieces of it (from the original collections, no doubt), alongside a garage gallery full of Depression glass, some of which she used regularly in her kitchen and for serving guests. I loved the idea of bringing back a classic, I especially love the cheerful colors and Fiesta fit the bill for our “made in America” kitchen commitment.

When I started searching out the dishes online, I was quickly overwhelmed by the variety of colors and dish styles. Choosing a color became a near-impossible task, and amid the COVID crisis, availability was spotty with the usual online retailers. There are a couple of places in town that I could see and touch the dishes, but their options were also limited. Why not go straight to the manufacturer’s website, I thought, and see if their selection was better? That’s when I discovered that the Fiesta Factory has an annual “tent sale” at the manufacturing facility in West Virginia, and it was only a few weeks away!

I’d have to drive, I reasoned, because I would need to transport my purchases home. But my husband, Les, would not be able to accompany me, and going alone would not be as joyful. And that’s when a miracle happened! It was just after I had posted the Mexican street corn hash and eggs for Better Breakfast Month, and my friend, Peg, had commented on the dish, and the dish! It made me happy to know that someone else appreciated the Garden Harvest dishes that had been part of my cooking journey for so long. We connected on the phone and Peg was thrilled at my offer to pass along my Garden Harvest collection, and even more thrilled at an invitation to accompany me to the Fiesta tent sale. We would turn it into a girls’ getaway weekend!

Just west of Pennsylvania, and kissing Ohio across the river, that’s where you’ll find the Fiesta Factory.

Our journey led us across many state lines, as the Fiesta Factory is located at the tippy top of West Virginia, in the skinny finger of land between Ohio and Pennsylvania. We found accommodations in cozy Steubenville, Ohio, a stone’s throw from Newell, W.V., where Fiesta is headquartered. The town of Steubenville is anchored by the Franciscan University, which was across the street from our hotel, and it enjoys a flood of visitors every holiday season when it hosts the annual Nutcracker festival. Steubenville also happens to be the birthplace of Dean Martin, and so Peg and I set out on our first night to find a nice dry martini and raise a glass to the crooner.

Our best bet on that first night was a Bennigan’s, right in front of the hotel (the cocktail was just OK), and then we settled in, hoping for a good night’s sleep before we crossed the bridge (again) into West Virginia, where the Fiesta madness would begin in earnest, come daylight. 

Our visit coincided with a big celebration for Fiesta.

And that’s where we return to the colorful scene where this story began—the Fiesta Factory tent sale, an annual liquidation of factory “seconds,” perfectly good dishes—all with some miniscule blemish, and I can attest that it is difficult to find any problem with most of the pieces in the tent sale. When I originally learned that the tent sale merchandise was not first quality, I recoiled. But I got over that quickly, in part because I spent a little over a year in ceramic wheel-throwing classes, and I know that minor imperfections don’t have to ruin an otherwise beautiful dish. I learned to call that “character.” The other incentive to consider the “seconds” was the price list. As an example, a perfect medium-size Fiesta canister with lid is $59.99. I bought two of them, for $20 each! It just took a little digging.

Some of the dishes I bought had a tiny dot of an incorrect color. Others may have had a slightly lighter-than-standard amount of glaze, and so the color was not a perfect match to its companions. Another has a nearly invisible spot where the glaze didn’t completely adhere, and it is honestly so small that I must take off my glasses to inspect the dish. And that is after I had already found the spot previously. I could live with these imperfections, but the scene was still overwhelming, with frenzied shoppers with grocery carts everywhere and stacks and stacks of dishes, but not particularly organized.

The controlled chaos I described turned to fun as Peg and I began to follow the lead of more experienced Fiesta scavengers. We met people who have been attending the tent sale for as many as 17 years, and one shopper, when I mentioned how impressed I was at her knowledge of the colors replied gleefully, “Are you kidding? I’m obsessed!

Though we had already spent several hours looking at Fiesta ware, Peg and I couldn’t resist stepping into the Fiesta Factory Store, which was filled to the brim with all the perfect-quality pieces you’d ever hope to find. It was absolutely gorgeous, and I bought a few more pieces inside, including two deviled egg platters, which I can’t wait to fill up at Thanksgiving and Super Bowl. It just makes me happy to see all those cheerful colors! 🙂

Inside the factory store, things are organized and beautiful, like a rainbow!

Almost three hours after we arrived, we pulled away from the Fiesta factory with a trunk full of darn-near-perfect dishes, and I found myself contemplating whether to attend next year’s tent sale. But I’ll need a better plan (and perhaps a larger trunk), so I’ll work on that and share it here for any fellow Fiesta lovers who might be up for an adventure. Who’s with me?!

