12.6.16 Take Root

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photos by gluttonforlife

Big changes can unseat us, make us feel wobbly and uncertain, as though the ground beneath our feet has shifted uncomfortably. Though we can't see the future, we often operate under the delusion that we know what's coming and that brings some measure of comfort. But, inevitably, our roots are disturbed and we must find a way to regain our equilibrium.

 

A few months ago, my life unexpectedly changed shaped and fear and anxiety threatened to overtake me. It required a lot of strength (and support from people in my life) not to react from a place of despair. Instead, I have chosen to remain calm, to give myself space and to simply exist in the in-between moment—a limbo I have historically found untenable. The eternal temptation is to take action to fix a problem.

 

This is where a regular meditation practice can be very helpful. It turns "Don't just sit there, do something!" into "Don't just do something, sit there!" The very act of sitting calmly allows you to feel grounded—in yourself. Your root chakra, located at the base of the spine, the pelvic floor and the first three vertebrae, creates a solid foundation that provides a sense of safety and security from within, regardless of your circumstance. Bit by bit, I am starting to feel more connected to myself, to my true nature.

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sass back

I am certain now that I need to spend time in the wild. It feeds my soul and brings balance to my life. We are currently in the middle of hunting season, which means the only places it's safe to hike are state parks, and this curtails my daily outings. I miss tromping through the woods but I'm taking advantage of these three weeks to play with some of the elements I harvested recently. Above are twigs, leaves and roots from the sassafras trees on Cape Cod, gathered during my visit there in October. I ground up the leaves—recognized by their "mitten" shape—into a fine powder that is traditionally used to thicken gumbo. The smallest bit releases a very mucilaginous substance! The roots and twigs, along with other plants and aromatics, are the basis for root beer.

 

Legend has it that Columbus used the windborne fragrance of sassafras trees to persuade his mutinous crew that land was near. Every part of the tree does indeed have a wonderfully spicy aroma. Sassfras officinale has long been used for medicinal purposes. The leaves were made into teas and poultices; the root bark was crushed, steeped in boiling water and drunk to treat fevers, rheumatism, gout, eye inflammation, menstrual pain and even cure syphilis and gonorrhea.

 

The volatile oil that can be extracted from the tree, safrole, is extremely potent, but has also been used as a flavoring and for some medicinal purposes. In 1960, the FDA concluded that massive doses caused liver cancer in rats and banned all sales of sassafras, despite the fact that safrole is virtually insoluble in water (so it can't be extracted by making tea). The real story is that safrole is actually a precursor ingredient for the manufacturing of MDMA—sometimes known as Ecstasy or Molly—and that's why the government wants to control it.

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bitter spice (for you, mark!)

Fortunately, sassafras is plentiful in the Northeastern woods, and you can still buy packages of the root bark in many herb shops and specialty grocers, like Kalustyan's in New York. After researching several old recipes, I decided to make a sassafras tea or decoction, that I would then combine with sugar to make a syrup. Additional flavorings include cinnamon, dried hops flowers from our garden, allspice, cloves, coriander seed, licorice root, star anise, anise seed and fresh ginger. 

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steep climb

All these ingredients, plus a little molasses, simmered together to make a fragrant, reddish-brown tea. I sweetened it with a combination of raw cane and date sugars and simmered again, reducing it by half into a thick syrup. The taste is divine and more subtle than commercial root beers, which often rely on a lot of wintergreen oil. For my next batch, I may add a little black birch, which grows on our property in Forestburgh and has a very clean and more subdued wintergreen flavor.

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rum business

In creating a cocktail with my new syrup, I decided to pair it with a smooth, richly spiced dark rum. The Kraken fits the bill and I also love its Victorian-style bottle and illustrated label. Not into spirits? I would happily mix the syrup with soda water and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream for an old school float.

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all bottled up

I thought a couple of dashes of blackstrap bitters would echo the molasses in both the syrup and the rum. I'm currently in the middle of aging my first three batches of bitters (more on that later), so for now I used one from Bittercube. Wondering about that bottle? It's from Cocktail Kingdom, purveyors of beautifully designed tools and glassware for the cocktail enthusiast.

