“We have to lose our terror of the mundane. We have to use our skills and imagination and our art, to re-create the rhythms of the endless crisis of normality, and in doing so, expose the policies and processes that make ordinary things — food, water, shelter and dignity — such a distant dream for ordinary people.”
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
Those who know me are very aware of my penchant for the dramatic, the mysterious and the illicit. If it's got a story and a bit of history chances are that I'll be intrigued!
I've been enjoying the European absinthes illicitly for years and I simply adore their deeply satisfying herbaceous flavor that smells like a walk through a midwinter forest , piney , icy and filled with running sap and wintergreen that's been trampled under foot.
Fortunately for a bohemian sort of girl like me, the US ban on absinthe was lifted several years ago and there are several wonderful versions sold in the United States that I can legally enjoy, Lucid and Mata Hari being 2 of the brands that come first to my mind. I love the rituals surrounding the drinking of it, the flourish of spectacular goblets and the slotted silver absinthe spoons adorned with a lump of sugar. An absinthe fountain is the final bit of theatre, a gorgeous creation of crystal and sterling that drips chilled spring water into the glass, melting the sugar cube and causing the absinthe to change from a simple clear liquid to a luminous pearlescent elixir.
I cannot stress enough the importance of learning to serve absinthe properly because that's part of the real enjoyment! Last weekend, I was at a very expensive restaurant that was serving Lucid absinthe at the bar and although they had a fountain, the bartender used it improperly, serving my absinthe warm and without apology. He then went on to incorrectly answer the questions that his patrons were asking about it , leaving them confused and unable to enjoy the simple luxury of a perfectly prepared glass of absinthe. I know that perhaps it sounds silly, but the theatre surrounding this particular spirit is half of the fun of drinking it. I know that I sound terribly traditional and in this case I am. The correct accoutrements are very important and as a dear friend who knows me very well from the late seventies remarked "Would that be an opium pipe?". I should be ashamed to say yes, although it's been decades since I've had the pleasure. But I'm not!
The active ingredient in a proper absinthe is Artemisia Absinthium, more commonly known as Grande Wormwood. It lends an incredibly bright slightly bitter anise- like herbal flavor and is the supposedly psychoactive element that was the reason that absinthe gained such a notorious reputation in the first place seducing the hearts and minds of such luminaries as Oscar Wilde, Toulouse- Lautrec, Van Gogh and Aleister Crowley. Romantically referred to as "la fee' verte" or The Green Fairy, absinthe will be forever linked with an era of decadence that was passionate , provocative and slightly dangerous.
It is said that the buzz from a glass of absinthe starts out slow and by the second glass your senses are heightened yet you are still very aware of your surroundings. By the third glass supposedly you will meet your muse. I've never gotten as far as the third glass, but I definitely find the brightened awareness that a glass of absinthe brings to be very pleasurable. These days absinthe is mixed into many different cocktails, most notably the Sazerac, a fabulous blend of rye, absinthe, bitters, sugar and a caramelized lemon peel that originated in New Orleans.
I love it best taken by itself with that simple blend of sugar and water or stirred into a glass of champagne where it takes on a completely different and indefinably elegant twist. Before you experiment with any of these cocktails though ,you owe it to yourself to try a delicious absinthe just once prepared in the style of Van Gogh or Toulouse- Lautrec. Who knows what will happen when you get kissed by the La Fee' Verte , but you owe to yourself at least once to find out!
Now just catch the wind on wings of La Fee' Verte and fly over to Roxana Villas Illuminated Journal to read how the Mistress of Natural Perfumes uses Absinthe in her craft!
I love apples and I adore ice cream so what better thing to do with the abundance of fresh apples to be had in the fall than combine the two! I made a Tarte Tatin yesterday, that delectable French upside down tart and there was a bit left over. It was rich and simply loaded with butter, cinnamon and fresh apples on a flaky Pate' Brisee crust. Not wanting to waste it and simply dying to experiment with the new Cuisinart ice cream maker that I bought myself I decided to make it into something else altogether!