Out With the Old!

Things are getting real over here. Yesterday at exactly 9:16 am, a crew of three guys arrived at our front door, ready to start work on the kitchen remodel we’ve been dreaming about for so many months. And I will admit that on Sunday night, when my husband, Les, and I emptied out the final few things, there was a moment (OK, maybe half a moment), when I felt a little sad.

Not sad to have our project underway, mind you. We are ready after so much planning, and I have been getting a little antsy about the timeline following several delays on delivery of the new cabinets. We were firm about not tearing things out until we knew for sure the new cabinets were delivered and correct. It has been a classic case of “hurry up and wait,” but well worth it because we are investing in American-made products, from the cabinets to the countertops, sink and faucet, and even the new dishes we will be getting to replace the ones you’ve seen so many times in my blog photos.

What made me sad was my reminiscing over some of the things that have happened in this room we are overhauling. All the Thanksgiving meals, Super Bowl parties, family gatherings and romantic meals for just the two of us. Of course, there will be more of all those things when the new kitchen is installed, but not exactly in this same space where our memories as a couple began. It’s bittersweet. I fought hard to hang onto it this week, even baking one last loaf of sourdough bread on Sunday night, mere hours before the crew showed up to tear it down.

Last man standing.

And then, just like that, the feeling passed. Because, yay! A new kitchen!

I was almost too tired to keep standing.

It’s going to be a little wild over here, and for the next week or so, please bear with me as I’ll be focused on the well-being of our pets, who are plenty confused with the state of things. We will be doing a lot of take-out this week, and then I will dive into the new challenge of cooking “kitchen-less.” In between, I have some catching up to do, with recent welcome-to-fall recipes that I’ve made, and more food stories and recipes to bring to the table from our vacation, including an authentic Puerto Rican comfort food dish, a couple of fab pizzas inspired by our visits to the amazing pizzerias in New Haven, Connecticut and (of course) a few fun cocktails that I’m sure you’ll enjoy! Here’s a little taste of what’s to come.

It will be weird to continue seeing and posting pictures showing the kitchen as it was, while at the same time I will be watching the transformation into what it will become—a bright and beautiful, made-in-America kitchen! There will be some frustrations, I’m sure, but we are looking forward to the finished project, and even the extreme kitchenless cooking we will do.   

If you have done a full kitchen remodel, please tell me in the comments, what got you through the rough parts? Because here they come!

Let the games begin!

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun!

On Memorial Day weekend this year (the unofficial start of summer), my husband, Les, and I enjoyed a few craft beers at our favorite local brewpub, dreaming up fun things to do for a late-summer vacation. We were hoping to make good on some travel plans that we had to cancel last year, and our decision to drive rather than fly gave us a lot of flexibility for how to spend a week away from home. We knew that we wanted to visit the Northeast, through New York and Connecticut, and we were game for just about anything.

On a whim that afternoon, my husband looked up the concert schedule for one of his favorite Jersey-based bands, and would you believe it? —they were scheduled to play on Labor Day weekend, right at the end of our planned vacation time! Our spontaneous decision to hit the “buy it” button on those tickets turned out to be one of our best moves ever. We counted down the months, weeks and days until our trip, and now the vacation that we had so eagerly anticipated has ended and it feels a bit blurry. The experience of time is an odd thing, and even more so after having spent nearly a year and a half not going anywhere. We are safe at home, exhausted, and still reeling from all the incredible adventures we had over 10 days and across more than 1,800 miles.

During our getaway, which was conveniently timed to coincide with Les’s birthday, we enjoyed visits with family and old friends, made new friends and met a few others face-to-face for the first time, including Bernadette, one of my blogging buddies that I met here on WordPress, and our musician friends, Glenn Alexander and Oria. Those experiences gave me joy that I cannot quite put into words. We also had some of the most incredible food, including pizza at three of America’s top-rated pizzerias and some chicken wings in Connecticut that were, quite frankly, better than any wings I have had from my time near Buffalo. Les and I walked more than 7 miles in one day in NYC, including lunch at Chelsea Market and happy hour at a classic tavern in Greenwich Village, mere days before the record-setting rainfall that wreaked havoc on the city and parts of New Jersey and Long Island, all locations we stayed during our trip. We visited a legendary music venue made famous by Bruce Springsteen, attended a fabulous outdoor concert by a favorite band, and did I mention all the terrific food?

