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Lavender Bitters, Plum Ginger Gin Cocktails, and Band of Bitters

Here's the thing...

We are terribly alone right now. We are far away from our old friends, the people who helped us know who we are.

We watch documentaries on Netflix streaming. They all take place in NYC. This, maybe, isn't the best form of entertainment choice.

Our house in NJ is trying to destroy us for leaving it. Then there was that hurricane that stopped everything in the real estate market in the northeast. Acts of god are not welcome. We are doubtful and hopeful.

And with a mortgage. And rent. We are squeezed so hard it's making us squirm to catch our breath.

Two months after moving into our rental house, we finally hung two pictures on the wall. Both in the girls' room they share. One is a picture of flowers that I bought at the IKEA in Elizabeth, NJ. It matches the girls' lightshade. The other is a large swatch of fabric from the nursing cover Karen used when she breastfed the girls. For thirteen months. I put them up yesterday in their rooms, right before we loaded the kids in the minivan to go to the pumpkin patch. I stood alone in their bedroom, straightening the pictures. And I was transported back to our house up north which now sits empty. I could feel myself standing at the diaper changing station, looking at the flower picture over and over and over. With twins, so much time was spent looking at that picture. And I remembered my heart breaking a little when Karen cut the fabric of her nursing cover so she could fit it into the frame, only because I knew we were done with it forever, two little heads bobbing under that fabric, Karen tucking them close to her body when we were out in NYC, usually at Shake Shack in Madison Square Park.

To see these two picture, on walls that aren't ours, here in Atlanta. A little something snapped in my head. And instead of going to pick pumpkins, I thought we should pack up and go home. Home to NJ. Go put the pictures back where they belong. In that empty house that soon won't be ours. Hopefully. And not so hopefully.

But in spite of it all. Being poor. Being alone.

In spite of it all, we are happy.

Very. Happy.

I love my job. More than anything else I have done. I love the people I work with everyday. They eat the cake I make and do not question why I made it. They're just glad for the cake.

We have new friends, Tami and Broderick and Mir, who are taking such good care of us. And those old friends, those beautiful friends who helped us know who we are, still keep good tabs on us, making sure the Southerners treat us right. And they do.

Our friends at Big Summer Potluck gave us a bottle of gin before we left. The bottle of gin in that picture. Because of the people who gave it to us, that gin makes me think of friends and community.

So we decided to build a virtual community around a half-empty bottle of gin. And to share the fruits of our labors.

The fruits of our bitters.

Band of Bitters was named, through an exchange on Twitter, by the Atlantan (Atlantian? Atlanter? Dude?) Zachary D Smith. His off-the-cuff tweet captured this virtual community perfectly. Ragtag. More than a little disorganized. Full of heart and spirits. And our spirit-filled guru is new-dad Michael Dietsch, he of the fantastic site A Dash of Bitters.

I love bitters. A dash of them and your drink explodes with flavor, or gets a punch of depth that a cocktail couldn’t get on its own.

Bitters are like a wingman for your mouth, hooking you up with the gin (or booze) that you don’t really deserve. Except bitters know you better than you know yourself.

Bitters are the thing that fills up the empty space in your cocktail that you never knew was there.

Life is better with bitters.

Here’s the basic recipe for bitters: take a high-proof alcohol (80-100 proof) and add in some herbs and spices. Let them steep for a week or two. Or six. The alcohol pulls out the magic of the herbs and spices, concentrating them deeply. A drop of bitters is like a little bit of liquid that contains all the flavor of the world in it (that might be a tiny overstatement. I can’t be sure). There’s a recipe down below...

Here’s the community part of the whole thing...#bandofbitters is the hashtag we’re using on Twitter to trade small samples of bitters with each other. If we feel like it. If we don’t want to share, we won’t. But we will make bitters and trade recipes and play and learn.

And drink.

There are no rules for Band of Bitters. No challenges. No prizes. No sponsors. Just play. That certainly assures a very short life for this community project. But that feels right. It’ll flicker out soon enough, but our lives will be fuller for it. And we’ll learn something new.

Or maybe getting tipsy will be a little more flavorful.

Either option seems OK to us.

To kick it off, we made lavender bitters. We’ve never had lavender bitters. It just popped into my head one day. I was sitting outside of Trader Joe’s in the minivan with two of the kids while Karen ran into the store with one of our girls. Penzeys spice store was on the other side of the parking lot. My mind started playing, popping around ideas like one of those lottery drawings with the numbered balls bouncing around. Up popped “lavender” in my mind. A quick Google search, and I found a recipe for lavender bitters. Into Penzeys I went with the kids.

