spicy cucamelon cocktails | why culinary treats are the best travel souvenirs

cocktails, drinks, gin, recipes, summer, travel, veggies

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First of all, happy almost-end-of-summer!! I’m excited to share the story behind this spicy cucamelon cocktail that I created after returning from a trip to NYC, where I toured and savored its verdant famers markets. I’m definitely reveling in these final days of summer and doing my best to capture their vibrancy by making jams, jellies, relishes, chutneys, and, of course, cocktails.

This particular trip to New York City in the fall of 2019 just might be my favorite culinary trip I’ve taken. Yes, I’ve had some incredible food-and-wine-centric trips throughout my wine career. Traveling to historic places like Burgundy, France; visiting the Vinho Verde region in Portugal; exploring the Piemonte, home to Barolo and Barbaresco, in Italy; and touring the vineyards in Ribero del Duero y Rueda in Spain were all career and personal highlights for me.

None of these trips, however, compared to traveling to New York City two years ago with several of my favorite chef and sommelier friends within the culinary industry. There is nothing like rolling out of bed (maybe a little hungover?) and exploring the city’s various farmers markets to source produce, flowers, or meat that will be served at a dinner later that evening, with the very chefs, who will be cooking the dishes.

In 2019, my husband and I were chosen, along with our industry friend and colleague, Jen Mattioni, to be the beverage component of the Colorado FIVE, a group of five talented chefs, who are changing the face and direction of the Colorado culinary scene. I’ve shared one of the epic dinners we’ve thrown in another post, to reference the kind of scale and pomp these dinners have. Throughout the summer season, each of the five chefs within the Colorado FIVE team hosts a five-course dinner at his or her respective restaurant, we pair the drinks, and we all raise money for charity.

The year culminates at a dinner that we host at the James Beard House in New York City.

Yes, that James Beard.

Before the chefs began prepping for this sold-out dinner on a brisk early October evening, we all walked the streets of the city on a quest to find some fresh, local, in-season items to accompany the Colorado fare we brought with us on the plane. We visited the bustling Union Square Farmers Market, which had a wide spectrum of unique herbs, vegetables, fruits, spices, and meats, all grown or produced by local famers and makers.

Steve, Jen, and I made a commitment to only use Colorado-based wine, spirits, and beer for our Colorado FIVE dinners throughout the season. We shipped out, via FedEx, two of our 2018 wines from The Storm Cellar (our inaugural vintage), a local sour beer, and two wines from our favorite Colorado wineries. It felt incredible to share drinks, made from Colorado-grown fruits, grains, and vegetables, with NYC residents.

It’s a trip I’ll never forget, and I’ll share more about the details, along with a tour of the James Beard House, sometime soon in this space.

One of the things that I always make time and room for on a trip is shopping for culinary treats. Be it local honey, a wine that doesn’t get exported, a local preserve, or a spice blend that catches my eye, culinary treats make the best souvenirs. Each time I cook with or make a cocktail from something I’ve sourced on a trip, I’m taken back by my senses to relive the memories, and I further connect myself with that town or country.

On this trip to NYC, my husband and I took home multiple pints of hot peppers and a solid handful of cucamelons, which are also known as Mexican sour gerkins. By the time I got back home to Hotchkiss, Colorado, I had already created in my mind the cocktail I’d make with those very ingredients.

The cocktail leads with a spicy honey syrup. To keep it simple, go with serrano peppers, which are easy to source and work well in this drink. I made a spicy pepper syrup from multiple kinds of peppers for mine, a kind of “assemblage” of what I found at that farmers market. Feel free to get a little creative with the type and level of intensity with the peppers in this syrup!


  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 or 2 (if you like it hot) serrano peppers, sliced lengthwise
  1. In a small saucepan, combine the water and honey.
  2. Bring to a low boil and toss in the serrano pepper(s), adding the seeds, if you’re brave.
  3. Stir until incorporated and thoroughly dissolved.
  4. Remove from heat and bring to room temperature.
  5. Taste along the way, to determine steeping time, as some peppers are hotter than others.
  6. Strain the spicy syrup with a fine-mesh strainer, off its solids, into a clean storage jar.
  7. Cover and store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Do you enjoy the combination of vegetal, slightly sweet, and spicy in a cocktail?

It’s one of my favorite combinations. Give me a spicy margarita with a little cilantro or some muddled, seasonal fruit, and I’m a happy girl. Getting that perfect balance is so key, though. In my bartending days, I’d get requests for a margarita without any sugar or simple syrup. Well, that’s just basically tequila and lime juice, which is almost too sour to sip and enjoy.

Adding a touch of sweetness is necessary and brings all of the flavors in this particular cocktail into balance.


  • Mezcal rinse (I used Del Maguey Chichicapa)
  • 8 small Mexican sour gherkin cucumbers (or 4 quarter-inch cucumber slices)
  • 1 1/2 ounces gin (I used Spring 44)
  • 1/4 ounce Yellow Chartreuse
  • 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce serrano pepper honey syrup (see above for recipe)
  1. Rinse a chilled coupe glass with mezcal, discard the mezcal, and set aside.
  2. Slice the cucumbers in half and toss them in a mixing tin.
  3. Muddle them well, expressing as much juice as possible.
  4. Add the gin, Yellow Chartreuse, lime juice, and serrano pepper honey syrup.
  5. Add ice, cover, and shake well.
  6. Double-strain into the coupe and garnish with a baby gherkin or a thinly sliced cucumber.


  • This recipe yields one cocktail.
  • The serrano pepper honey syrup lasts up to two weeks in the refrigerator and will yield well over a dozen cocktails.
  • This recipe is batch-able! Just combine the ingredients, sans ice and multiplied out to the amount of drinks you need, and refrigerate overnight. Only add ice when ready to serve.

I’m happy to be back here writing on the blog after a break. It hasn’t been a break from life, though. It’s been quite the year. I think most of us can say that about both 2020 and 2021. I have a lot to share with you. Most notably, we don’t have a grape harvest this fall. We’ve been scrambling to retrain our existing vines, so that we can have a harvest in 2022. We’ve also been sourcing out-of-state grapes, so that we can still make wine (and continue our business) this year.

It’s been a lot.

I’ve shared some of what’s been going on over on Instagram, albeit sporadicly and only when I had the chance or inspiration, but I have felt pulled to redirect my focus onto this website and only use Instagram and other apps as a supplement, not the sole platform.

My friend Anne Butera of My Giant Strawberry shared in one of her blog posts this past spring that she’d be doing the same thing. Anne is a watercolorist and pattern designer, and we’ve been connected for several years now. I have a few of her prints hanging in my office, and her work and story are truly inspirational and express pure joy. The thoughts she shared within that post resonated with me, especially the part where she mentions the concept of an app robbing one of time, a commodity many of us exploit, don’t have too much of, or even waste.

Anne writes, “Making connections is important and wonderful, but I’ve found it harder and harder to make authentic connections on Instagram. To truly connect through social media, on more than the most superficial level, requires a lot of time. I’d much rather be connecting in a way that doesn’t need me to be plugged into an app, chained to my phone.”

I 100% agree.

I have more to share about my thoughts on social media with respect to a personal blog or website, but that is also for another post.

I’m happy to say that I’ll be sharing more here and letting Instagram take a slight backseat. I’ll surely post there, but I won’t be obsessing over the timing or the engagement or the follow-unfollow patterns because I simply don’t have the time or headspace for those concerns. I’m definitely a midnight-poster, and I don’t mind that the algorithm might not like it or promote my post because of my late-night tendencies.

Here’s to soaking up these last, delicious weeks of summer and focusing on the tangibles. Here’s how I’m doing that – savoring the people I’m with, the song I’ve played in succession, the salad I’ve perfected, the shifting sunshine, the incredibly fresh produce, the healing heat that’s absent in just a few weeks, the spiraling cucumbers in my garden, the way my cat leisurely stretches, or how the swirl of wine in my glass makes me think of that harvest trip I took to Oregon in 2014.

Now I’m reminded to reach for that jar of dried, mixed peppers from that incredible 2019 trip to NYC. What can I make with them? How can I connect with my memories through food? What was I listening to on the plane? What were my dreams and ideas?

Where do I want to travel in my mind?

Love and wishes for the positive kind of detachment,


  1. Anne says:

    Hello, sweet friend!

    I was so happy to see a new blog post come through from you. Your blog is one of my favorites and seeing what you’re up to on Instagram is one of the things I have missed about it while I’ve been away from the app. While I was reading I had to do a double-take, wait, she’s quoting me? Thanks for the shout out!

    I’ve been seeing a few bloggers starting up again these last few months and every time it’s a delight. A blogging renaissance is one of my fantasies.

    I’m so sorry to hear about your grape harvest. I can’t even imagine how hard this must be for you, but I am cheering you on and sending good vibes your way.

  2. Joan M Steese says:

    Hello to my favorite “farmers”!! I enjoyed reading your blog and going through all the wedding pictures again, etc. It makes me want to be there enjoying time with you and seeing the amazing view. I would love to meet those two dogs! It has been a special “family time” day, as John took me out to lunch and then I got to spend time with you via computer. Love you LOTS! Mom

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