What your favorite drink says about you, from a bartender who's seen it all

Mike Stankovich of Longfellow in Cincinnati

Mike Stankovich of Longfellow in Cincinnati (Credit: Catie Viox)

When Ladles owner Sarah Nicholas and her husband frequented their favorite bar in New York, the bartender would serve her a Hugo spritz, and a lager for Evan. It seemed to fit their personalities. Sarah is a trained chef, and elderflower liqueur appeals to a sophisticated palate. Her husband Evan is an FBI agent and sports fan, and just loves a good beer

It begs the question: Are bartenders sizing us up based on what we order? I knew just who to ask. Mike Stankovich may look like a hipster bartender at one of those reclaimed wood and Edison lights-type establishments, but make no mistake. He is a tastemaker and cultural juggernaut. Just ask the New York Times, GQ, Boston Herald,  and the countless news outlets that have paid their respects. He's also been my friend for over 25 years. Stankovich now owns Longfellow, a neighborhood bar in Cincinnati with a devoted following. 

 

"It's not what the customers order. It's how they order a drink," he insists. "I like it when someone comes in, and knows how they like their cocktails made. Some bartenders may be offended that someone likes it prepared a bit differently, but I respect that." Some pet peeves include leading a drink order with the mixer, followed by a generic liquor request. "Sometimes people will come in and ask for a Coke and whiskey. We have many kinds of whiskey, so it's best to lead with the liquor."

When I asked him to name certain drinks and the types of people who order them, he demurred. After 25 years, he's decidedly less snarky and judgmental as the guy I met as a teen. Not to mention he has a business to run. "I'll name three cocktails people order that tend to make me think highly of them," he offered. "The Negroni, gin and tonic, and a Manhattan." Why? "They're straightforward and classic."

Duly noted.

negroni cocktail

Below are a few outtakes from bartenders who have no hesitation sharing their opinion on what you order, and what it says about you:

  • Old Fashioned: You've been streaming Mad Men (various sources)
  • Vodka Martinis: Highly successful, highly functional alcoholics.”  - David Bumba, Yuzu, Lakewood, OH
  • Whiskey Sour: “I may or may not be 21.” - Kayla Quigley, Citizen Public House and Oyster Bar, Boston, MA
  • White Russian: “Respectable by my standards.” - Jane Danger, Mother of Pearl, New York, NY
  • Long Island Iced Tea: “We didn’t have your first two requests of Fireball and Goldschläger.” - Brandy Feit, Headwaters, Portland, OR
  • Mojito“You're probably a cool cat looking for something refreshing. Just please don't crush it faster than I can make it; these things take time.” - Ted Vong, TAG Restaurant, Denver, CO
  • Cosmopolitan: “Where's the rest of the bachelorette party!?” — Justin Nelson, Plan Check Kitchen + Bar, Los Angeles, CA
  • “Moscow Mule: "You have a subscription to both Better Homes & Gardens and Sunset. You have strong opinions on how lime wedges should be cut.” — Drew Record, Mister Jiu's, San Fransisco, CA

 

What's up, dog?

 

crazy hot dogs

Guess how many hot dogs will be eaten this Independence Day? If you guessed 150 million, I'd be concerned for you. But you would also be right. That's a lot of weiners.

Hot dogs are always on the menu for the Fourth of July, but why not heighten the occasion? Go all out with a hot dog bar, where people can stack up thematic franks with uncommon toppings. The great Nora Ephron always said that people love to play with their food. 

hot dog bar

The below toppings can be combined for a taste you'll relish. See what I did there?

The Buffalo Dog: Hot sauce, crumbled blue cheese & diced celery

Blue Hawaii: Pineapple chunks, bacon and BBQ sauce

Tex Mex: Grated cheddar, chili, diced onion, sliced jalapenos and crumbled Fritos

Garden Party: Caramelized onions, grilled peppers, jalapenos and mushrooms

El Mariachi: Jalapenos, corn, cilantro, diced onion and cojita cheese

The American Dream: American cheese, onion dip and crushed potato chips

Some entertaining tips:

Make a chalkboard menu with combo suggestions

Create fun names for thematic hot dogs

Keep all the toppings in bowls or containers the same size and shape. The uniform look is appealing when people are making tough decisions

Have a DAREDEVIL section for outlandish toppings, like super-spicy ghost peppers, peanut butter or even marshmallows! Scour your cabinets and you'll be sure to find some stand-out options.

