Growing up in a small, central Illinois river town in the ‘90s had its perks. Watching the river flood into the park every spring, having a paper route at age eleven, knowing all your neighbors (half the town!), and going to the county fair with friends every summer are all things I remember fondly. Not on that list: a vast and diverse selection of food choices.
I didn’t know what I was missing until high school, when my mother assigned me to cook three full meals each week for my Grammy, a diabetic, who lived a few blocks away. In researching recipes to fit within her dietary restrictions, I began to experiment with new ingredients and techniques, and my love of flavor and experimentation was born. Since then I have pursued education and a career at the intersection of health and the culinary arts.
In 2006, I moved to Colorado where I took nutrition classes and completed a certificate in medical herbalism. The food and beverage scene in Denver was just beginning to emerge, as chefs around the city led cutting-edge food trends and innovative approaches to dining. It was there I learned to forage wild edible foods, preserve foods through fermentation and canning, and use herbs to not only flavor dishes, but to add specific therapeutic benefits.
Innovating in Peoria
Since moving back to my hometown in 2013, and then to Peoria in 2015, I’ve had the privilege of getting to work with some of the forerunners in the local food and beverage scene. Working with Edge by Chef Dustin Allen connected me to a network of local farms growing heirloom varieties of produce I had never heard of. If you sat at the bar in the early years at Edge, you probably saw many of those ingredients infusing in jars of alcohol, or tasted them muddled into your cocktail.
Midnight Espresso, a small coffee shop in the heart of Peoria, hosted an underground themed dinner once a month, where I experimented with one-of-a-kind cocktails to pair with the menu. At Thyme, I was able to learn about an amazing number of whiskeys, and how to best utilize their flavors. Working at Zion Coffee gave me the opportunity to utilize my culinary skills again on the food side, while challenging me to create new flavors that worked with coffee.
Finding new ways to experience food and flavors is what drives my career. I love working with local artists for drink inspiration, and pairing flavors with various chef’s menus. Most recently, my work was included in a recipe book for Well Fest at Soulside Healing Arts. I am currently working with Black Band Distillery, and I’m excited to experience this side of the alcohol industry in a city that has such a rich distilling heritage.
An Inspired Concoction
Peoria is a much bigger river town than the one in which I grew up. The diversity of food culture is not lacking, with so many small and family-owned businesses bringing a taste of their heritage to our city. One of my favorite places to find new ingredients is Mediterranean Mart on Glen Avenue. Each visit, I find something new to try—my favorites are in-season, fresh produce like guava, figs, mandarins and green almonds. Fresh-baked pitas and baklava are a must, and shelves filled with flavorful jams, flower waters and hard-to-find spices can liven up any meal. I picked up everything I needed to create this new cocktail right there.
Pomegranate molasses is tangy and sweet, complementing the rich flavors of rum and bourbon. Along with some warmth from the allspice, the mandarins and orange flower water bring the concoction into a delicate balance. Because we are talking about government in this issue, I wanted to create a drink that brings together what I hope to see in its institutions. This cocktail can be made hot or cold—representing the two contrasting areas of our emotions toward government. Pomegranate symbolizes prosperity; mandarins represent wealth and good fortune; and allspice is for compassion. If we elect politicians who want these things for all people, maybe we will start feeling warm toward them. Check out the recipe below!
Place all ingredients in a small saucepan, simmer on low, covered, 10 minutes. Syrup will keep in the refrigerator up to four weeks.
Hot: Place all ingredients except for tea in a mug, then pour hot tea over all ingredients, stirring until fully incorporated. Garnish with a mandarin orange wheel.
Iced: Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, stir to incorporate pomegranate molasses. Fill shaker with ice and shake for 15-20 seconds, then strain into an ice-filled glass. Garnish with a mandarin orange wheel. PM