The results were absolutely delicious! I simply broke up the remaining Tarte Tatin, crust and all (I am sure that this would work just as well with apple pie!) and put it into my vitamix with half and half, cinnamon, some maple syrup, fresh pecans and the left over whipped cream. I ran the Vitamix for a minute and then thought ..."hmmmm...white cheddar!" I had a brick of Dubliner so I tossed a bit of it in for good measure and the result was really incredible. There was more than enough brown sugar caramel left in the tart so I didn't need to sweeten it further and the cheddar provided a nutty saltiness that is really appealing. I chilled the mixture for a bit and poured it into the ice cream maker , following the simple instructions!
About half way through the freezing process I ran out to my yard and grabbed a handful of fresh sage that I minced and added to the mixture. 25 minutes later I was rewarded with the most wonderful ice cream. It was creamy, full of caramel apple flavor and the bits of pecan and white cheddar simply added to it's divinity.
Simple Observations: Don't add the sage last and definitely use dried not fresh. Mine got hung up on the paddle.
This is more of a Freddo then a ice cream due to the lack of egg and the abundance of heavy cream. Consequently, it's a bit icier...a consistency that I really like!
Every year I look forward to the month of September for many
reasons, but mostly because the harvest season with its totally unabashed
abundance inspires me to begin really cooking again! Summertime is wonderful with all of it’s light fresh meals,
but it’s the long slow braises of autumn and the scents of apple butter, chili and stews that feed my soul at this time
of year. If we’re lucky this year,
the Indian summer will bring with it bonfires, apples and clambakes and lots of fresh cider. As soon as I feel the first chill in the
air I’ll begin to think about making Cidre’, that thoroughly seductive French
hard cider that my son and nephew love to drink all winter long as well as delicious
slowly baked Apple Tarte’ Tatins that
emerge from the oven dripping with butter andoozing with creamy salted caramel.Mornings will start with fresh cinnamon toast from thebakery around the corner spread with
spicy homemade apple butter.
I begin longing for these treats in the last weeks of August
when plump red apples start falling from my trees and the smell of their
ripeness begins to waftthrough my
windows with the warm breeze.Riding the trails this time of year is
an incredibly delicious experience with the warm windfall apples crunching
under Henry’s hooves ,the last of
the ripening berries that I can steal from the birds and the sticky sweetness
of the molding fallen leaves.When
my son Alex was just a little boy,(he's the one in the picture above hanging a bird house in one of our apple trees!) I used to take him apple picking at a farm
that was right around the corner. We’d spend the day picking apples and the
fragrant concord grapes so ripe that they were covered with wild yeasts.We’d bring a lunch of fresh cheese and
warm bread and we’d spend the day playing among the trees , choosing the best
apples and coming home with huge bags of fruit.Alex was homeschooled and one year my husband came home to
find two huge jars on the sink filled with cider and bubbling very mysteriously.“It’s an organic chemistry experiment
dad….we’re makingCidre’ “ my son
proudly told his father! Jim looked at me in disbelief, but I was relentless
and besides, I knew that he’d love the results!
I think that was the point that my husband officially began
to question my sanity, but when the time came to fill the bottles with the
sweetly alcoholic brew even he got in on the action. There’s something about
the act of putting things by that brings out the provider in every man and I’ll
never forget the sight of him helping Alex siphon the liquid from the carboys
into the bottles that we’d labeled so proudly. We let the Cidre’ settle for another month or two and then we
opened the first bottle. It was perfectly delicious and amazingly fresh and
Apple cordial is easy to make as well. Just take many peeled
and cored fresh apples, slice them and put into a bottle of spiced rum. Add
more spice if you like, a whole vanilla bean, some whole cinnamon sticks ,
raisins and a bit ofbrown sugar
or molasses. Shake and then let the whole thing sit for month.Pour it into several pretty bottles and
give it as Christmas gifts. This is a wonderfullysatisfying treat servedin pretty glasses and drunk next to acozy fire. Add a happy feline and stir!
I have my own
apple trees once again and this year I am going to rent a cider press so that I
can use my own fresh apple cider to make the first batch of Cidre’ that I will
have attempted in many years.I’ll
also make apple butter with bourbon and as much chutney as I can bottle.Making apple butter is one of the
easiest things that you can do with a surplus of fresh apples. The traditional
way calls for a huge copper pot and a bonfire ,the way that it’s made every year at the Apple Butter
Festival in Burton, Ohio.The Century
Village in Burton has a wonderful festivalevery year where you can see apple butter being made in this
way. We used to get up at 5:00 amand meet our friends Bethane and Doc to
partake in this particular alchemy….that of turning apples, cider, cinnamon,
butter ,sugar and smokeinto the
rich and golden spread. True apple butter made in this way takes hours to melt
it down. First you build the bonfire and then you bring out the cauldron which
is literally bigger than a kitchen sink!Add apples and cider and stir with a wooden paddle ,every now and then adding more crates
of peeled apples.Eventually, the
apple butter experts come round and deem the pot fit for canningaddingvast amounts of cinnamon, sugar and butter to the already
delightful mixture. Every now and then you’ll buy a jar that has a bee in it….
signs ofvery good luck and a
naturally made product!
Lacking a bonfire but owning a wonderful copper pot, I make
apple butter every year at home. It’s very simple and makes your kitchen as
well as the rest of your house smell incredible.I embellish a little bit simply because I can, but in the
end it’s apple butter plain and simple.Try this because its one of the most satisfyingAutumnconserves that you can make.
You will need:
Tons of apples, sliced and cored!It’s your call as to peel them or not, I keep the peels on
because I like them, but the purists say remove them!
A large bottle of fresh apple cider
Cups of brown sugar
Huge amounts of cinnamon
At least one stick of very good butter
A slow cooker or a large copper pot (the slow cooker works
very well ,but it never gets quite
as creamy as it will if you stand for hours cooking out the liquid and
stirringhappygood wishes into the pot!)
Here’s the simple recipe. Put the apples into the pot or
cooker,add enough cider to
cover and cook for as many hours as it takes to really cook them down . When
it’s almost done add the cinnamon to taste, brown sugar and enough butter to
have it be silky and smooth.
When it’s done pour it intosterilized glass jars and seal tightly.
Now…. to gild the lily as they say! This simple recipe
although wonderful doesn’t quite do it for me.Real apple butter made over a bonfire has a bit of a smoky
taste so at the very end I add a bit of organic liquid smoke.Sometimes, I leave it at that, but more
than often I’ll add some bourbon, something wonderful like a Woodford Reserve
or a Bookers, because you will taste it!
If I want it to beapple chutney instead ofapple butter, I’llmake it
in the slow cooker and add raisins, lemons , walnuts and onions and a little
bit of the liquid smoke. I play with the spices, sometimes adding fresh sage
from my garden and sometimes add a bit of brandy or a touch of single malt. To serve add a freshly roasted chicken
or a loaf of fresh bread and a large wedge ofwhite cheddar.
Please promise me that you’ll have fun with the harvest this
year and make a promise to yourself to put something by even if your stillroom
is the teensy kitchen in your apartment.. In the end, that’s what
food like this is about , because
it’s slow, creative and fresh. Let
it become a real part of your seasonal experience and enjoy the journeyas well as the results!
Last but not least, I leave you with this little ditty...The Johnny Appleseed song. This lovely song is what my husbands family sings every time they get together. Because there are so many of them and they are some damn musical they sing it acoustically and in 4 part harmony. It's a gorgeous family tradition that has been sung at blessings, funerals , deathbeds and Thanksgivings for many years.
Now, run as quickly as you can over to Roxana Villa's Illuminated Journal ,where she will delight you with her thoughts about the fragrant and lovely Apple and it's place in her wonderful perfumes!
All photographs and text (except for the video of course!) are protected by my copyright! Thanks for not using them without my permission!