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Posts Tagged ‘winter’

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The start of fall marks a very important moment in the year where the leaves begin turning, the nights and mornings are crisp and cool, and the sweaters come out of storage.  Most importantly though, this is the last chance you have to make some tasty beverages that you can enjoy during the winter holiday season.  This year, I’m prepping some Aronia Berry and Blackberry Schnapps as well as some Red Plum Liqueur.  Making treats like this require 3 months at minimum to sit so you should probably drop whatever you’re doing and get started.  You’re probably wondering why I didn’t alert you to this sooner if 3 months is the minimum, but I’m a realist.  You, as well as I most likely don’t have the patience or willpower to resist cracking one of these open if it was going to sit beyond 3 months, so really I’m doing you a favor.

Fortunately prep is minimal and there is quite a bit of margin for error so you can even embark upon this project after a hard day of apple picking and tipping back the hard cider.  Before the instructions though, let’s go over a little bit of terminology.  For our purposes, let’s assume you reside in the US for this terminology lesson.

What does it all mean, Aaron???

Liqueur or Cordial: Distilled spirit infused with fruit, cream, herbs, spices, flowers, or nuts and a sweetener.

Schnapps:  Derived from the German word Schnaps, or “Swallow” in English.  Any kind of alcoholic drink with distilled spirit in it. Most bottled schnapps will usually be infused with some natural flavoring.  Does not necessarily need to be sweetened.

Therefore, liqueur or cordials are kinds of schnapps, but schnapps is not a kind of liqueur or cordial.  Now, if you are traveling to parts of northern Europe, Schnapps will likely be some infused brandy or aquavit.  Traveling to the UK and that cordial is most likely going to be some non-carbonated soda pop (Sound tasty?).

 

Recipes For Tasty Goodness

A note on which distilled spirit to use:  If you’ve ever seen a recipe that calls for neutral grain spirit, they are talking about vodka.  Before you get your flavored end-product, it all starts with a pure distillate that is about as close to being only ethanol and water that the producer could get it to (or cared to).  After that you add your flavorings to produce that whole array of colorful beverages in the liquor store.  Gin, although classified into its own category starts as vodka as well.  The difference between schnapps and all of those flavored vodkas? Not much.

Aronia Berry and Blackberry Schnapps

  • 16 oz of Aronia Berries (They’re super trendy right now so you can find them frozen or fresh in any upscale grocery store).
  • 10 oz of Blackberries
  • 750 ml of distilled spirit
  • 1 2000 ml mason jar or sealable glass container

Intense instructions: Put all of the ingredients into your glass container.  Seal. Put into a cool and dark place like your basement and do not touch it for at least 3 months.

Red Plum Liqueur

  • 6 Red Plums
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar or rock sugar
  • 750 ml of distilled spirit
  • 1 2000 ml mas jar or sealable glass container

Intense instructions: Put the plums into the jar. Put the vodka into the jar.  Pour the sugar over the top. Resist the temptation to shake or stir it. Put into a cool and dark place like your basement and do not touch it for at least 3 months.

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Recently, NPR ran a story about the Danish concept of Hygge (“hue-gah”).  Admittedly, I didn’t actually hear the story, but was told about it be someone who only wishes to be described as “The best person in the world” and “Incredibly sexy”, but nonetheless, it sparked both of our interests and some thorough Google research and execution of the concept soon followed.  A quick definition of the word would be as difficult to do as defining Terroir for the wine world, but at its heart Hygge is a warm emotional connection to a moment.  “Cozy” seems to come up a lot when describing it.  However, the best found definition was found here.  The current theory is that Hygge is responsible, or at least a large part of why the Danes are so happy according to people who measure that sort of thing.  Naturally, those of us in Minnesota have been taken with the concept since Hygge is particularly an effective draw during our winter months.  In other words, we view it as a way to stave off the impending madness that comes from the winter doldrums.

Some examples of Hyggelig (“hue-gah-lee”) things:

  • Savoring a warm meal with someone while being basked in the candlelight.
  • Curling up on the couch with your cup of morning coffee and reading a book.
  • Enjoying the conversation of friends on a cold winter’s eve.
  • Hearing your soft footsteps running on a trail in the snow.

Basically, Hygge, is what this blog is all about for those of us who are imbued with the world of wine. Interestingly enough, the other dovetail of Hygge and this blog (which I assume is the American national past time) is that it’s all about mental framing and priming.  When an idea is framed, it is put in a certain context.  This is like setting the boundaries of a debate topic, or when the media presents a story in a certain light; in a way, how you think about something is restricted by the parameters set forth.  Priming on the other hand is presenting bits of information ahead of time that influence the direction your thought process goes down in the future.  If you’re paranoid, you’d probably call this being brainwashed.

You will like this wine.  Shhh, don't talk, just drink.

You will like this wine. Shhh, don’t talk, just drink.

