The National Public Radio news show All Things Considered recently received a scathing letter from 8-year-old Minneapolis resident Leo Shilda.
Leo took the program to task for ignoring the mission implied by its name – ALL Things Considered:
“Maybe you should call your show Newsy things Considered,” Leo wrote, ”since I don’t get to hear about all the things. Or please talk more about dinosaurs and cool things.”
To be fair, the producers of the show admitted that over the fifty years of the show’s run, they have not presented many stories about dinosaurs. They had Leo on the show to apologize to him for that oversight, and to give him a chance to talk to an actual paleontologist about his job, dinosaurs in general, and Leo’s favorite dinosaur in particular – the fairly recently discovered Concavenator.
Here at Heavy Table, we like to think of part of our mission as providing service journalism to the Twin Cities area. Yes, we address business stories about restaurants, and food scarcity issues, but, like our colleagues at NPR, from time to time, we need to do some self-reflection and ask ourselves, “Are we talking about dinosaurs enough?”
To that end, the following is an open letter to Leo:
I was really happy to listen to the NPR story where they interviewed you about dinosaurs. I agree with you that we really should talk about dinosaurs more.
I write for a food magazine. My job is to invent drinks that are interesting to make and that taste good. Normally, they are intended for adults and have alcohol in them, but this time, I thought I would invent three new drinks and dedicate them to you. They are all non-alcoholic (which means that if your parents are okay with you having a treat, you can drink them.) and are dinosaur-themed. These are not easy drinks to make – each of them is kind of a project. You and one of your grownups might have to go shopping at a Latin foods market, or buy a couple of ingredients online.
I hope you enjoy making and drinking them.
Drink #1 – The Concavenator
Leo, I know that you know this, but for people who don’t keep up on their dinosaur news, Concavenator corcovatus was a carnivorous dinosaur that lived about 125 million years ago, during the early Cretaceous Period, in what is now Spain. It is extremely interesting to scientists because of its odd, humped back – it may have had a crest or a sail – and for structures in its wrist bones that suggest that it had feathers on its arms, way, way before anyone thought feathers existed.
Here is what you will need to make this drink:
2 oz. Hibiscus syrup (see below)
3 oz. Fresh-squeezed lime juice
6 oz. Pineapple juice
8 Ice cubes
A cocktail shaker, or large water bottle with a wide mouth and a lid
A tall, fancy glass. You know the ones that your mom and dad only use when your grandmother visits? One of those.
Several fancy feathers – I used pheasant feathers. A peacock feather would be cool too, though.
How to Make It:
Put all the ingredients into the shaker or water bottle. Put the lid on.
Shake the shaker or bottle until the sound of the ice changes. (If you want to shake this like a professional drink-maker, hold the bottle over your shoulder while you shake it.)
Pour everything from the shaker or water bottle into the fancy glass, ice and all.
Garnish your drink with the feathers. (Garnish means the decorations that you put on food or drinks. You don’t always eat the garnish. In this case, please don’t eat the feathers.)
Unless your family speaks Spanish at home, you probably haven’t eaten or drunk anything with hibiscus in it before. It has a gentle, perfumy taste. If you could describe a flavor by comparing it to a color, this would taste pink, which is good, because that’s the color it will turn your drink. Pineapple juice and lime go really well together. Pineapple has a gentle, sweet flavor; lime is sour and demands attention. Together, they taste tropical. With the hibiscus syrup, they make you think of fascinating places, far away.
Like Spain in the Early Cretaceous.
How to Make Fruit Syrups
To make fruit syrups, it helps to have a kitchen scale. “Equal amounts”, generally means that they weigh the same.
Citrus Syrups – Bring an equal amount of citrus fruit juice and sugar, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a saucepan. Let it boil for 10-20 seconds – long enough for the sugar to dissolve completely. Take off the heat, then add the zest of two or three small fruits, or one large one. Let it steep for half an hour, then strain it into a jar or bottle, and label it. This works well for lemons, limes, tangerines and clementines. I think it would work really well for grapefruit, but I haven’t tried that yet.
Hibiscus Syrup – Bring 21 oz of water and 18 oz of sugar to a boil and boil it for a few more seconds, until the sugar seems to disappear. Take it off the heat and add 1 oz of dried hibiscus flowers and 1½ oz of fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Stir, let it sit for half an hour, then strain it into bottles and jars and label them. (I like to strain mine twice – once with a wire strainer, and again with a coffee filter, just to make sure I’ve gotten any grit out of it.)
Be aware that this will make a LOT of hibiscus syrup – like way more than you and your family will probably use for the rest of the year. This is a good syrup to make before the holidays, so you can give it to your relatives and they’ll be like, “Oh, isn’t this great? Leo is so clever!” And you’ll be like, “Heh, heh, heh… Got rid of it!”
With that said, hibiscus soda is really good. Just combine 1 part syrup to 4 parts seltzer.
Cherry, Cranberry, Raspberry, or Blackberry Syrup – Put equal amounts of frozen fruit and sugar in a saucepan over low heat, and cook until the fruit has gone all mushy and given up its juice. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat, and strain it into a jar or bottle, mashing the fruit pulp to squeeze out any remaining juice. It is easier to get frozen fruit at different times of the year, plus, when the fruit freezes, ice crystals puncture the cell walls inside the fruit and makes it easier to get the juice out.
