Food, Wine, Good (and Evil) Spirits

proseccoThere is no better way to celebrate a special event than with a glass of sparkling wine. All across the world people turn to sparkling wine in moments of great celebration, be it holidays, birthdays, or any momentous occasion. The French have Champagne, which is named after the region in which it is made. The Spanish have cava, which is named after the natural caves in which the wine ferments. Anywhere else we call wine that bubbles sparkling wine. Italy's version is Prosecco or what I like to call the wine of sheer joy.

Prosecco is a white wine made from grapes of the same name. It is one of the most armoatic wines that you will ever try. And its taste and finish are crisp, clean, and refreshing. This year I'm drinking Prosecco for New Year's Eve and I have many reasons why. It is affordable, extremely flavorful, very elegant, and it's easily a crowd-pleasing drink. Prosecco is a wine that not everyone is familiar with, but it is a wine that is easy to adore.

Prosecco is produced in the Veneto region of Italy, of which Venice is the capital. It originally was produced as a still wine, but somewhere along the way fermentation was introduced into the process, and a sparkling wine was created. Today we would not recognize the original Prosecco as a sparkling wine, because the bubbles were very soft and delicate. Many Prosecco wines produced today have vigorous bubbles. The lightly sparkling version is called frizzante and the fully sparkling version is called spumante. Either is very nice. It's personal preference that dictates which you choose.

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wine-tasting.jpgThe more wines you try, the more you'll develop your palate-it's that simple.  And how you try them makes all the difference.  I know when you see wine tasters doing a lot of curious slurping it seems like a highly mysterious activity...but it's not.  Swirl, sniff and spit, that's all it is.  So why do we swirl?  What are we looking for exactly?  What is acidity?  Tannin?

The first step in wine tasting is to fill your glass until it's about a third full.  Take a good look at it.  Tilt it slightly against a white background or hold it up to the daylight to see the range of colors from the center to the rim.  Older red wines start to fade at the rim with a browny, tawny color.  Red wines from hotter climates and gutsier red grape varieties have the deepest colors.

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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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coffee2A coffee farmer shared with me that the most injury prone job picking coffee involves climbing.  When one hand is holding the tree and the other a machete--what are you left with to swat the bugs?  

Last March I traveled to a coffee plantation in Nicaragua to help run a volunteer medical and dental clinic for the workers, their families, and the villagers.  The team set up shop in an open-air church and saw 1,200 patients in a week.  Babies with distended bellies from parasites, respiratory infections, decayed teeth, dehydration.  Patients lined up.  Machete wounds were common.  One involved a bee.

I was overwhelmed by the emotion of it--watching some brave person getting teeth pulled, barely betraying their pain.  I would walk out to the rainforest and indulge in a good cry.  I expected the week to be hard--what surprised me was the joy.  Despite the intense emotions, I also laughed harder that week than I could remember doing for a long time.  (Sometimes because the very earnest nurses were so bad at Spanish.  Also there was a broken toilet seat incident.)  It's no secret.  Volunteering feeds the soul.  

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whattodrinkFood and wine pairing. Everyone tries to do it well. Most of the time, you go by the old standards - steak with Cabernet, white wine with fish - with the best of intentions just hoping that they don't clash, but praying you hit it just right. You're hoping, praying you get the perfect mouthful, where the wine and food meld together into something unexpected, complementing and enhancing one another into a perfect delicious union. When that happens, and it's not often enough, it's truly magical.  

There are countless books written on the subject. The "bible" being What to Drink with What You Eat. My copy is so over-used the binding has separated, causing pages to fall out whenever I open it. This book includes just about every food (though oddly not potatoes, but an entire section of cheese) and just what types of beverage (beer, cocktails and tea included) you should pair with each ingredient. We drink wine almost everyday in our house and it's been my passion over the last few years to try to not only become a better cook, but to be more successful at wine pairing. It's a frustrating, hit and miss operation.

What makes it worse is the fact that I usually hit the nail on the head when I don't actually follow a recipe, but mash a few together to accommodate what I have in my fridge and pantry. While these meals are a delight and help boost my confidence in the kitchen, they make me sad and a little angry when they're over because I won't be able to duplicate the experience. I never write it down because I go by taste and feel. Great for the dish, bad for posterity. I know it should be more about the journey, blah, blah, blah, but it would be great to have a few pairing/recipe locks in my repertoire.

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