Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Drinking it All In...

Hooray, today I'm turning the podium over to my favorite traveling partner and teacher of many things...my husband, Ed.

This last year, we've had the pleasure of sampling location-specific libations on several continents. It got me to thinking ... about how food and drink culture at home are probably the most directly influenced by our travels.

Sure, I may love the head scarves in Jordan; but, I'm not necessarily going to don one the moment I return home from a trip to Petra. However, I will stock my pantry with pandan leaf, kefir lime, and shrimp paste after a trip to Bali.
(I have the overstuffed freezer to prove it.)

The memory of travel infuses our kitchen with just as much impact as when juniper infuses gin -- and our potential enjoyment of cocktail hour has never seemed brighter, as a result.

I call this pic of Ed, in St. Maarten, "Triste de Coco" (Sad Coconut)
Perhaps he thought it should be full of rum!

So, I'll hand the pen over to my own Master of the Mix, whose understanding of the liquid arts never ceases to impress.




Noted mixologist, botanist, and author Eben Klemm once said to me, "everything starts out as beer." Looking past me at the bottles situated neatly atop a glowing lit shelf, he continued. "I mean originally they were plants. But you can make anything with sugar into alcohol. In theory you could make cocktails out of this chair."

He was right. Trees are plants. And they make great chairs. Some even make good spirits.

Then, he asked me to pull a draft beer into a pint glass for demonstration.

"The Egyptians used to take rye or wheat and shove it into a clay pot. They would fill it with water and add some yeast to hasten its spoilage. Then they would rest it in the sun. Those were the first vats. Then they would stick a reed in it and suck the beer from the bottom. It was a simple process. And it took the edge off after a hard day of building the pyramids." Then, at 9:30am in his place of employment, he took a satisfying sip of modern, craft beer. The juxtaposition of images was perfect.

We've come a long way, since reeds in clay pots!

Persians would later discover distillation, or how to evaporate only the alcohol out of this substance, and use it as a base for their valuable perfumes. (Eventually some folks started drinking their perfumes. Many Arabs still do to avoid getting busted in Conservative States).

With this knowledge of distillation, spirits were born. Political factors drove drinking away from what is now Iran (as well as the versatile grape Syrah). But Europe would refine these ideas in their monasteries and on their powerful ships. Those ships would discover the new world where, as all good things that go in your mouth, necessity created the cocktail.

At Ilana's speakeasy-themed prohibition birthday party.
We drank out of teacups to disguise our tipples.

If Jazz is America's only true art form, the cocktail is our only true cuisine. Sometime during the westward expansion, local whiskey was predictably horrible -- if not dangerous -- to drink. Ice was not available. Fresh fruit or juice was scarce. But there were bottles of other stuff in most saloons. Fortified wines like Vermouth had indefinite shelf lives. Pickled items like olives and cherries could be counted on not to kill you weeks later.

Occasionally an orange or a lemon from a new place called California could be muddled in a sugar cube and balanced with bitters. Add even your least favorite whiskey and kick back. Thus the original cocktail was born. A recipe so antique that we now refer to it by its nickname: an "old fashioned."

I have been trained by famous sommeliers and managed fashionable wine cellars. But my love and knowledge of where these libations all come from would change forever when the love of my life decided to drag me all over the world. She's an anthropologist and a world traveler. And her love of what makes us who we are and my love of what makes us forget who we are all came together in far away locales, both exotic and familiar.

Some choice bottles from our recent stay in Tuscany.

Brunello in Tuscany? Yes please. What goes well with Palm spirits? Turns out it's aromatic ginger and pandan leaf. Where is the best ice wine in the world from? Canada. Everywhere in the world something can be washed down, knocked back, and simply savoured. Even the chair, should it come to that.

The Green Pandan & The Carambola, at Mozaic Restaurant
(Ubud,  Bali)

Remember, it's a big world -- drink it up!


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following: