Food, Wine, Good (and Evil) Spirits

From the NY Times

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I hadn’t thought of making tiramisù since the 1990s when it was all the rage, but in March friends asked me to bring dessert to their party, and it came to mind. Fashionable or not, it’s perfect for a crowd but also foolproof enough to assemble with my toddler daughter underfoot. It was a hit, extremely satisfying in a creamy, trifle-esque kind of way, yet more sophisticated thanks to the espresso and shot of sambuca moistening the layers.

I filed the recipe under “good for hungry hordes,” and planned to fish it out for a weekend away with friends. But as that weekend drew closer, I reconsidered. Baskets of plump, scarlet strawberries had finally appeared at the farmers’ market, and I really wanted to make them the focal point of dessert.

The creamy mascarpone and ladyfinger layers in tiramisù are a natural with strawberries. But the espresso is too overbearing to match well with the sweet fruit. All I had to do was swap out the liquid. It was early evening when all this pondering was going on, so naturally my mind leaped to the coming cocktail hour. What would be a good, boozy pairing with strawberries?

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franklinsfixHandcrafted sips of any kind are my cup of tea. There is a true art behind signature tea blends and craft cocktails that make my taste buds sing. But maybe I'm biased...

Last year, I skipped over to P'unk Ave in Philly for a Junto discussion about The Craft Cocktail. It was a true treat to hear Felicia D'Ambrosio (fabulous Philly food writer and fermentation enthusiast), Mike Welsh (co owner The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company) and Andrew Auwerda (president Philadelphia Distilling) share thoughts and tales about the resurgence, roots and culture of craft distilling and craft cocktails. By the end of the night I left feeling a bit giddy and excited for my continued journey in the world of the crafted drink.

That evening inspired me to research the man behind the first Junto club in Philadelphia, Mr. Ben Franklin. After a bit of edible exploration, it was clear that Franklin was crazy for cranberries and addicted to apples. His favorite flavors led me to create Franklin's Fix, a blend of ceylon black tea, freshly sliced NY apples, dried cranberries (although I would search for the unsweetened bag next time), and a dab of local PA honey.

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pinot_gris.jpgI had to laugh the other night while having dinner in a local restaurant. The patrons next to us ordered a bottle of wine, confidently requesting "Pinot Grisss", with lots of heavy emphasis on the "isssss", as their wine of choice for the evening.

I shouldn't have laughed. Really I shouldn't have. But I'm horrible like that. Don't worry... they didn't hear me. I wanted the waitress to correct them though, "You mean PEE-noh Gree?" but she didn't. Maybe she was worried about her tip or was trying hard not to laugh herself.

I think the intimidation for ordering wine is even greater at fine dining establishments employing a sommelier (sum-muhl-YAY). The sommelier is there to help guide restaurant guests in the best wine choice possible in terms of their meal, palate and pocketbook. It can be intimidating to speak up and request something from somewhere like Chateauneauf-du-Pape (shah-toh-nuhf-doo-PAHP), if you have absolutely NO IDEA how to pronounce the words.

I should be more forgiving. I know for a fact, as many have confessed to me, some people shy away from ordering particular wines simply because they are afraid of making a pronunciation mistake in front of friends and clients.

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sangria-thumbWith summer in full swing there’s no better drink to sip by the pool than sangria. Filled with fruit, it seems less “boozy” and perhaps slightly “healthy”, so if you start drinking it before Happy Hour there seems to be less shame and guilt involved. Believe me the fruit only masks the alcohol, but who cares? It’s a drink I find hard to resist.

While I always have wine in the house, I am not a big fruit lover. Sure, if someone else brings it all bright and juicy and already cut up, I’ll generally eat my fair share, but I’m more attracted to the “idea” of it than its physical reality. Plus, I’m more a cheesy/salty person. Sweets of any kind just don’t float my boat.

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mulledwine.jpgWarm yourself from head to toe with a hot drink on a blustery day like today. Mulled wine does that and more. Popularized in Germany and Scandinavia, mulled wine has been a holiday favorite for hundreds of years. Christmas markets in cities and towns all over Europe swell with shoppers who turn to mulled wine when they want to warm up their chilly fingers and toes. It really does have the effect of rosying cheeks and making spirits bright. Mulled wine is typically made with a good dry wine sweetened with sugar and flavored with various spices, including cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, among others.

In old fashioned times, wine was mulled to take away its foul or spoiled taste. The tradition was born out of practicality. But that is no longer the case. Use good but inexpensive wine for this drink. There's no reason to set the bank back when the flavor will come mostly from the spices you add. My version is based on a drink my father enjoyed. He used to love adding red wine to a cup of tea. It was his drink for when he needed to warm up after coming in from the cold outdoors, especially after we explored the wilderness together.

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