 

If you're interested in recreating this cocktail without attempting to make your own root beer syrup, you might try experimenting with Art in the Age's Root spirit. You'll need to add a sweetener—molasses?—and maybe balance it out with a little dark rum, as it, too, is a touch heavy on the wintergreen.

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smooth operator

The Root Chakra, as I'm calling this very grounding and satisfying drink, also contains some heavy cream and is finished with a grating of fresh nutmeg. It's smooth, not at all cloying, and full of the rich and complex flavors of the earth. Just the sort of thing you want to knock back while you're waiting for enlightenment.

 

Root Chakra

makes 1 cocktail
  • — 2 ounces spiced rum
  • — 1 ounce root beer syrup
  • — 1 ounce heavy cream
  • — 2 dashes blackstrap bitters
  • — 1 whole nutmeg

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add rum, syrup, cream and bitters. Shake well to chill, then strain into a rocks glass over 1-2 large ice cubes. Grate a little fresh nutmeg over the top and serve.

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16 Comments

That sounds delicious, Laura. I so love hearing where you are right now--you might think you are in limbo, but from my perspective you are right where you should be. xoxo
Julia on December 6, 2016 at 8:44 am — Reply
Thank you for these words of comfort, Half-pint! xo
laura on December 6, 2016 at 8:59 am — Reply
I just love how your words sing a tune -- turning nature to nurture. I'm trying to keep heavy cream out of my body, but a few nights ago, when it was lightly snowing, I had a hankering for Baileys. So good. May have to try this. Thanks!
Ronnie on December 6, 2016 at 10:46 am — Reply
Thanks, Ronnie. This is a GREAT substitute for Bailey's (which I also crave) and it's only one ounce of cream! xo
laura on December 6, 2016 at 12:56 pm — Reply
I think 'safety and security from within, regardless of circumstance' is a mantra for 2017. And this looks like a magical brew well worth the toil and trouble!
janet on December 6, 2016 at 11:11 am — Reply
For all us white witches...xo
laura on December 6, 2016 at 12:57 pm — Reply
I enjoy the window onto your life and hope that you'll contine your explorations and peregrinations.
ella on December 6, 2016 at 11:45 am — Reply
Thank you so much, Ella! I am soldiering on... xo
laura on December 6, 2016 at 12:58 pm — Reply
Laura: You are truly an inspiration for me, when feeling lost and cannot find the words to describe them and map a route to move on. I love the honesty and the richness of your words as well as your wisdom. You are on your way and a prayer is on your way. Lots of hugs
Teresa on December 6, 2016 at 3:48 pm — Reply
Such sweet support! Hugs back to you xo
laura on December 6, 2016 at 4:03 pm — Reply
I love this, and you. Your words are always inspiring (and mouthwatering). I'm sorry you've been experiencing a rough patch... but I'm with Julia, and trust that your instinctual endeavors will continue to feed your soul, fortify your roots and fill the well. xo
Jocelyn on December 7, 2016 at 7:30 am — Reply
I appreciate the vote of confidence, my dear. xo
laura on December 7, 2016 at 8:47 am — Reply
i like how you write about your life and segue into a recipe. something i aim for but haven't quite got the knack. love your blog. keep calm and forage on!
suzanne on December 7, 2016 at 3:59 pm — Reply
Thanks, Suzanne! xo
laura on December 7, 2016 at 5:06 pm — Reply
Thank you Laura. Fabulous, just what the doctor ordered for this weekend cocktail. Always a treat to read as well.
charlotte on December 10, 2016 at 10:26 am — Reply
Thank you for this post. Your words are always so graceful and your emotions recognizable. For me, the tendency to try to fix things is overwhelming at times, so your reminder to just be is timely. Still, you did do something in creating this lovely cocktail. Here's wishing you a happy, healthy tomorrow.
Katherine Saxby on December 22, 2016 at 6:24 pm — Reply