Friday, February 29, 2008

Hot Buttered Rum!

This delicious hot drink was made upon reaching the cabin at Maple Bay, where we went in late September for celebratory purposes, and for a much-needed weekend of relaxing, communing with nature (and the hammock!) and food-and-drink creation. Check out the entries on Maple Bay at Wedine. Hot buttered rum isn't too difficult to prepare, as you can see from the collage, which basically illustrates the stages step-by-step (click to enlarge). It is worth whipping up a batch if you arrive somewhere chilled after a journey and need a toasty beverage to warm you up. Very rich and tasty and perfect for autumn.


2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
pinch salt
3/4 cup spiced rum
2 cups boiling water
4 sticks cinnamon


Beat sugar, butter, honey and spices until smooth in large bowl. Add rum, then water, and stir until butter dissolves. Divide among four (or five, in our case) mugs and garnish with cinnamon sticks. Enjoy!

Friday, February 15, 2008

The charming wine guy at the Metropolitan

In November, Erin and I went to Seattle with no other mission than to eat, drink, and buy lots of shoes. We had some difficulty with the eating part – two of the restaurants we had really wanted to go to turned out to be closed or shut down for good – but with the drinking part of the mission we succeeded effortlessly.

One of our restaurant searches left us eventually at the Metropolitan, on the advice of our cabbie. I wasn't really in the mood for steak, but I liked the classic, authoritative feeling of the place. And we got to sit in a really cute mini booth. But the best part was the sommelier. He was inspirational enough to make it into my sketchbook. As you can see above, he was a cute old man with short gray hair, glasses, and a bow tie. And, he loved his job, I noted. He drifted from table to table, always smiling. Their wine list was seriously long. So we needed his help. I managed to narrow it down to a riesling, and he matched us up with the J. & H.A. Strub Riesling Kabinett, 2005. And we loved it. The wine guy rules.

Other notable discoveries on our drinking tour of Seattle:
  • We enjoyed another Riesling the night before – American Thanksgiving, when the only restaurant open and not serving turkey was the 24 hr 13 Coins – Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling 2006. This was preceded by Kim Crawford Pinot Noir from New Zealand, and followed by oversized bottles of Miller High Life...
  • At Vons, the only bar we could find open at 6 pm on Thanksgiving, Erin had a glass of beer that was practically as tall as her and I tried one of their variations on a Manhattan – a Southern Grandfather: Jim Beam + Amaretto + a cherry. Yum.
  • I tried Tuaca for the first time: a lightly sweet, amber Italian liqueur based on fine, cask-aged brandy, possessing a rich fruit-like flavor of vanilla and citrus. Mixed with Gin and garnished with an orange slice, I'd drink this again for sure.
That's it!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Holiday Drinks. Yum!

Here is a bottle of Advocaat, the most sought-after liqueur in Britain this Christmas! And why? All because of the 'Nigella Effect.' That's right, Nigella Lawson reminisced about Christmas Drinks Past on her new show, 'Nigella Express,' and that was all it took to get Britain out to the shops to buy 40% more Advocaat than last year.

It's all because the Dutch liqueur is an essential ingredient in a 'Snowball,' one of those sort of drinks that was popular 20 or 30 years ago, but which has since fallen out of fashion. However, Nigella single-handedly revived this cocktail by describing it in all its luscious detail, and now everyone wanted one, including my dad. Many attempts were made over successive days by both my dad and stepmum to snatch up a bottle of Advocaat, but without success, until one was finally snagged on Christmas Eve. Phew!

Advocaat is a yellow liqueur that was originally made by Dutch settlers in Suriname with avocados (hence the name), but when it was made in Holland itself, the Dutch didn't have access to those, and used thickened eggs instead. Advocaat is thus quite like eggnog, and is a love-it-or-hate-it sort of drink, whose ingredients include "a blend of egg yolks, aromatic spirits, sugar or honey, brandy, vanilla and sometimes cream (or evaporated milk)." (Thanks, Wiki).

