Thursday, June 30, 2011

Zymology Guild Video

Remember when I said that my first visit to the Detroit Zymology Guild was video taped? Here's the news spot:

Watch the video and see if you can spot me, or go here to read the article.

I also attended the next session, when we made strawberry jam and prepped mulberries, and I joined for the full year rather than just a single session.

Cocktail Wednesdays: The Tom Collins

The Tom Collins

The highball drink that we decided to try this week is a classic: The Tom Collins.

The Tom Collins -- or The John Collins if made with genever rather than gin -- is a very old drink that forms the basis of a whole class of drinks. In order to get a sense of how to judge this class of drinks, and highballs as a whole, we tried The Tom Collins tonight.

The Tom Collins

2 oz (London Dry) Gin
1 oz Lemon Juice
1 tsp Powdered Sugar (+/- to taste)
3 oz Club Soda (+/- to taste)

Stir gin, lemon juice, and sugar together in a Collins glass until sugar is dissolved.
Add 2-3 ice cubes and top with Club Soda.
Garnish with a lemon slice.

The verdict: It is basically carbonated lemonade (or lemon squash in British parlance) with gin. Other recipes call for simple syrup rather than powdered sugar, which is the way we recently made lemonade. The lemonade and the juniper complimented each other nicely. The thing that surprised me the most was the huge difference between the first Collinses we made with Bombay Saphire London Dry Gin and the ones we made after we ran out of the Bombay, with Beefeater London Dry Gin. The drinks made with the Beefeater did not have much of a juniper note at all, to the extent that it basically tasted like there was no gin in it. With the Bombay, the gin was a lovely compliment to the lemonade.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Veggie garden

I haven't posted about the garden for a while, and honestly, I haven't done much in it, until last week. I did a lot of weeding and thinning plants. I also harvested cherries and strawberries.

This is just a quick post, but enjoy some pictures while I go out and do more yard work.

Veggie garden

Boothby's Blonde Cucymber

Russian Red Kale

Mixed lettuce and orange cosmos

German Butterball Potatoes


Ripe Cherries

Strawberries - Quinnault

Black Currant


King of the North Red Pepper

Sour Cherry Harvest

This is the second harvest ever from the sour cherry tree: 2 lb 11oz. Last year, we only had a small bowl, around the size of that bowl of strawberries. I made cherry clafoutis yesterday, and I will be making pies as well.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: Raspberry Shrub

Raspberry Shrub

Things have been a bit warmer again this week, so I went back to making cooler, more summery drinks. Not only am I concentrating on summery, icy drinks at the moment, but I am also planning to try some of the basic categories. Recently, a post on 12 Bottle Bar about shrubs piqued my interest, and some leftover raspberries from the Father's Day cookout sealed the deal: this week's drink would be the Raspberry Shrub.

Infusing Raspberry Simple Syrup

First, I made raspberry infused simple syrup, which was as easy as taking a cup of washed raspberries, covering them in simple syrup and leaving them to sit for a few hours. You can find directions for making all kind of infusions here. As you can see from the photo, I had just mixed up the batch of 1:1 simple syrup, because we had run out earlier. The raspberry simple syrup is an especially nice one to try first, because you get a beautiful color without much effort.

Then, I was ready to mix up my shrubs. The shrub is a traditional drink that has its roots all the way back in the colonial period, and it is part of the Slow Food movement’s US Ark of Taste, a list of foods and flavors in danger of extinction. It is based on a balance of fruit, sweet, and tart flavors. In many mixed drinks, that tartness -- the acidic component -- is achieved through the use of citrus. But are there other ways to make a good trink with a nice tart component? What would they have used in parts of the world where it isn't so easy to grow citrus fruits? Certainly, the English and the early colonists weren't using lemons. They were making shrubs. In fact, in the 1737 records for the House of Commons indicate that they were charging duties for "Rum, Brandy, or other distill’d Liquor or Shrub". Srubs were so important at the time that they were mentioned by name even though whiskey was not! See here for more information on the history of the shrub. What is the surprising key component of the shrub? Vinegar.