I’m still trying to get my arms around these experiences, and also trying to resume the routines of work-from-home life, and it is a little overwhelming, but I promise more details are coming. Here’s a glimpse of what is to come in the weeks ahead, as I aim to replicate or re-invent some of the culinary experiences we had along the way.

Nearly every leg of our journey was tied in some way to Comfort du Jour, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the many ways starting this blog has changed my life for the good.

We are happy to be home, sleeping in our own bed and loving on our precious pets. It is back to business-as-usual status around here, but not really. This action-packed vacation was a pre-emptive strike against stress, as our kitchen remodel is finally about to begin, so brace yourself for some new posts that will probably be a bit chaotic at times. We still have a lot of pantry items to use up, and Les will be giving me a new “Chopped” basket this evening, and it will be the last one I am able to navigate before the kitchen is dismantled. And then we will have a new adventure, perhaps named “The No-Kitchen Challenge.” Oh, these are the good times!

Thank you, dear reader, for hanging on for the ride. ❤

“Plan B” Birthday Dessert

Everyone has heard of delayed gratification, but what about delayed disappointment? That is the best way to describe the outcome of what was meant to be a super cool and special dessert for my birthday. If you were following my kitchen adventures back in February, you may remember the luscious chocolate-cherry tiramisu that I created for a Valentine’s Day dinner with my husband, Les.

I was so excited about putting a fun flavor twist on the classic Italian dessert, which is a favorite of mine, but not so much for Les, who cannot stand the flavor of coffee. My chocolate-cherry version of tiramisu swapped out the usual espresso in favor of a brewed cacao beverage, and it was oh so delicious.

After that successful twist on a classic, my creative juices flooded over and I created an array of other flavors for tiramisu—at least, in my mind. Every time another great flavor idea occurred to me, I opened the notes feature on my iPhone and added it to the list. To date, I have imagined six more flavor profiles, and one that was particularly appealing to me was pina colada. Could you imagine? The sweet flavors of fresh pineapple and tropical coconut, layered with the mascarpone and ladyfingers—oh, I dreamed about it for months. And my birthday, right in the middle of summer, would be the perfect occasion for it.

Except for one thing. Pineapple has some unusual properties, and in my excitement about what I envisioned would be a huge “wow” moment, I failed to recognize or plan for that.

I had thought of everything. Almost.

Nope, I only charged forward with my plan, thinking through the flavor aspects and the presentation and what ingredients I would substitute for the espresso, the brandy and the cocoa powder. I would dip the ladyfingers into a delicious coconut smoothie concoction, spiked with a lovely golden rum from one of our local distilleries. I searched three supermarkets to find a version of pineapple preserves with ingredients that met my approval. I would fold that into the mascarpone mixture, as I had with the cherry preserves in my perfect Valentine’s Day version. Rather than cocoa dusted between layers, I’d sprinkle it with toasted desiccated coconut, and serve it on my grandmother’s vintage plates, and it was going to be great!

I started mixing, following the inspiration of the same Ina Garten recipe that led me to success the first time, and I got to the point of mixing a splash of pineapple juice and rum into the whipped mascarpone mixture, and suddenly the silky, creamy stuff in my bowl turned into a clumpy, curdled mess.

If I had been a contestant on Food Network’s Chopped, this would have been the moment that the judges would begin to panic, foreshadowing my disastrous ending. My favorite judge, Amanda Freitag, would have buried her face into her hands, whispering, “oh no, did she just put the pineapple juice in there?”

Yes, I sure did, and now I was puzzled. It must have been too cold, I reasoned, remembering that Ina Garten’s recipe made a big deal about starting with every single ingredient at room temperature. Not to worry, though. I’ve seen plenty of TV chefs fix broken sauces with an immersion blender, so I grabbed mine and whipped that mixture back into shape. It seemed mostly OK, and then I folded in a few tablespoons of the incredible pineapple preserves I had found at Trader Joe’s. This stuff was awesome, and I could almost taste sweet success. And then, dang if it didn’t curdle again!

And that was the exact moment I remembered about bromelain, the powerful enzyme in pineapple that does freaky things when it mingles with protein. I knew about this from years ago when I had marinated a pork tenderloin with pineapple and cilantro. The soaking liquid had smelled and tasted incredible, and I was sure my tenderloin would be remarkable. Oh, it was—remarkably mushy with a paste-like coating after grilling. Bromelain breaks down proteins into weird particles, and it happens quickly. This is why the splashes of pineapple juice wrecked the whipped egg yolk mixture, and I’m sure the immersion trick would have proved only temporarily effective. But I had not remembered any of this in time.

