Food, Wine, Good (and Evil) Spirits

From the North Coast Journal

champagne_c_w250h250.jpgIt happens every year about this time, in magazines and newspapers, online: an outpouring of effervescent enthusiasm for holiday sparkling wine bargains. "The best of West Coast bubbly has rarely been better," trumpets San Francisco Chronicle Magazine. The online wine merchant www.novusvinum.com features the "Top 20 American Sparkling Wines," from a modest $19 for Francis Coppola 2008 Sofia Blanc de Blancs to a staggering $100 for Schramsberg 2002 J. Schram. Words like "festive" and "elegant" promise a transcendental experience.

They lie. Well, they pretty much have to lie. No one would be long in business selling wine or print ads if they told the truth: American sparkling wine at its best is not in the same class as even the least expensive imports from Champagne. The fact is, it may never be.

The world of cuisine is fertile ground for happy, often accidental inventions: the 18th century discovery that oil and vinegar could, by careful blending with egg yolk, be emulsified into Sauce Mayonnaise. Peking Duck: an ancient dish, eaten by wealthy Chinese, consisting of just the crisp skin of a fattened duck, slowly roasted to a glossy brown in a long process taking a whole day. Distilled spirits, a byproduct of 8th century alchemy that produced what an Arabic poet described as, "a wine that has the color of rain-water but is as hot inside the ribs as a burning firebrand."

But the ultimate adventure may have been the one that produced gold from straw.

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pomdrinks1We were really happy to sample the new PomWonderful drinks as a prelude to the holiday season. Pom Mango, Pom Hula, Pom Coconut. And since we’re not going away for Christmas this year, it was an excuse to pretend we were lounging under an umbrella on the beach, listening to the waves pound against the shore, and watching the sunset as we tasted the new varieties. (For the record, these were sent to me as samples, but as people who know me know, I don’t always write about the samples that I’m sent, not unless I like them, anyway – those crabcakes shaped like baseballs come to mind...)

But the new Pom drinks are really fresh – they have to be refrigerated – and they’re so luscious, they work as a snack instead of food. And if I have anything to say about it, they will now be a staple in our house...

The Pom Mango is pure deliciousness, fresh, and amazing. The Pom Hula makes you a little less sad you’re not on the beach. And the Pom Coconut (well let me say this, coconut cake is my favorite thing) so I was already there.

But then we decided to a little cocktail experimentation. For the record, this involved tasting only (kind of like a wine day), although spread over many, as it’s my personal belief, and potentially an old rock and roll adage, that you’re not supposed to mix hard alcohol on any given day.

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Old FashionedIt all started with a Napoleon. And a desire for a cocktail after dinner. The Napoleon, uneaten, and so taken away in a box from a late lunch at Petit Trois was the itch, scratching my brain. It’s eggy vanilla aroma permeates the car on the way home and a bottle of newly purchased Bulleit Rye clinks next to me. I get the vision of a vanilla driven rye cocktail sipped along with that Napoleon.

Ludo’s Napoleons aren’t delicate fine things with a slick of sweet white icing across the top. No, they’re robust and sturdy finished off with a perfect shard of bruléed confectioner’s sugar. They are so thick that I’ve never eaten one by cutting down a bite with my fork. Instead I pluck off the top layer of crunchy puff paste and the clinging pastry cream, which leaves another layer of the same to munch later open-face sandwich style. This is the life of the food obsessed.  Upon googling rye and vanilla I found Brandon at Kitchen Konfidence and  a recipe for an Old-Fashioned made with vanilla sugar. I always keep a jar of sugar studded with vanilla beans in the pantry, so his recipe was quick to put together.  Here’s my version. I’m making some vanilla syrup to keep in the fridge for the next one.

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oolongteaWe all have those incredible sensory memories where just the slight aroma sends us back to a treasured moment. Our minds are suddenly flooded with images and a sense of time and place that once was. While I have many of those memories tucked away in my heart, there is one in particular that plays to a tea tune.

It was one of those perfect fall days in New York where the air was crisp but nowhere near close to cold. Running down the streets of SoHo to meet a dear friend, I found her waiting with a smile in front of In Pursuit of Tea’s shop (which I must sadly say is no longer open).  We opened the glass door to the tiny store with exposed brick walls that seemed to glow like autumn leaves on the treeless street.  

Shelves were lined with traditional cups and teapots, and a blackboard displayed what teas were being sampled that day. Within seconds, my whirlwind of joy calmed as my eyes settled on the word “oolong” written across the board. For those of you who have followed me on my tea journey, you know that oolong tea makes my heart sing. I turned to face the woman pouring tea from a gaiwan and gently approached her. She extended a delicate cup and before I brought the sip to my lips, I heard her share that it was their “high mountain oolong tea.” Even though I was grounded in fall just moments ago, my senses shifted to spring as the floral notes escaped through the steam. With just one sip I found myself lost in a field of honeysuckle flowers. It was at that very moment that I knew I had found a treasured tea, a transformative tea.  

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peachmargaritaIt's only a few days until Cinco de Mayo. Woo-hoo!

That means margaritas, chips and salsa, margaritas, carnitas, margaritas. Are you seeing a pattern?

Having previously lived in Southern California where Cinco de Mayo was BIG, we always celebrated with some type of special Mexican meal. For me, the tradition will always live on no matter where I am, and that tradition will always include margaritas.

I would like to share with you one of my favorite margarita recipes. The Wild Boar and I concocted this recipe for a margarita contest we entered and WON! It was a long time ago but we still make this margarita as often as we can.

This Peach Margarita has a fresh and refreshing taste that will soothe your mouth as you eat your salsa-laden burrito this Cinco de Mayo.

So come on, find your lost salt shaker and let's get to blendin'.

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