To make a Snowball, you use one part Advocaat to three parts lemonade (in England lemonade is a fizzy, clear drink, like Sprite) and a dash of lime cordial or lime juice. Stir and pour over ice cubes in a highball glass. It's a frothy delight, I tell you!

Another drink that my dad had a hankering for was a Kir Royale, which we all know is a mixture of blackcurrant liqueur (creme de cassis) and champagne. There are lots of variations – for example, a plain Kir is made with creme de cassis and white wine, whilst a Kir Normand is made with creme de cassis and Normandy cidre. But our Kir Royale was delicious. Like grown-up Ribena. Here it is in all its burgundy loveliness.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Scallops love Muscadet

Les Vergers
Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Sur Lie
France (Loire Valley)

Yesterday, my mom, my sister and I were roaming around town, enjoying the sunny afternoon and looking forward to having uncle Ken over for dinner. As usual, most of our activities for the day revolved around food. In the car, on our way to Granville Island – after a visit to Monde Chocolat and Les Amis du Fromage – we concluded our half hour discussion of what we should cook for dinner, deciding finally on scallops. Specifically, the scallops we made in the summer for WeDine, sauteed with chicory and apples. Yum, yum. Once at Liberty Wines on Granville Island, I described this dish to the nice man who asked if I wanted help, and he brought me straight over to French section and pronounced "Muscadet Sur Lie." His description of its virtues won me over right away: apparently this palette-cleansing wine had the ability to make each bite of our perfect scallops taste as amazing as the very first bite.

Well, he was right. The Muscadet was great with the meal – light, crisp and refreshing, but neutral enough to let the flavours of the food shine. Very dry and low in acidity, it was a bit lacklustre when tasted on its own after the meal.

Something interesting... Liberty offered two levels of this wine – an entry-level one (which I chose) aged sur lie for six months, and a premium-level one aged sur lie for nine months. My helper said that the nine-month one would just "do its (palette-cleansing) job a little bit better."

Here's what wikipedia has to say about sur lie aging:
Sur lie literally translates from the French as 'on lees', [lees being the yeasty residue remaining in the cask after fermentation]. 'Sur lie' wines are bottled directly from the lees without racking (a process for filtering the wine), giving an added freshness and creaminess to the wine.

Oz Clarke says that aging the muscadet sur lie "gives it a bit of life and depth and makes all the difference between interesting neutrality and boring neutrality."

So now I know I'm a fan of interesting neutrality – I'd buy this wine again, next time I'm cooking up some rich seafood.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Prickly Pear Cactus Liqueur

I had this amazingly beautiful liqueur at the Canadian embassy in Paris this summer. What I was doing there was a long story, but the drink was was given as a gift to the ambassador by one of his staff on the occasion of his leaving service (the ambassador's retirement, that is). The ambassador then chose to share it with his family and with me and Michelle, which was lovely (and lucky for us!).

The liqueur is made with fico di india (literally 'indian fig'), which is one of the Italian names for the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. The fruits are funny little red buds on top of the flat (and very prickly!) cactus paddles. The liqueur is made in Sicily and Malta, and is sometimes called Bajtra. The staff served it in cut crystal glasses, and it was a startlingly red colour, almost glowing in the light of the lamp. The flavour was strong and sweet and had sour notes too. The sharing of the drink was so generous and had a lot of meaning for the ambassador – such is the power of food and drink.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

L'Amour du Cidre: Un Collage Cidre

This year's vacation was all about cidre francais and crepes.

The above collage shows some of the many cidres Laura and I sampled in Brittany. We began our journey by flying into Paris (11 hours), elbowing our way through the Métro (1.5 hours), and collapsing into our seats on the train (4.5 hours). Meeting up with Andrew and Jenny the next morning, we drove to our destination, the Kergudon Cottages, in St Cadou (1 hour from Brest).