Raspberry Shrub

Though unable to find white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar, which seemed most appropriate, I did find a white balsamic vinegar, which I thought would pair well with the raspberry. Admittedly, I mixed the first drink with some trepidation. I started by mixing the vinegar and syrup in the prescribed proportion, then adding the minimum of the shrub mix to the final drink. Once I tried it, I immediately added more, and began mixing it up for everyone else.

Simple Raspberry Shrub Mix Recipe:
2 parts Raspberry Simple Syrup
1 part White Balsamic Vinegar

Stir to combine

The Raspberry Shrub:
1.5 oz Raspberry Shrub Mix
2 oz Rum
4 oz Club Soda

Add all ingredients to a glass, over ice
Stir gently to combine

Other fruits can be used for flavoring, other types of vinegar, and other spirits can all be used to make drinks that fall into the shrub category. I chose rum because it seems to have been the most common choice for our colonial forefathers' shrubs.

The verdict: Somewhat surprisingly, I really liked this drink. Our guests liked it as well. We agreed that it was the sort of drink that could get dangerous because it didn't taste alcoholic. Scott felt that it was too fruity for him. He said it was good, but that it did not make it into his top three summer mixed drinks. He thought it was the sort of thing he might order on a beach, if he was in the mood for a fruity drink. Last night, I don't think he even realized there was vinegar in it. I thought that the balsamic imparted an interesting balance of flavors, and I was glad I had chosen it. I don't always go for a fruity drink, either, but if I were in the mood for one, this would definitely be high on my list. In fact, it's higher on my list in general than it is on Scott's.

Also, thanks to the cute glasses my parents sent, it was easy to keep everyone's drink from getting mixed up. Unfortunately, the drink didn't photograph as nicely, so I don't know how often I will use them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Flooding: Update 6

Scrubbing the basement floor

I am so sick of this basement store room floor. The grey layer didn't come up with paint stripper. It turned into a slick, goopy mess that you could skate around on in rubber boots like an ice rink. The skating certainly didn't help the attempt to scrape the goop up. I ended up having to scrub it up on my hands and knees.

Then, there was just a layer of black left on the floor, you can see it in the corner of the photo above. I thought it was paint, but once I tried to strip it, it turned to goo, just like the previous layer. I wish I had tried just stripping a patch. The paint stripper bottle recommends to try a patch first to see how long you will need to wait, but I think it's a good idea to try just to make sure you're stripping something that won't turn to goo, before you have to scrub it from the enture floor. And also before you waste a nearly $30 bottle of paint stripper.

Once I realized that the black was adhesive, I tried a different tactic that a friend had suggested: mineral spirits. We didn't have a lot on hand, but I was able to mop the small amount over the entire floor. We were able to scrub it clean in one spot, but it was a lot of work, and the fumes were intense. Scott suggested that we let it sit for a while before scrubbing, to let it work. That seemed like a good idea at the time, especially since he felt like he was about to pass out (he had given me the really nice mask). Unfortunately, we didn't return in the right amount of time. It only occurred to me later that he and I were thinking of mineral spirits differently, because he had only used it in high concentrations: dropping a painted item in a jar for a while to strip it. He didn't realize that if we left it too long, it would evaporate and the paint or adhesive would simply dry again. He had never used it as a paint thinner. I wasn't quite thinking of it myself. Given how it had effected us earlier, we avoided going back to it until it was too late. The scrubbing didn't work so well when we tried it again. That night, the fumes pervaded the house, and I could smell it in our bedroom. Under the influence of mineral spirits, we both had terrible dreams and woke up feeling awful.

The final result was more like it was in the beginning, before applying paint stripper. Not wanting to deal with mineral spirits again -- it was not worth the price of the dreams alone -- I decided to simply mop up all of the chemicals before painting. After hours of mopping and many buckets of water, I finally reached clear water, then started it all over, adding TSP cleaner. Eventually, it was ready to paint.

Floor Painted in Basement Storage Room

I had bought the darkest pre-mixed color of epoxy paint available. I was thinking of going back to the store and exchanging it for a mixed color I wanted more, but in the end, my impatience to finish the room -- and the fact that it's just a storage room -- won out. I am so ready to start moving things into the storage room, to clear out the rest of the basement so that we can start working on it, and clear out the stuff from the rooms upstairs where it is currently stashed.

We'll be able to start moving things in just a few hours, as soon as the last corners are dry.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Flooding: Update 5

Basement Storage Room - sealed

Since the last post, I have painted and waterproofed the cinderblock with the Drylok.