Dried lavender. Some dried orange peel. A couple of cloves. Two slices of ginger. A little 100 proof vodka. Two weeks of steeping. A drizzle of golden syrup. Done.

It’s a deep crazy floral tincture (herbs in alcohol = a loose definition of a tincture). It’s like lavender’s really moody, complex cousin who sort of scares people at family reunions, with disturbing piercings and aggressive tattoos, like it’s all jacked up on raging anger for being featured in too many dried flower arrangements back in the late 1980s. “I’m a man, dammit, not an accent color in a heart-shaped grapevine wreath.” Lavender is unleashed here, and you’re never going to look at it the same way again. Lavender’s gonna kick your ass. In a good way.

What does it look like, these lavender bitters? Brown. It looks brown when it’s all done. We didn’t take a picture of it. It just looks brown. Think in your mind “brown.” OK, there’s your picture. Insert in the post here -->.

I drink gin straight. Karen does not. I added a drop into my gin. A single drop. And it changed everything. For the better.

To put it to a bigger test and include Karen, we adapted a recipe from Martha Stewart for plum gin cocktails. Two parts sugar to three parts water (1/2 cup sugar mixed with ¾ cup water), brought to a boil. Add in three sliced up plums and some ginger (a couple of slices. Whatever. Don’t overthink this). Turn off the heat. Refrigerate.

Drop two plum slices into a glass. In a shaker (leftover sippy cup work great here), add in some ice, two parts gin to one part plum syrup. One or two dashes of lavender bitters. Shake it. Strain into the serving glass where you slapped in the plum slices.

So that’s it. Except the community part of it. I gave some to a friend at work. Another bottle (a little medicine dropper bottle from The Container Store is perfect here) is going to Evan Kleiman at KCRW, host of Good Food. She’s getting in on the bitters making. And the last bottle is going to Janis Tester, who is sending me a bottle of her Keffir Lime bitters.

And so the Band of Bitters marches on. Staggers on. Happily together. If you want to join us, feel free to  let us know what kind of bitters you're making. Do a little search on Google. You'll find plenty of recipes. Try something that sounds great. Or weird. Or both.

It’s good to be right where we are. In Atlanta. Right now. Happy.

Lavender Bitters on Punk Domestics

Lavender Bitters (adapted from


  • 8 oz vodka, 100-proof  
  • 1 cup dried lavender 
  • 2 slices of fresh ginger 
  • 1½ teaspoon dried orange peel 
  • 4 cloves 
  • 1 teaspoon cane sugar syrup

In a small glass or plastic container that has a tight-fitting lid, throw in everything except the syrup. Put the lid on the container and put it somewhere dark and cool. Let it hang out for a week. Open it. Stir. Look at how brown everything is now. The lavender looks like brown rice now. Cool. Put the lid back on and store for another week.

Place a fine-mesh strainer over a small bowl. Pour the lavender mixture into the strainer. Press the mixture with the back of a large metal spoon. Or use a spatula. You’re forcing out all of the bitter goodness from the mixture.

Discard the remnants of the lavender mixture.

Add the syrup to the bitters. Stir.

Pour the bitters into a tiny little bottle. One with a dropper helps.

Your life is magically better.

Plum Ginger Syrup (adapted from Martha Stewart)

  • 1/2 cup sugar 
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 plums, sliced 
  • Fresh ginger, sliced 1/4-inch thick (2 pieces are fine. Or more. Or less. )

Add sugar and water to a small saucepan. Heat over high heat. Bring to a boil. Add in sliced plums and the ginger. Turn off the heat. Refrigerate.


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Reader Comments (20)

Good grief. I really feel this post. Although I'm originally from Atlanta, we had made out home in CA for 10 years until we got moved as part of the Diaspora of "The Economy" to NJ about a year ago. It has been challenging. I spent a long time grieving. And now I'm on the other side I think. Life does stagger on. But then, you know, something about that drop of bitter in life certainly does bring a clarity and beauty to everything else.

October 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

Thank for that comment. It's a struggle. But a good one for sure.

October 17, 2011 | Registered Commenterthepeche

I'll have to mess around with making some of this stuff before I head home for the holidays! ("Bitter? But of course!")

The beginning is always hard. The path smoothes out soon enough. Hang in there, y'all. :)

October 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteranimasolaarts

Miss you, AL.

October 17, 2011 | Registered Commenterthepeche

Well you know I'm all over this. Gin and me are long time friends. I gotta get on this bitters sounds delicious!