While driving to our accomodation, we passed by an enticing looking creperie - L'Armorique and determined we would drop our luggage and come directly back for lunch. How lucky we were, delicious crepes were ordered and consumed along with the perfect cidre - Kerné (top row, 2 on left). It has the perfect sweetness, bubbles and finish, presented in a bolée (champagne bottle). I first tasted this several years ago on my first trip to Bretagne and have been dreaming about tasting it again ever since. We (Laura, Andrew, Jenny and I) all lament the loss of the Creperie de Lost March where we first sipped its sweetness.Sharing this bottle our first day in Brittany was a lovely way to start our holiday. Pouring in action(3rd row, last pic). Unfortunately, this was the only time we encountered this delicious nectar during our trip (though not for a lack of trying). Incidentally, this town, Landerneau, is also one of the only places in Europe with an inhabited bridge (others include Florence - Ponte Vecchio, historically the original London Bridge was inhabited until the Victorians messed with it - apparently big ships where more important - bah!!!)

While in St Cadou, many different cidres were purchased and drunk, some of the labels are shown above. They ranged from the 2 pack of 1.5L bottles for €2.75 (1st row, 4th pic) to the €3 bottles (2nd row, 4th pic; 3rd row, 3rd pic) to the tasty Kerné (€8 in a restaurant). In an effort to sample other regional products Laura and I purchased a bottle of Chouchenn. Chouchenn (Hydromiel) is a mead made from honey and apple juice and is often served as an aperitif (1st row, 3rd pic; 3rd row, 1st pic; 4th row, 3rd pic). This was tasty but many others around the table didn't enjoy it. All the more for us I say!!

There are also two other breton beverages we did not get to try (we had to save something for next year): pommeau and lambig. Pommeau is a beverage of unfermented cidre mixed with apple whiskey/brandy and aged before being drunk as an aperitif (appellation in Bretange and Normandie) while Lambig is an apple whiskey/brandy

Ah, this trip was heavenly! Every corner store, grocery, restaurant and roadside stand contained some cider. It is usually served cold in the bolée or in a pitcher, with a boule (small ceramic teacup) to drink from. These vessels are seen in several of the pictures above.

Down the road from the cottages, where we were staying, we spent several days on the beach of Lake Drenec. We sampled the almond Magnum ice cream bars and couldn't resist the creperie. I ordered an andouille sausage crepe which I didn't enjoy - it was the musty smell, Laura ordered a tasty ham and cheese one. The saving grace was the bottle of Val de Rance cidre we while sitting under a clear blue sky in the sun (2nd row, 1st pic; 4th row, 2nd pic).

A note in the rare cases when in Brittany where no cidre is available (Sacre bleu!) or you are drinking alone and bottle will be too much, turn to another delicious beverage Breizh cola. Breton in the Breton language is Breizh a word often seen here. The cola is a delicious, refreshing and non-alcoholic alternative when cidre evades.

Following our week in St Cadou, we continued on to Rennes, the capital of Brittany. Rennes seems like a sea side town even thought it is completely landlocked. It had innumerable timber frame buildings from the 15 - 16th centuries and walking down some empty streets lined by these buildings, felt like you had fallen into the past. Many of the timber frames were residential on the top levels with restaurants and divey bars below ( 2nd row, 2nd picture). In a divey celtic pub, we enjoyed a boule before heading to the cinema to see Persepolis en francais. We were 2 of 7 in the theatre with no line ( unlike the lines at TIFF for the premiere in North America).
The next day we visited the Creperie de Porte des Mordelaises and supped on crepes with a pitcher of cider (2nd row, 3rd pic; 4th row, 4th pic). Porte des Mordelaises was one of the gates to the city the medieval period.

Laura had read about a good creperie in Mont St Michel called La Sirene. It has a great view of the main street from its' second floor locale and you could only gain entry by winding your way through a ultra-kitschy gift shop. We dined on crepes and cidre before heading towards the top of the mount (4th row, 1st pic).

On the final leg of our journey, Paris, we did not drink any cidre - what a shame. But after all the quality cidre from Brittany, our hearts and tastebuds just weren't into substandard drink.

We did however purchase a special bottle of cidre to bring back with us to Canada from the fermier stand in Giverny. We saved it for a special occasion when friends were together and we shared the gift of sweet french cidre with them on a sunny afternoon in September.

Until the next cidre adventure....

Photos and collage courtesy of Laura.