The next thing to do was to take care of the floor. At first, we thought we could just paint over it. Then, as I was sweeping up, starting to clean the floor again before painting, I realized that the paint was peeling up in places, and in fact there were places where I could literally peel it up with my hands. Since then, Scott and I have been working on stripping the floor. We're on the third coat of concrete and masonry stripper. I tried to apply the first coat with a squeegee, which was a mistake, because it was so uneven. The second coat was more effective overall. We've gotten through carpet adhesive and several coats of paint. I hope to get down to clean concrete tomorrow.

Cocktail Wednesdays: The Green Glacier

The Green Glacier

Sorry for the delay in posting. This week, I decided that I wanted to try something else involving our bottle of Green Chartreuse. Given how much we like The Last Word, yet not particularly liking the Chartreuse by itself, I am interested in other combinations. With the drop in temperature, I also took the opportunity to pick a chilled cocktail, rather than a glass half full of ice. Having read that Chartreuse and chocolate go well together, I decided to try the Green Glacier, which contains both.

The Green Glacier

2 oz Brandy
3/4 oz Green Chartreuse
1/4 oz Crème de cacao
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir with ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

The verdict: The two flavors showcased in this drink were the Chartreuse and the brandy, in that order. I believe that I may have detected a level of richness added by the crème de cacao, but none of the five people present could taste any chocolate. Also, the word green clearly refers to the inclusion of the Chartreuse, rather than the color of the drink itself. This is not a bad drink, but it is not at the level of The Last Word.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Flooding: Update 4

cracks in the CMU

And it's tink, tink, tink, tink; tink, tink, tink. Hi-ho, hi-ho!

I think that chiseling away at CMU walls for the past three days has perhaps driven me slightly crazy. Ok, maybe the "slightly" part is me just being charitable.

We may have officially moved past the "cleanup and remediation phase of our basement work and into the "renovation" phase, since we are now dealing with fixing issues that have nothing to do with our sewage backup. As anyone in the building industry knows, you will always encounter more things to fix than you are aware of at the beginning of the project. In this case, it was cracking in the cinderblock walls.

We bought some quick setting patch compound. This compound required that we chisel out the cracks to prepare for for using the compound. The shape required is sort of like a dovetail so that the compound will have more adhesion. The problem with this is that it's very hard to chisel out a shape like that with an overhang, without breaking the overhang off accidentally. I did my best to at least keep an overhang on one side. The spot where Scott was chiseling turned out to be the worst. There was just a thin veneer of mortar, with a huge cavity beyond.

cracks in the CMU

Next, it was time to fill everything with the patch mortar.

patched cracks

patched cracks

We have opened up the storage room and made it much more useable. Scott also installed electrical in the room and two new lights.

storage room, opened up and lit

As you can see, it's quite open now.

As soon as the patching was finished today, I started resealing the walls with Drylok where the patch was already dry from yesterday. The gallon did not go anywhere near as far as paint would because it is so thick and the walls are so uneven. Every mortar joint had to be painted with a brush. That gallon is gone now, and I will have to head back to the store tomorrow. Hopefully, we'll be ready to move stuff in there in a few days' time.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Canning with the Detroit Zymology Guild

Canning with the

Last weekend, I went to the Detroit Zymology Guild to learn more about canning with some hands on experience. Every other Sunday, it meets at Supino Pizzeria in Eastern Market, to can and preserve the season's fruits and vegetables. At other times, they work in the North Cass Community Garden, growing some of the produce that they preserve. The idea is really unusual:

"The Guild operates on a time banking system where participants "deposit" labor and materials and "withdraw" finished preserved goods made in the kitchen sessions...