Happy Independence Day!

girl with fireworks

For all those dog day afternoons

a boy and his greyhound

Summer solstice is upon us. The longest day of 2020 is Saturday the 20th (that's a lot of 20s). Hot, steamy weather is headed our way. In a month, they'll announce that we're in "the dog days of summer." Which got me thinking about dogs. Our team here at Ladles and Linens are true dog lovers. One look at our inventory makes it clear. From embroidered dog towels (58 different breeds thankyouverymuch!) to hilarious linen towels, we know how to celebrate man's best friend!

cute funny dog towel wigglebutts

And while we love to cook and entertain for our loved ones, we believe in spoiling our furry friends too! Dogs basically wear fur coats throughout summer, panting the days away. So in addition to bringing them inside, you can spoil them with homemade treats. It's easier than you think! We stock silicone dog biscuit molds and the recipe options are endless.

Here's an easy starter:

INGREDIENTS

  • 2/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 – 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • A dash of salt

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat your over to 350 degrees
  2. In an electric mixer, beat pumpkin puree, peanut butter and eggs on medium-high until well combined, about 1-2 minutes.
  3. Gradually add 2 1/2 cups flour at low speed, beating just until incorporated. Add an additional 1/4 cup flour at a time just until the dough is no longer sticky.
  4. Press mixture into the silicone mold
  5. Place into oven and bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.
  6. Let cool completely before popping out.

Are your dog biscuits not the cutest? Who's a good wittle puppy pawwent? You are! Oh yes you are!

Happy solstice, and bring on the dog days!

 peanut butter homemade dog treats in a basket

Attn: Panic Shoppers - Zero Waste Tips for ALL. THAT. FOOD.

On March 13th, I received a call from my sister, who urged me to buy toilet paper stat. I'm guilty of going overboard. Now I have enough toilet paper to cushion me against a parachute fail.

Unlike toilet paper, which lasts forever, those who purchased too many groceries are having to toss out expired food. In a world where we are all striving to be more sustainable, it can be guilt-inducing. Especially when we hear stories of food scarcity due to the pandemic. Below are some tips to help you use up every last morsel of your bounty.

  • Stale Tortilla Chips - Nothing works better as a bottom layer of a casserole. It soaks up juices while keeping its crunch and has a salty finish. Especially delicious on anything Mexican-themed or cheesy. Also, if you bake a tray of nachos, no one will know that the chips were ever stale!
  • Garlic - Are green sprouts bursting though? Plant these individual cloves in full sun (preferably a sandy, loamy soil), and each clove will produce an entire bulb! When the leaves start to whither and turn yellow, it's time to harvest.
  • Stale Potato Chips - I mean, I would eat these anyway, but if you're fancy, crumble them until they're fine and use as a substitute for breadcrumbs. Or use as a crispy top layer of a casserole. I like to saute them in Texas Pete Hot Sauce and make a toasty top layer of buffalo chicken dip. 
  • Wilting salad spinach - If they are getting droopy, saute them with garlic and olive oil in a pan. Finish off with a squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper to taste. 
  • Stale bread - Cube and bake into breadcrumbs. Have fun with seasonings. You can make cumin jalapeno croutons for Mexican salads, or a garlicky Parmesan batch for Caesar salads.
  • Fruit - Bananas turning black and strawberries getting mushy? Wash, peel and chop into cubes for a smoothie. Toss them into the freezer for later.
  • Wilting herbs - Fresh herbs at the grocery store don't come cheap. Wash them well, and spread them out on a towel in a sunny spot of your home.  Once dried, they can be stored and used like the dried spices in your collection. Only they'll be packing much more flavor.
  • Meat expiring - If your freezer has no room and you don't want to eat it at the moment, make jerky!
  • Vegetables - Chances are, you can find a good soup recipe for what you've got. Pull out your stock pot and get creative. One of the best things about soup is the way it freezes. Save up for a cold, rainy day by pouring into gallon freezer bags. Lay them flat in the freezer and they stack like playing cards - and the airtight nature of it keeps them relatively safe from freezer burn. 

    Remember, if it's too late for some of your bounty, you have options. Rotten produce can be composted, and moldy bread is still a treat for birds. Get outside, enjoy the sun and feed it to the ducks at your local park. I hope these tips make a little difference, and this shared experience that much easier. 

    Stay safe, my friends. 

    This Year, Mama Needs a Gesture

    Even before I became a mother, I often scoffed at the gifts people think women want. Valentine's Day and Mother's Day turns street corners into makeshift gift shops For Those Who Forgot. And it's always the same thing: red roses and teddy bears. Folks, please stop buying grown women stuffed animals. We've been allowed to vote for 80 years, yet are still fighting infantilization. 

    Mothers are practical, but also need to feel pampered. They need convenience, but deserve to luxuriate. Balance the equation, and you are golden.

    Last year I encouraged readers to ditch crowded brunch spots and serve her brunch in bed. This year, she won't even have the option to dine out. On top of this, many moms out there are overworked, with home-schooling and remote jobs. Others are stressed because they need to be out in the workforce, and fear contaminating their families. It's been a tough couple of months. She deserves a gesture. Here are some practical yet funny/luxurious/thoughtful gifts. 