Drink #2 – Trapped In Amber
This drink pays homage (that’s a way of saying I want people to know I read books) to Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.
They talked about this a little in the movie, but the book spends about a whole chapter talking about how scientists used blood they took from insects that were preserved in amber to clone dinosaurs. Although we call it a gemstone, amber isn’t actually a mineral formed deep inside the earth. It is petrified tree sap that sometimes flows over insects or other small animals and traps them inside a block of gold-colored sap-stone.
This drink is all about the color and the garnish.
1 oz. Clementine syrup (see above)
3 oz. Apple juice – the clear kind
3 oz. Bengal Spice tea, iced
½ tsp Citric acid – This sounds scary, but it is the ingredient in sour gummies that make them sour. Without this, the drink would be a little too sweet.
4 oz. Plain seltzer
8-10 Ice cubes
A large, clear glass that will allow you to see your drink.
A bar spoon – one of the weird-looking ones with a twisted handle, or another spoon with a long handle
Garnish – A joke ice cube with a bug in it.
How to Make It:
Add all the ingredients to your large, clear glass.
Mix with your bar spoon. The twists in the handle are supposed to give extra spin to the liquid you are mixing. I think the best reason to own a bar spoon is so you can say, “Hey, look! I have a BAR SPOON!” Mix it until the citric acid is completely dissolved.
Garnish with the fake ice cube with a bug in it. When someone comments on the bug and is a little grossed out by it, roll your eyes and say, “Well, yuh! That’s the whole POINT!”
The apple juice in this drink is mostly there to provide a great amber color and a little sweetness. Most of your flavors will come from the iced tea and the clementine syrup. Bengal Spice tea isn’t actually sweet, but seems like it should be. I know – that doesn’t make much sense, but it has notes of cinnamon and other spices that you probably already like. The clementine syrup is really, really good; it hides there in the background, but you can taste it if you try to find it. If this drink did not have something sour in it, it would probably be too sweet to drink the whole thing. The citric acid helps make this a real treat.
Drink #3 – Cretaceous Meteor
For a lot of people, when they think about a great story, they tend to remember the ending of it – the Cat Bus in My Neighbor Totoro, or Romeo and Juliet having a really bad third date, or the dragon part of Spirited Away. For the dinosaurs, the end of their story came about 66 million years ago*, when a giant asteroid crashed into the Gulf of Mexico and set off a chain of events that killed them.
*”What about birds?” Shhh… Don’t complicate things.
This drink is dedicated to the dinosaurs’ final Act.
½ oz. Raspberry syrup (see above)
½ oz. Orgeat – an almond-flavored syrup that grown-ups use in Tiki drinks.
1 oz. Fresh-squeezed lemon juice
4 oz. Plain seltzer
1 Very large ice cube – If you’ve got one of those ice cube molds that makes a huge, round ice cube, that’s great, otherwise, freeze a small water-balloon overnight in a small bowl. The ice cube you make won’t be perfectly round, but then again, neither was the one that hit Mexico.
A mixing glass
A bar spoon
A margarita glass
Garnish – 2-3 thumb-sized pieces of dry ice (See below)
How to Make It:
Mix all the liquids in a mixing glass or a large, glass measuring cup full of ice. Stir them gently, so the seltzer stays fizzy.
Put the extra-large ice cube in the margarita glass. If you made your own ice cube by freezing a water-balloon, peel the rubber away from the ice and run it under the faucet for a second or two, to wash away any balloon taste.
Strain your drink into the margarita glass, over your giant ice cube.
CAREFULLY, add the chunks of dry ice to your drink. Wear gloves or use a dish towel to keep your fingers from getting too cold from the dry ice. This will make your mom nervous – look her in the eyes and say, “I’ve got this.”
The drink will start to hiss, and bubble, and give off clouds of steam. This is the time to take pictures of your drink, or Skype with your grandmother. You should not drink this while it is still bubbling or smoking – you might accidentally swallow a piece of dry ice, which would NOT feel good.
Back when your parents were young and carefree, they used to go out to Chinese restaurants and drink something called Scorpion Bowls. They haven’t told you about this because…
Hey look! Over there! Is that an ocelot?
Anyway, the point is that this drink would work well in a clear glass bowl with two straws. You could definitely double the recipe and use a big bowl and a bigger “meteor”.
Almonds and raspberries go together really well. Both flavors go well with lemon, plus, the lemon juice keeps this drink from being too sweet. You might want to start this recipe with ¾ of an ounce of lemon juice, then add more, if you think it should be a little sourer. Because this drink is as much an EXPERIENCE as a soft drink, you might want to turn on a lava lamp, if you have one, and play the theme to Jurassic Park while you admire, then drink it.
Leo, thank you for reminding us that there are important things in life that we forget about and ignore sometimes – like learning how to break a board in Taekwondo, or monster trucks, or paintings of mermaids.
And, of course, dinosaurs.