"Deposits" to the bank are accepted in:
1. Labor
2. Produce and (or pitching in $)
3. Canning Jars in good, usable condition"

Remember my first canning efforts last year? Well, as soon as I heard about the Guild from a friend who attended this year's first session, I was eager to learn more from people who have real experience. Last Sunday, I helped can and pickle asparagus and radishes. I came home with a sample jar of each of the previous week's produce: rhubarb jam and pickled asparagus, pictured above, which I am looking forward to trying. The rhubarb jam was made with honey and rosemary, and it's supposed to be ideal with goat cheese. I still have a little over half of my time still banked, and I will probably bring supplies to contribute next time. As much as I enjoyed learning a little more about canning and pickling, the thing that I enjoyed most was meeting the people. They are all interested in bringing more thought and care to the food they eat, and they're interesting people in themselves, with all kinds of backgrounds and professions, from a veterinary pathologist to a cryptolinguist. We were also being filmed by Detroit News columnist Donna Terek, and I'll be looking to see if I can share the video with you soon. By the end to the growing season, I hope to see my pantry stocked with shining, jewel hued jars to keep us though the winter months, as I continue my efforts to eat seasonally.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: The Brandy Buck

The Brandy Buck

You may have noticed that we've been doing a series of tall iced drinks for the last few weeks, and there is good reason for it. Summer has finally arrived here in Michigan, and we've needed some cooling off. We've also been avoiding using the air conditioner. In fact, we haven't turned it on at all, despite the mercury's climb the yesterday up to 97ºF. Today is a beautiful 79ºF, thanks to last night's thunderstorm, and predictions for the rest of the week and into next show highs continuing in the 70's. At any rate, I'm sure you can all understand our desire for a nice cold drink, and I expect the theme of cooling it down for the summertime to continue.

This week, we turned The Buck, which has a history going back to the mid-to-late 1800's, and is really an entire family of drinks involving spirits and ginger ale or ginger beer. Ginger flavored drinks go back further than that, of course, but the drinks involving ginger ale or ginger beer came to the forefront at the same time as the rise of ginger ale as the first bottled soda, beginning with Detroit's own Vernor's. Of course, we had to try bucks with Vernors, though I now find that the popularity of the buck during prohibition may also be what led to the rise of "dry" ginger ale! Vernors is much closer to ginger beer than other ginger ales, and it's even aged in barrels. Vernors has more ginger bite, and it's apparently considered a "golden" ginger ale.

We debated between trying the Gin Buck, which was most popular during Prohibition, and the Brandy Buck, though several spirits were in the running. See here for more history on The Buck. I don't know if it was fondness for a certain Meriadoc or a particular affinity for brandy last night, but Scott selected the Brandy Buck, and I'm glad he did. I can hardly imagine that the gin version could be so nice.

The Brandy Buck:

1.5 – 2 oz Brandy
Juice and Shell of half a Lemon
4 – 6 oz Ginger Ale

Squeeze lemon or lime juice into a collins glass
Add the juiced shell of the fruit
Add a couple of lumps of ice, then the spirit
Top with ginger ale

The verdict: The Brandy Buck is essentially a richer, more well rounder version of the ginger ale. The flavors of the Vernors, brandy and lemon were all discernable, but they blended together nicely and really complimented each other, elevating the whole thing to another level. It was rich, and cool, and refreshing. Just lovely.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Flooding: Update 3

Basement demolition

We made significant progress since my last update on Saturday. Specifically, once we removed the sopping wet drywall, we finally felt comfortable taking a little bit of a break. At first, the break consisted of cleaning up the main living areas of our house. We shampooed the carpet and mopped the floor upstairs, because we knew we weren't going to be bringing up sopping wet nastiness anymore, and we were finally able to return the wet vac. Sunday evening, we were able to take time to go to World Steam Expo, where my friends and former roommates The Extraordinary Contraptions were performing. I was happy to get a chance to hang out with them, as it was the first time I saw them since the move. We got there pretty late, so the dealer's room was closed, and unfortunately the schedule was off, and the service at the bar was slow, so our dinner interfered with me being able to attend the whole of the Sunday Driver show. We did see Abney Park and the exhibit from the Charles River Museum. I enjoyed this show more than some of the previous shows, because I like the direction that Abney Park is going with adding old-timey brass to their sound and the harmonies from Jody. We also attended on Monday afternoon, so we could pick up some professional photography prints made of us the year before, and see the Contraptions show. Kevin had to leave early, so we didn't see him at all, and Scott form Frenchie and The Punk took over drums, which was kind of fun. There were a lot of cool stuff in the dealer's room -- much more tempting than last year -- but given out recent disaster, we limited ourselves to some candy. I tried horehound for the first time, and thought it was tasty, kind of like black licorice. Monday evening, we hosted our friends for a cookout, but thankfully they had been able to arrange another place to stay, since the spare bedrooms are full of undamaged things from the basement.

