I am fully aware that this column is all about local drink reviews, but what could possibly be more local than your own kitchen counter? This November, I encourage you to create your own chai tea, perfect for livening up chilly mornings and adding a dash of spiced joy to microwaved or steamed milk (almond, soy, coconut, cow’s, or whatever floats your Cheerios), cream, water—even an iced fig smoothie. Once you make it, you’ll be tossing a caffeinated cupful into everything you imbibe this fall. I borrowed this super easy recipe from the charming graphic novel Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley, also highly recommended at Dr. Cain’s Comics & Games. It’s this simple: Heat a pot with three cups of water on your stove and add two bags of black tea. Next, crush a few cardamom pods with the broad side of a knife, grate a teaspoon of fresh ginger root, and procure one anise star, one vanilla bean, a handful of cloves, and one cinnamon stick. Toss it all in. Stir the brew and allow the mix to simmer to a soupy consistency (about seven minutes or so—check it every now and then). Strain the goodness into a glass container (I used a few small mason jars), keeping the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean for garnish and added flavor. Sweeten with maple syrup to your preferred taste. Done! Note: If you don’t have whole ingredients, toss in the dried and powdered stuff—no one will be the wiser. Get as creative as you desire. I added a healthy dollop of Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter to one batch and it is un-freaking-believable. Regardless of how you enjoy this autumnal beverage, you can be sure that your kitchen will smell one hundred times better than that “spiced apple” holiday candle. Seriously, you are not fooling anyone with that Christmasy chemical disaster.
• Your Kitchen’s DIY Chai — $0-12 for ingredients depending on what’s already hiding in your spice rack; Your Kitchen, Anywhere, USA.
The holidays mean holiday parties, and we all want to bring something excellent (but not too painfully expensive) to the table. Coming in at $17 a bottle and packing a wallop of black cherry and raspberry flavors, Ancient Peaks 2012 Zinfandel is more festive and functional than an ugly holiday sweater or freaky fruit log. Layers of spice and pepper compliment wintery stews and steaks galore, meaning your host will thank you handsomely—and, if you’re lucky, he/she may even gift you the last buttered roll. Huzzah! Option No. 2: Skip the holiday party altogether and consume no less than half the bottle paired with darkest chocolate in your cupboard. It’s good to be bad sometimes. Oh so good.
• Ancient Peaks’ 2012 Zinfandel — $17 a bottle; Ancient Peaks Tasting room, 22720 Suite “B” El Camino Real, Santa Margarita.
Hayley Thomas is playing with her food at email@example.com.