Framing and priming are an integral part of the wine and food experience.  We have expectations [framing] as to what a wine will taste like and if it meets or exceeds that expectation we will have a positive experience.  If we just recently took a whiff of a particular herb and we notice an herbal smell in a wine, we are more likely to label that wine aroma with the herb we originally took a whiff of [priming].  This is why wine descriptors, although fun and sometimes poetic, are mostly bullshit, but I will have more to say about that in a future post.  I have often been asked how I create wonderful experiences revolving around wine and food and to take away some of the shroud of mystery, it’s mostly that I am able to frame and prime people’s mental state in the way that I want for the experience I give them.  Yes, I have a certain level of cooking ability and a knack for judging what wines various people will like with a meal, but if I just set a dish down with a glass of wine down and said “Here’s your dinner. Eat it alone.”  the Hyggelig-ness (I just created that) of the situation would drop dramatically.  So I put the lights down a little lower, set the music to match the mood (always have music), light some candles, point out aspects of the food and wine that I think go together well, and lo and behold; suddenly we’re having a good time.

Let’s take that clambake I did back in the summer as an example.  If you tried to recreate that yourself, you could have gotten the exact same food and the exact same wine, but it could have really sucked as an experience for you if you ate it in a hurry in between doing errands or with a dog constantly barking at you, or perhaps you were just in a bad mood.  You really have to linger in the experience to the point where it become intimate.  Notice I didn’t say grand, opulent, or even fancy. Just intimate.  Connected.

Anyway, tonight I will be creating some Hygge with a dish of pasta, chorizo, and chickpeas and most likely a darkly fruity red wine (Pro secret: you can generally enjoy any wine with any food as long as you like them both and make slight adjustments if necessary).  I will wear my most Hygge heavy shawl sweater.  The atmosphere will be set with a fire in the fireplace, some ambient candle light, the lights from the Christmas tree, and some music turned down low as the snow falls outside.  Conversation will be enjoyable, and most importantly, the experience will be lingered over.

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Hygge prep

As the Cranberries once asked: “Do you have to, do you have to, do you have to let in linger?” To that I say Yes, Cranberries, yes you have to let it linger.  Therefore, I hope all of you, especially those of us in the wintry north and the shortest days, find some Hygge this winter.

Mega-Hygge candle

Mega-Hygge candle

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How about something new and exciting?  As you all know, I tend to look down upon tasting notes.  Mainly because they are subjective and also because wine critics tend to be a little flamboyant in their descriptions.  One might also notice that negative reviews are also rarely published, which hardly creates a ‘Consumer Reports’ type guide for the casual drinker (Even CR failed miserably at doing this too).  My great fear in critiquing wines besides being accused of playing favorites with wine makers is that I may end up being TOO flamboyant with my descriptions.  But, like every other wine drinker out there, I feel the need to express my opinion sometimes.  Therefore, a compromise between my principles and my penchant for writing ludicrous descriptions through run-on sentences must be reached.  For the sake of the wine maker, I will not list the wine I am tasting (even if it is outstandingly good), but be rest-assured these are all based on actual experiences.  The astute will probably at least be able to pick out the varietal and where it comes from.  With that, I give you The Tasting Notes Series (TNS for short). And because I’m sure you’re all jazzed up about this now, here is the first one:

 

The Tasting Notes Series: #1

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Drinking this wine I am reminded of a foot race I used to run in the middle of February across a frozen Chequamegon Bay in northern Wisconsin.  As the sun would slip down past the horizon, the winter chill took over bringing the temperatures to hover around zero or below.  No matter how many times one is exposed to the steely frigidness of the Northlands, it will always take the breath away the next time it settles in and finds the cracks between the layers that have put on.  The race was of course at night and the scene was reminiscent of thousands of Nordic warriors lining up for a battle in full armor, battle cries and all.  Pyres ten feet high marked each kilometer, and for the locals they sparked courage for only they seemed confident that the licking flames would not settle down through the packed snow and ice that separated the brave souls from an icy grave at the bottom of the bay.  The course was also marked with ice lanterns, beautifully flickering through the night off their imperfect walls adorned with ice crystals. Upon initial glance one may be fooled into thinking this was a rite of passage into some Viking society and only the strong would survive, but the festiveness of it all was enough evidence to convince one that people actually do this for fun.  The wind was enough to make one grind their teeth until the enamel was burnt away leaving a crisp, yet slightly acrid taste in the mouth.  Each footstep was uncertain in its placement on treacherous terrain, but the dedicated pressed on with hope of a brightly lit finish line in the distance.  In the end one expected fireworks, but they never went off at the right time and the feeling of landing the final step would quickly diminish as it was realized that the building climax to this journey turned out to be rather anti-climactic.  The reward was merely accomplishing the feat and never having to do it again.

…That is to say that this wine should be served almost intolerably chilled and enjoyed for its simple, raw pleasures while being quickly consumed.  It would certainly best be had in the high heat of a steamy summer day in order to take the edge off.

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