Yesterday, I worked on clearing things out more, since I had to be upstairs most of the afternoon to wait for the DTE guy to arrive and change out our gas meter. The change had nothing to do with the flood, we were simply on their schedule, since our meter was about thirty years old. When relighting out pilot lights, he reassured me that our furnace was fine after the flood, and he taught me how to remove and clean some parts of the old stove in the basement to insure that the pilot lights would remain lit, and the burners would light properly. Once he left, I got out the hip waders and went into the shower with a gallon of bleach and a tub of things to scrub. We're getting close to having sanitized everything now.

The other thing we have been working on is removing the built-in entertainment center that used to occupy the area of our basement pictured above. Not only was it hit with the flood waters, but the way it was constructed also made the back storage room generally inefficiently shaped for storage. It is easy for us to open up this area, because the ground floor of our house is supported by a steel beam and posts. We don't have to worry about load bearing walls, just the posts and the masonry at the fireplace. This entertainment center was installed rather oddly, but the worst part was how they rerouted the duct work that goes to the vent in our entryway. This flexible duct went from the top of the main duct and wraps under the duct and the beam, where it was supported by packing tape, up to where it was shoved over the plywood entertainment center, and generally jammed against the duct in the wall leading to the vent, which it did not fit. Scott will redesign it so that it fits properly. After all, for those of you who don't know, he's a mechanical engineer, and he designs these sorts of systems in schools and hospitals for a living. The other poorly done thing in that storage room i the lighting. We have an 8' light hanging down into head-banging range (for Scott's dad, at least), and it has to be plugged into an extension chord to another room in order to turn it on. We will install it higher up, add more lighting to the other side of the room, add electrical outlets, and a switch.

Our plan now is to clear out and sanitize the storage room first, since it will not need a new floor or drywall. Then, we will move everything into that area while we repair the rest of the basement. We will add a wall and a door to the storage room near where the entertainment center was, closing this area off and protecting it from sawdust. The area near the fireplace will become the shop. We will put up a temporary partition to protect the rest of the basement from the sawdust, and we will work on our repairs there. We plan to use green board to replace the damaged drywall, so that it will stand up better in any possible future incident. With a chair rail between the green board and the existing drywall above, emergency demolition would be simple. I would like to use paperless drywall, which is entirely impervious to mold, but it's not available at Home Depot, and I don't know if there are any other retail places where we cold get it. We will put down a water resistant, moppable floor as well -- probably sheet vinyl, due once again to availability. We are also discussing installing backflow check valves at the floor drains, and we have to repair the cleanout, which was improperly installed, leading to the overflow in that area. If we install the backflow check valves, we will have to rip out the tile in the bathroom, which is a huge additional level of expense and effort, but it would prevent the sewer main from ever backing up into our house in the future. This choice will be at least partly dependent on hearing back from the city and the insurance company.

Priority tasks:

1. Remove built-in entertainment center and extra wall in storage room. Mostly done.
2. Remove any remaining destroyed stuff or things we decide can't be salvaged after all. In progress
3. Remove unaffected keeper items so cabinets and shelving can be easily moved. Mostly done.
4. Bleach clean items to save. In progress
5. Install permanent lighting in storage room. Supplies purchased.

Cocktail Wednesdays: The Black Eyed Susan and The Mojito

The Mojito and The Black Eyed Susan

The Black Eyed Susan:

Finally, with a bit of delay, I was determined that this week we would try the drink of the Preakness, the Black Eyed Susan, which is named for the state flower of Maryland that is used to wreath the winning horse in this Tripple Crown race at Pimleco, in Baltimore. Since the race occurred on May 21st, we can tell you that the winner was Shackleford, holding off Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom by a half-length at the finish.

