Food, Wine, Good (and Evil) Spirits

"I think the increased number of 1920s themed parties caused the current economic crisis. There I said it." - Alexis Brodey

old-fashioned.jpgI love old timey things. I even love the term old timey. Whenever I hear it, everything turns into sepia tone and rag time music starts playing. Then my iPhone rings and I realize I need to update my blog and twitter. I'm happy I wasn't born in the 30's but I enjoy many things about it. Mainly the influx of bars that seem to embrace that old timey feel. Did Mad Men have something to do with this? Probably. I'll be the first to admit prior to watching Don Draper I never had an Old Fashioned. I now love Old Fashioneds. I even make a really good Old Fashioned.

Since I'm not the biggest drinker,  I never really want to visit a random Hollywood bar and order a gin and tonic that tastes generic. I tend to stick to very specific bars that do very specific things. Let’s say I want a tropical drink. Easy, I go to Tiki Ti in Los Feliz. The bar’s been open since 1961 and challenged Trader Vics for the best tiki bar ever (and won). Currently I’m really into bourbon. This led me to the great bar SeVen Grand on 7th and Grand downtown.

SeVen Grand is a mix between an old timey bar, a hunting lodge, a gentleman's club and a place where stockbrokers hang out after ruining peoples lives. They have over a hundred types of whiskey and really great bartenders. My favorite bartender is a guy who I refer to as "Last of the Mohicans" because he has an indie mohawk.

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wallys.jpgIf you spent three days driving throughout the Central Coast wineries, from Santa Barbara to Los Pasos, you could not have sampled a fraction of the wines you could have in an hour at Wally’s 8th Annual Central Coast Food and Wine celebration. The event benefits the Michael Bonaccorsi UC Davis Scholarship Fund and the endowment at Allan Hancock College for students who want to pursue careers in Viticulture and Enology. There were over 55 wineries serving 150 unique wines you could sniff, swirl, taste and savor. It was like wandering from room to room in one of your favorite art museums only to discover another gallery filled with astonishing paintings you’ve never seen before.

In addition to such luminaries as Au Bon Climat, Qupe, Melville and The Hitching Post, to name a few, there were dozens of small hands-on wineries. Hard to find wines whose producers grow their own grapes, ferment them, and even drive to local wine stores to sell them. You could chat, query, and get a deeper appreciation of what goes into making unique wines in a market increasingly dominated by wine consultants and corporate ownership. Although the Central Coast is known for its distinctive Pinots and Chardonnays there was a healthy dose of Syrahs and Grenaches. These grapes are poised to make the same kind of impact in California that Cabernets did in the 90’s and Pinots in the 2000’s.

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sangria.pitcherEvery holiday party deserves a little cocktail. Don’t you agree? Using seasonal ingredients to create both savory and sweets is a given. Drinks should share in what the season has to offer and that is exactly why this cocktail will be what we will be toasting with this season.

Two years ago I made Moscow Mules and last year I whipped up Persimmon Mojitos using one of my most favorite seasonal fruit. This year I am all about the Honey Crisp Apple.

If you haven’t eaten one yet, you are truly missing out. It is the one apple, aside from a good Fuji, that I crave. Around 11 a.m. every day, my snack of choice is a honey crisp with a wedge of raw, white cheddar. So satisfying!

Whipping up a cocktail is an effortless task. I don’t drink all that much and when I do come up with something as simple as this I am reminded as to how much easier it is to mix up a drink, unlike a cake or a tart.

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educatingpeter.jpgHere's the thing I hate about wine, the attitude. You know what I'm talking about. Wine should be something we enjoy and yet it easily slips into something that intimidates instead. Of course it's not the fault of the wine. It's the people who write about it, sell it and pour it who use it as a weapon against the unsuspecting. I haven't actually met any intimidating winemakers, although it may just be a matter of time.

In my quest to learn more about wine I have been attending wine events, reading up on wine but mostly tasting, as you might imagine. Reading about wine sounds like the most boring thing in the world, but as with anything else if the the writer is talented the subject turns out be fascinating. Two recent books have utterly delighted me in this regard – Lettie Teague's book Educating Peter: How Anybody Can Become an (Almost) Instant Wine Expert and Rick Kushman and Hank Beal's A Moveable Thirst: Tales and Tastes from a Season in Napa Wine Country. They actually have quite a bit in common. Both are conversations between a wine novice and an expert.


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summerdrinks.jpgI haven't met an herb I didn't like. Right now in my garden have more than a dozen varieties of herbs growing. I have different uses for all of them. Some I love to use when roasting meats or vegetables, like rosemary and sage. I put parsley and mint in my salads. I also use mint in my teas. I use cilantro in guacamole, which I make almost every week. And of course I have a bush of basil for when it comes time to make homemade tomato sauce.

This year I've tried growing Greek basil and Thai basil with great success. My stir-frys and Thai curries are so much better with the addition of Thai basil, which has an anise-like flavor. For years I've been growing lovage, a perennial herb that grows four feet tall every year. Its flavor is a lot like parsley and celery combined, and its tall stalks look much like celery except that they are hollow like bamboo. You might have come across lovage used in a Bloody Mary but not have known what it was. The stalks make very nice straws.

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