    There are no stuffed animals. Only great ideas to pull together a basket!

    Towels are practical, but can also be:

    Mugs are necessary caffeine delivery systems. But they can also be:

    If she loves flowers, get her some that will last for years, with:

    Can't decide from all these fabulous options? You can never go wrong with a gift card!

    Happy Mother's Day!

    Dressing up your Salad

    Spring is in full bloom, and we're just beginning to taste the bounty. A close friend came by with a bundle of microgreens from a local farm, and it was one of the freshest-tasting salads I've enjoyed. 

    Many people think that salads are guilt-free, but a lot of it depends on the dressing. It's assumed that a vinaigrette is the healthiest choice, but most store-bought options are packed with hidden sugar; even high-fructose corn syrup. The good news is, homemade salad dressings are exponentially tangier, zestier, and are made with better quality ingredients.

    Spring salads that make eating your leafy greens fun | From the ...

    It's easier than you think. You need a mix of:

    • fat (olive oil, sesame oil, etc.)
    • acid (lemon, white wine vinegar, etc.)
    • salt
    • If you want to kick it up a notch, you can add a hint of sweet (maple syrup, raspberry jam) and seasoning (onion powder, garlic powder, basil, etc).
    • You can even use a tiny amount of mayonnaise to emulsify the dressing, and stop the oil and vinegar from separating. The eggs in mayonnaise work as a binding agent.

    salad: Do you replace your meals with salads? It's not the ...

    Below are a couple of basic recipes. These should be a springboard for you, and will hopefully encourage you to experiment. For instance, my husband started with a basic Caesar salad recipe, then had a field day with extra garlic, and other ingredients he favors. Have fun with it!

    Dijon Vinaigrette

    Southwest Ranch

    Asian-inspired

    Balsamic Vinaigrette

    Greek dressing

     

    The Garden of Eatin'

    During times of war, people used to grow "victory gardens" to increase food production. We're not by any means at war, except perhaps with ourselves about whether or not to put a mask on and head back to the grocery store. Since canned goods can't hold a candle to fresh produce, why not use this extra time to start a little garden? It doesn't just help with social distancing, it gets you in the sunshine, provides a tastier yield and saves quite a bit of money.

    Some parents start a pizza garden to connect their children with nature. It's a simple affair, with just tomatoes, basil and oregano. Everything grows above ground, and you can pick as needed while summer marches on.

    Some people grow cocktail gardens on their balconies, with mint, rosemary and basil. If you'd like to muddle your way to greatness, Ladles and Linens has the book for you. I grow these herbs, plus Thai basil (my absolute favorite) and cilantro, because I can't resist homemade Vietnamese food.  

    I'm quite a lazy gardener myself. I don't build raised beds or grow anything that I can't see. Fruit trees are perfect for people like me. I trim back branches once every spring, and let mother nature do the rest. Unless you consider a Caddyshack-like war against squirrels to be work, because those freeloaders are relentless. But all summer long I have fresh figs, peaches, grapes and raspberries.

    And tomatoes have such a will to live, that I never even have to buy a plant. I take my shovel and sprinkle compost onto a sunny spot in my yard, and inevitably, tomatoes burst forth. I often find my 5 year-old plucking cherry tomatoes right off the vine and eating them in place. For larger tomatoes, I sometimes grab them before they ripen and surprise my family with a plate of fried green tomatoes. It can be as easy as planting a stick in the ground, per the deliciously-themed seed pods available at Ladles and Linens, pictured above. 

    Regardless of your skill level, gardening is therapeutic. It connects you to the earth, helps you move with the seasons and provides more exercise than many think. So get a little dirty! As hard as social distancing can be for some people, creating a home garden is one way to contribute to the effort, and perhaps open you up to a hobby you never knew you loved.

     

    Turn leftovers into REINVENTIONS

    pierogies pierogi recipe

    When my mother cooked for the five of us, she made enough for an army and we never ceased to tease her about it. But she was smart. Leftovers saved her time, and provided a guarantee that no guest left hungry. And we weren't kidding anyone; every morsel was gobbled up. 

    Side note: I rolled out some dough, and Abraham Lincoln appeared, per below. 

    As we all adjust to the new normal, many of us find ourselves in the kitchen more than usual. The results have been tantalizing on social media, and it's a shame we can't score invites. When life does pick back up again, how nice would it be to have homemade goodies stashed in the freezer for a later time?

    Some of you may not have a deep freezer or a vacuum sealer. Some of you may not have room in you freezer as it is. But you know the one thing everyone does have? Leftovers.

    The Italians have made a cozy home for their chopped up leftovers, with frittatas. I like making tacos from leftovers, even cheesy casseroles. But when I found myself with leftover pierogi dough, I thought, why not make inventive pierogies? Here's a recipe for the dough.