It was clear to me then that my pina colada tiramisu was not going to be successful, and I faced a tough decision to either scrap the whole mess or try to salvage it into some other kind of dessert. It was serendipitous that I arrived at this crossroads while making my own birthday dessert. Birthdays for me are weird occasions anyway, and for many very old reasons, I tend to steer clear of setting expectations of any kind. If I don’t make a big deal of it being my birthday, then it stings less when things don’t work out. But this dessert disaster was more disappointment than I was prepared for, partly because I had spent so much time dreaming up this tiramisu, and partly because the person disappointing me was me. So I took some deep breaths and made my decision. I wasn’t ready to give up, because then I was telling myself that my birthday wasn’t important. I had to be true to me and try to save it. But how?

I had a very successful grilled pineapple and jalapeno ice cream last summer, so maybe I could retrofit this mixture into ice cream—except no, because the egg yolks were raw and already mixed with mascarpone so I couldn’t cook the mixture now. Could I find a way to shift gears and make a pineapple cake? I’m not much of a baker (unless it’s sourdough bread), but I dug around on Pinterest and found a recipe that could serve as inspiration. It called for three sticks of butter, and mascarpone is kind of like butter. So I started whipping new ingredients into the clumpy mess in my stand mixer and I combined it with flour until it looked like batter. And then I crossed my fingers and baked it. Well?

Each layer was about 3/4″ high. 😦

At this point, I had no idea whether the cakes would even be edible. In my mind, another Chopped judge, Alex Guarnaschelli, was pursing her lips and shaking her head. The cakes were so dense and flat, and I knew they didn’t have near enough sugar, so I cooked the coconut smoothie-rum mixture with some turbinado sugar and made a syrup. I poked a toothpick all over the surface of the two cakes and spooned the syrup over them, hoping against hope that they’d soak up some flavor and sweetness. We ran out of powdered sugar for the icing, so I sent Les out to get more, and I pondered why I even bothered. Sadly, birthday disappointment was setting in, but I pressed on. I whipped more powdered sugar into the icing, but I couldn’t get the coconut flavor right, despite addition of coconut power, extract and actual coconut. But at least it didn’t look horrible. I mean, the frosting dressed it up, right?

OK, so it was flat. But it might still taste like pina colada.

I thought of the Rolling Stones’ tune, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and I reassured myself that even if my heavenly pina colada tiramisu that morphed into a flat, flavorless cake turned out to be a total bust, it was not the end of the world. It didn’t have to ruin my birthday, and it would not be my last chance to create something spectacular. I stepped outside to call our kitty, and I saw this.

But if you try sometimes, well, you might find
You get what you need.

The cake didn’t look horrible, but it really was. It was dense, pasty, heavy and not very sweet. The cooked rum syrup had a strange metallic taste that was not at all reminiscent of pina colada, and it didn’t hurt my feelings one bit to slide the whole mess into the trash. My birthday dessert was, in fact, a bust.

I learned something important about myself, though, and perhaps that was meant to be the point of all the hours I spent on my project. I am not a quitter, and I have gotten better in my later years at changing course when a situation demands it. And though I didn’t get my birthday wish for a tasty pina colada dessert, I did have a front row seat to witness the reveal of my true colors. And that part wasn’t so bad.

Besides, this coming weekend, I’ll be making ice cream. 😊

The end of my kitchen as I know it

My husband, Les, and I gave each other a high five on Wednesday morning, when we signed over a down payment for a shiny new kitchen. It is a big decision to chuck it all and start over, especially with such a hefty price tag. But nobody will be shedding a tear in our house when this kitchen goes. We are hopelessly cluttered, land-locked and in each other’s way. I am exhausted from complaining about our shortage of counter space and storage, inefficient flow that is result of a poor original design (who had the idea to put the refrigerator next to the wall?), and especially the lack of decent light. We have talked and dreamed about doing this for a couple of years, and after our year in lockdown, we finally decided that something had to give.

For me, the commitment to remodel is a personal one, and it is scary. I have been down this kitchen makeover road before, and it did not end the way you see the big reveal in so many HGTV makeover shows. I won’t terrify you with the details, but I will summarize my DIY misadventure this way—remodeling projects sometimes reveal hidden truths to the homeowners, and not only in the form of moldy walls or termite infestations.