I remember trying a Black Eyed Susan when I was in Baltimore the week of the Preakness a few years ago, when I was working on a hospital my old firm had designed there. I was very curious to try the recipe because I remember the drink having a rather unusual gingery flavor. I had heard that there are a number of recipes, and I was curious as to what exactly was the real thing. Now, the recipe on the official Preakness website calls for sour mix, and I knew that a 136 year old race would not have originally been associated with such a modern thing, so I looked up other recipes as well. Many of the recipes I found were for a batch of the drink, like a punch, rather than a single serving. One called for whiskey, like the Preakness website, but the others called for rum. had the most interesting information, where it listed the current official drink recipe, but then said, "The original called for equal parts of Cointreau, Mount Gay rum, and Vodka topped off with orange and pineapple juice, and garnished with a lime wedge." This was the information I used to help me sort through the recipes to try to narrow it down to the most classic, single serving recipe. Many of the recipes had equal parts pineapple and orange juice, but there was a much smaller amount of lime in the large batches, and it didn't appear at all in some recipes. Also, some recipes had equal parts of the different spirits and others had more rum or whiskey and less orange liqueur. I used the quote above to settle on the final recipe.

The Black Eyed Susan

1 oz Vodka
1 oz Rum
1 oz Orange liqueur
1 Lime wedge
2 oz Orange juice
2 oz Pineapple juice

Add vodka, rum, and orange liqueur to a tall glass. Squeeze lime wedge into the glass and drop it in. Fill with ice. Top with equal parts orange and pineapple juice.

I've never had Mount Gay rum, but many of the recipes call for light rum, and I believe that should be what is used, but my choices were dark rum, white rum, or spiced rum, so I decided that the dark rum would likely have the closest flavor profile. Mount Gay rum has an interesting history, as it is the oldest documented rum distillery, with a deed from 1703. Apparently, being from Barbados gives it an unusual flavor profile as well, which I am interested to try -- whenever our stash of rum finally gets low.

I mixed equal parts of orange and pineapple juice in a measuring cup, and I only used 1/2 cup to top off each glass, which is how I came up with the 1/4 cup measurement. If you use a larger glass or a bit less ice, you may want more juice.

The verdict:
I like this drink. It is cool, fruity, and refreshing, but you can still taste the flavor of the rum, and something about the combination of ingredients does bring out a somewhat gingery flavor, though there is no ginger in the drink.

The Mojito:
I was originally only planning to make The Black Eyed Susan, but Scott particularly wanted Mojitos. We could have simply done Mojitos instead, if I hadn't felt like the Black Eyed Susan kept being put off, and I kept telling people we were about to do it. Once we found out that we were going to have four guests, we realized that we didn't have enough pineapple juice, and Scott ever so sweetly ran up to the store to get some, just so that I could stop feeling like I was failing with the Black Eyed Susan, even though he didn't even drink one. He just wanted a Mojito.

As I mentioned before, on the Mint Julep post, I use Mondomuse's recipe to make Mojitos.

The Mojito

1 Tbsp Sugar
6 - 8 Fresh spearmint leaves; medium size
1/2 Fresh lime cut in quarters
2 oz 1 oz Simple syrup
2 oz White rum - 80 proof
Club soda

Place the sugar and mint leaves at the bottom of a tall tumbler. Crush the mint into the sugar using a muddler or the back of a spoon. For a dirty Mojito, muddle well so that the pieces of mint are very small. Add the simple syrup; stir well. Squeeze lime quarters into glass; drop the limes into the mix. At this point I mix well, pushing down on the lime with a spoon, extracting more juice and some of the oil in the rind. Add white rum mixing well again. Fill glass to the rim with ice; top off with club soda to the brim. Stir well; garnish with fresh sprig of mint if you like; serve immediately.

The verdict: This is a tasty recipe, but there is a lot of sugar in this drink. It was too much for our diabetic friend. It is also very important that you mix it at all of the different stages, which I forgot to tell Scott to do as he was making these and I was making the Black Eyed Susans. Everyone made it abundantly clear that a thorough mixing vastly improved the flavor. Now that I look at Mondomuse's recipe again, I see that he actually makes a light simple syrup -- only 1/2 as much sugar as water, where I am used to normal simple syrup being 1 to 1, and I have also heard of rich simple syrup at 2 to 1. Scott tried reducing the syrup, but said that it impacted the mouthfeel. Still, I think that a normal 1 to 1 syrup should use only 1 oz, which is why I edited the recipe above. Also, it is important to use the granulated sugar because it helps to grind the mint up a bit more. Just be sure to mix it well so that it dissolves into the drink afterwards.