October 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNutmeg Nanny

Welcome to Atlanta - I grew up here and I still get lonely sometimes. I think it has something to do with the urban sprawl we're so famous for here. I love this post - I've been following Band of Bitters for a while on twitter, as I happened to be watching my stream the night you guys were tossing the idea around. As a fan of gin (and booze in general), I might have to try my hand at this. Thanks for sharing!

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNiki

I want in! I don't even know what else to say after reading this other than I feel I MUST be a part of this.

I am having an affair, with Gin, it's a long standing affair. As an Italian, I grew up with an appreciation for Gin at a very young age. It is what you drink with the first few courses of dinner, it's what you drink when you relax, it's what you drink for everything. I celebrate it's beauty, it's aroma, the flavors in it, the small hand made craft Gins; I celebrate it all.

But now I feel like I've been cheating my Gin out of rising to it's fullest potential.

So now, I shall leave the realm of monogamy and dive into polygamy; myself, my gin, and bitters.

We clearly need to get together again, soon. I'm sorry you're homesick. I'm glad Atlanta is being good to you. And I remember that feeling, so well. One day you'll realize it went away and you didn't even notice when. Until then, more gin.

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMir

It breaks my heart that you kids feel lonely and adrift right now because in my mind you guys are my rock, my tribe leaders, my friends. But I have a hunch that community is going to find matter where you are.

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWendi @ Bon Appetit Hon

I feel a heaviness hearing this time of transition isn't as smooth as you both had hoped. I'm also glad you have gin, but most importantly your family and friends to make it (hopefully) more tolerable.

And being that some strange small part of me is an eternal optimist, I believe firmly that even the ugliest and most difficult experiences and emotions in life ultimately lead you to a bigger happiness - just in a completely different way. Barf, I know.

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAdryon

God I love the way you write! All things happen for a reason and don't ever regret your decision to move to make a better life for your family for it will get better. Your house will sell, your new house will become a home and your lives will be on a smoother road. It takes both the good and the bad to build our character. It is in the rough times when we not only discover what matters most and cling tightly to but also learn that we are stronger, more resourceful and truly capable of facing our fears. Hang tight, even if you have to by your fingernails. You made this change for all the right reasons and in time you and your family will be all the better for having done so.

P.S. Your bitters sound wonderful. My husband uses bitters in his manhattans, I use them in my baking all the time. Wonderful for releasing all the flavours.

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaula

Things will get more familiar the longer you live there. We missed you at Pie Party Live. Interesting recipe...never really knew what bitters was. Good luck with selling the house!

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJersey Girl Cooks

This post made me cry. Really. The things we leave behind as the kids grow and change. And everything changes. God, tears.

Also, I like to drink. And I'm bitter. So you covered me on all grounds.

Big love to you guys, Kim

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKim Foster

Life IS better with bitters!

Wonderful post! I am interested especially in the lavander bitters, I might just have to make some now! Congrats on the Top 9!

October 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

This is a terrific story, but the bitters and the concoction have me smitten. The color of the beverage is glorious. Congratulations on the Top 9!

October 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrooks at Cakewalker

aww man, moving to a new area not fun. I lived in a place far from friends and fam for 3 years, was rough. I hope things start to feel more at home for you guys...soon.

Hang in there.

So I have a bottle of bitters, angostoria? it was sent to me. What do I do with it? And how do I start liking gin? I think I've only tried the cheap stuff (shudder).

October 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAggie

Oh, guys. I get it. I totally get it. And I just want to press fast forward for you. So, that one day you will happen to meet some fabulous couple with three kids in the middle of a potluck for some cookbook author who will introduce you to a whole new world of even more fabulous people that you didn't even know existed.

You so kindly ushered me into the East Coast food blogging world - in my broken and sad and homesick condition. And I am incredibly grateful for that. I truly believe that someone is going to come along and usher you and Karen into a whole new world in Atlanta - just like you did for me. And as much as we miss you here - and as much as things are NOT the same without you - I know you guys are going to be ok. I know it doesn't seem like that now - because you are "in" it. But, one day you will wake up and the reason for this detour will be so clear to you.

As difficult and lonely as it can be when you uproot like you have - I remain so happy that you all (ya'll) are together under one roof beginning this journey as a family. That's the most beautiful part.


October 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterstephanie

I can't help but think that your house in NJ doesn't want to let go of all of you either... May the joy you're finding with bitters help to change your relocation experience from bittersweet to sweet in time.

October 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCooks_Books

I'm probably just missing it, but how long do you reckon it's good for?

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaurel
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