In a previous life, I had a vision for restoring the kitchen in a new-to-us-but-chronologically-old home. Along the way, several previous owners had “redone” the kitchen, but not very thoughtfully and certainly not in keeping with the 1927 bungalow’s character. Removal of all the old stuff (including five clunky layers of flooring, which exposed the most gorgeous original antique heart pine) was amusing and liberating, but the installation of our new expectations went off the rails, and just kept going. Much of the trouble could have been avoided, but for my spouse’s loyalty of keeping peace with the contractor, who was a social acquaintance. My desperate pleas for reset fell on deaf ears.

As the weeks morphed into months, I watched in silenced horror as my dream eroded into something more aligned with the contractor’s abilities or undeclared time constraints or perhaps his own vision—I’m not really sure—and my confidence in the outcome quickly followed. It was during this excruciating, exhausting project that I learned two important truths. First, don’t hire a friend to do work on your home, especially if you are emotionally invested in the outcome. Second, a home renovation project can make or break a fragile relationship. Frankly, I think it should be a required exercise for people contemplating marriage. In my case, the “big reveal” was a glaring situation of irreconcilable differences. Of course, dear reader, it was never really about the kitchen. Cracks in any foundation cannot be repaired with a fresh coat of paint.

A few years after my past nightmare project began, I made a clumsy exit from the yet-unfinished kitchen—and also from my marriage. I put down roots in a tiny duplex apartment with the smallest kitchen known to mankind. It was quiet (except when the neighbor was home, which is entirely another story) and I was learning how to be me again. When anxious thoughts woke me up at 3 a.m., I calmed myself by making handmade pasta. Sometimes I had popcorn and wine for dinner, and nobody cared or complained. Other times, I invited friends over and basked in the joy of entertaining, something I loved but rarely got to do during the previous decade. I nurtured a sourdough starter and learned how to make beautiful bread. I got better at smiling and my love for cooking intensified.

Not all was lost, and I was reminded of this by a wise, unexpected philosopher who spoke a wonderfully hopeful truth:

She was right, you know.

Fast forward about two years to a vastly different scene, set in a different kitchen in a different part of town. I had been dating Les for a few months and on one evening, after much laughter and a bottle of wine and cleaning up dishes after a meal that we had cooked together in his kitchen, I felt a shiver run down my spine as my mind’s eye caught a glimpse of the future—it would one day be our kitchen. Don’t ask me how I knew, but two years after that, he became my husband. We have had some good times in this kitchen, and Les and I have turned out some incredible feasts, despite our less-than-fab space.

This kitchen we are giving up has no hold on Les, and I am delighted that we are on the same page with the updates we have planned—new cabinets and countertops, a new layout, better traffic flow and the promise of more storage. And lighting, lots of new lighting. We have replaced all of the appliances within the past couple of years, and we are keeping those. Well, except the microwave. In support of my passion for baking, we will introduce my own special space in a presently unused corner. I am so excited!

The contract we signed this week puts our project into the trusted hands of a reputable contractor whose design partners have helped us select some beautiful materials. We hope that we have designed the perfect solutions to our storage needs and spatial challenges. When the work begins at the end of summer, we will be expelled from the kitchen for about eight weeks, and we are doing some creative planning to make that part of the ride more tolerable and, perhaps, even enjoyable.

And we have a few fun surprises that will involve you, dear reader. Our cabinets are bursting with pantry items that we must thin out—and fast. In keeping with our playful personalities, we are turning it into a game, and I can’t wait to share that with you. Les and I will not break under the pressure of this remodel because we will be having way too much fun!

It’s the end of my kitchen as I know it, and I feel fine.

Our new cabinets are going to look great with my beloved gas range! ❤

Long Time Coming (a Juneteenth cocktail)

On Juneteenth, my mind is littered with so many emotions I find it difficult to put my thoughts down. I am thrilled for the modern Black community, for whom Juneteenth has always been woven into the fabric of life. I am embarrassed to realize that the meaning of this occasion escaped me until last year, when the U.S. entered a long-overdue season of racial reckoning after the horrifying death of George Floyd. Most of all, I am disappointed and angry that the significance of Juneteenth was not spelled out in the history books of my small, lily-white upstate N.Y. town. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Along with so many others in my age group, I grew up learning about the greatness of the men whose tremendous business skills built this great nation, including the forefathers and later the business and industrial magnates—Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt—you know, all the rich, white guys. But we did not hear the whole story, and that means we never got the real story. There is so much more to be said and taught about our nation’s history, but a great deal of resistance to teaching it, and I’m flat-out puzzled and pissed off about that.