    Rule #1: Make sure your filling stands on its own. Make it zesty, because if it's bland, the outer shell will only dull the flavor.

    Rule #2: Be sure the filling packs together, so not to break apart the dumpling while boiling. 

    Rule #3: Regardless of fillings, be sure to follow the pierogi recipe as far as the dough and cooking instructions.

    Rule #4: Have fun!

    My leftover chicken needing sprucing before stuffing into the pierogi, so I tossed it into the food processor with kimchi. After boiling and draining the pierogis, I pan-seared them in sesame oil and soy sauce, so they were crispy and caramelized. Another recipe included roast beef, which I shredded and mixed with cilantro, caramelized onions and white pepper. The possibilities are endless, especially when you consider dipping sauces.

    So go ahead and cook too much - great things will come of it.

     

     

    Kitchen Sink Protein Bites

    If you have a pulse, then you've baked chocolate chip cookies by now. Social distancing has turned us all into bakers. My neighbor can't find flour on store shelves, and my friend in New York City had to buy her yeast online. I've seen more home-baked treats on Instagram in the past two weeks than I ever have, and it all looks delectable. I'm proud of us!

    Since we're all trying to limit exposure, going to the grocery store is now on an as-needed basis. Times like these are an opportunity for us to improvise, hone our cooking instincts and use what we have. Hence, the "kitchen sink' recipe, where you throw in "everything but the kitchen sink." 

    Easter Basket Kit - Entertainer's Delight

    A week ago, I realized that I can only eat so many cinnamon buns before wondering if my jeans will fit after this Yoga Pants Era (TM). Yes I just informally trademarked that. My kitchen sink baking skills needed some adulting, so I made protein bites.

    I know that I'm not big on measurements and am prone to say things like "season to taste" (unlike Sarah the pro chef, and thank goodness for her). But with kitchen sink recipes, we wing it with what we have. It's fun to pay with measurements.  Protein bites are easy, and here are the basics:

    A base: Oatmeal, granola or cereal

    A binding agent: Eggs. If you are vegan, go for mashed bananas, peanut butter or both

    A protein: chopped almonds, flax seeds, chopped peanuts, walnut pieces, chia seeds or nut butters

    A sweetener: Semi-sweet chocolate chips are best. Shredded coconut is heaven. But you can do butterscotch chips or a little brown sugar.

    Salt: Just a dash or two, depending on how much batter you're making

    Baking Powder: A teaspoon or two, depending on the amount of batter

    Extra credit: A fine flour helps to smooth out the batter and keep it together. Low-carb options such as coconut flour or almond flour are best.

    Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl until the texture resembles cookie batter and you can roll it into balls. And don't kill me, but...season to taste. Only tiny samples, as the batter contains raw eggs. Plop jumbo marshmallow-sized balls onto a pan greased with melted butter or coconut oil. Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes, but make sure they pass the toothpick test. Remove from the oven, transfer to a cooling rack and enjoy. 

    For kitchen sink beginners, feel free to bake a test protein bite in case you need to tweak the recipe. After a little while, it will feel second nature. And like me, you'll relish the challenge!

    The Quarantined Gourmand

    Hey everyone! How is it going out there? Hopefully you're making the best of these unusual circumstances, but I know that for many, it can be difficult to drown out the anxiety.

    One of the positive outcomes from the coronavirus is seeing all the delicious food being made at home. The internet has been a portal to kitchens around the world. L&L shopper Mary Caton Lingold made drool-worthy onion cream biscuits, and put her son Henrik (pictured above) to work in the kitchen too! My relatives and I are pulling out time-consuming recipes from the Middle East - favorites that we don't normally have time for. I stuffed grape leaves last night, and it's no joke. 

    The bottom line is this: These may be trying times, but we've got to eat. Why not make the most of it?

    Sarah Nicholas of Ladles and Linens has reserved her own sunny spot on the Internet, showcasing new inventory that gets me buzzing about spring! Honey jars, gardening kits and vibrant melamine plates. And while the store is closed to the public, you can shop by appointment, online or request curbside service. 

    Not one to let these circumstances get in the way of a great meal, she hosted a Facebook Live class about eggs on the Ladles and Linens Cooking School page. It's available for replay. And while social distancing will undoubtedly put a damper on parties and Easter egg hunts, you can certainly show the love with customized Easter baskets, bringing smiles to the loved ones you may be separated from. 

    So keep that kitchen humming. Lick the spoon, toss scraps to the pup, make giant batches so you can freeze leftovers for a busier time. And if you have children at home, order a kid's apron from Ladles and get them to work too! They will thank you twice. Once when they taste the fruits of their labor, and a second time as adults, when they will think back on this special time, and the kitchen fundamentals they've learned.