Juneteenth, in case you have completely avoided all news outlets recently, marks a celebration for the last of the slaves being freed following President Abraham Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation. The news that slavery had become illegal spread throughout the land, but not exactly like wildfire. It was not until 2½ years later, when federal soldiers rode into Galveston, Texas, to read the edict out loud, that the enslaved African-Americans there even realized they were free. I suspect the delay of this information had a lot to do with the fact that the slaveholders had more to gain by keeping the joyous news on the down low.

Fast forward 156 years, and Juneteenth has at last become a federal holiday, under the pen of President Joe Biden, and it’s been a long time coming. We still have a lot of work to do to recognize full equality and taking the first step feels a little intimidating. Rather than assume what kind of celebration is respectful, I have done some research into the significant themes around Juneteenth, and I am responding with this bright red cocktail, created in honor of those for whom respect has been a long time coming.

It’s lively, refreshing and suited to this occasion.

Red drinks have always played a major role in celebration of Juneteenth, as the color symbolizes both the bloodshed of Black peoples’ ancestors and the courage and resilience that brings them to this point in history. Hibiscus, a deeply-hued flower, is a significant ingredient in red drinks for Juneteenth, as it was one of many favored foods that enslaved Africans brought with them to this land. Hibiscus has a delightfully tart flavor and somewhat astringent effect—not particularly sweet on its own, almost like cranberry, but with hints of floral. I first tasted hibiscus as a tea, and that is a very traditional way to enjoy it on Juneteenth, but I wanted to mix it into a cocktail for one specific reason: this whiskey.

You can visit the Uncle Nearest distillery along the Tennessee Whiskey Trail.

As part of my own “first steps” toward racial equity, I have made a personal commitment to seek out and support Black-owned businesses, and Uncle Nearest is one, founded a few years ago by a Black woman named Fawn Weaver. The story behind this new whiskey brand is rich and complex, just like the spirit in the bottle. There is so much to know about it—more than I can say here in this post—but the kicker of this true story is that Nathan “Nearest” Green, an enslaved man in Lynchburg, Tenn., taught Jack Daniels how to make whiskey. Yes, that Jack Daniels. This startling real story began to circulate a few years ago, and I think you’ll find the story linked here a fascinating read. I was elated this week to find that Uncle Nearest whiskey is already available in our local liquor store.

I’ve paired the Uncle Nearest 1856 premium whiskey with a couple of other ingredients that seemed right to me—hibiscus simple syrup, spicy ginger beer and a few drops of aromatic bitters, courtesy of Hella Cocktail Co., another Black-owned business. Finally, a subtle accent of vanilla, a flavor that seems so utterly common today, yet most of us would never have known it without the discovery and effort of an enslaved 12-year-old boy named Edmond Albius. I only learned about him last year when I went searching for the most popular flavors in America.

A cocktail will not fix the problems of racial inequity, but every little bit of awareness leads me into the light, and this is my small way of paying that forward. The drink is somewhat bittersweet—much like the story that inspires it—but refreshing and invigorating, nuanced with spice and freshness. It tastes exactly how I feel, now that I am finally beginning to understand the real story.

I’ve paired the Uncle Nearest whiskey with hibiscus syrup and ginger beer, plus aromatic bitters and a touch of fresh lime.


1.5 oz. Uncle Nearest 1856

0.5 oz. hibiscus-vanilla simple syrup* (see notes)

2 or 3 drops Hella aromatic bitters

Quick squeeze of fresh lime

About 2 oz. spicy ginger beer*

Lime wheel to garnish


A simple syrup is made with water and sugar, and in our house, that means fair trade-certified sugar because I learned the real, true story about slave labor in the sugar industry several years ago. Profit-driven exploitation of human beings must stop, and as consumers, we have the power influence companies to do the right thing. Is it more expensive? The answer depends on who you ask.

Here’s how I made the hibiscus-vanilla simple syrup:

If spicy is not your thing, any ginger beer or ginger ale will lend a nice little zip to this cocktail. I chose the Q brand “hibiscus ginger beer,” obviously for the hibiscus twist but also because it also includes spices that are celebrated in African-American cuisine. I stumbled onto this ginger beer by accident, and it turned out to be perfect in this drink.


Combine Uncle Nearest 1856, simple syrup and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass. Add 1 cup of ice and stir until the outside of the glass becomes frosty. Strain over new ice in a double rocks glass. Squeeze in lime juice and top with ginger beer. Garnish with a lime wheel.

You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the brands and products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or merchandise for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