Monthly Archives: December 2015

End of Year Buzz

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Everyone’s talking about the unseasonable weather. Too hot, too cold, no snow, too much rain.

Here in eastern France, after a glorious autumn and then a first snowfall that was properly timed and then quickly melted, it’s been warm.

So warm, in fact, that a few of the bees under the eaves left their protective winter huddle and ventured out to explore the winter landscape, which sees our hydrangeas budding and otherwise dormant flowers starting to blossom.

Bee on a window shutter Photos: PKR

Bee on a window shutter
Photos: PKR

The bees wander around the outside of the house.

They attempt winter pollination of the holiday floral decorations.

They must be so confused.

As are we.

Bee on a winter rose (Helleborus orientalis)

Bee on a winter rose (Helleborus orientalis)

Comfort Zones

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I’d be the first to admit that my knowledge of tequilas is mainly limited to the stuff I did in shot form back in college in the tradition of salt on the hand and lick (to kill the taste), toss back the shot (grimace), bite the lime (to kill the taste).

I haven’t spent much time revisiting the drink except in the occasional margarita, even if some of those were made with excellent tequila and a variety of juices besides lime. I had a smoky pomegranate version at some point, and the fact that I can’t remember where is an indication of just how good that cocktail was (I want to say it was in Los Angeles? Maybe London?).

Fresh, handmade tortilla chips in a variety of flavors. Addictive. All photos: PKR

Fresh, handmade tortilla chips in a variety of flavors. Addictive.
All photos: PKR

Here’s a suggestion that margaritas assume the new role as the drink of New Year’s Eve, and while I can’t say I’ll be exchanging my champagne flute for a margarita glass at the stroke of midnight, it’s a legitimate proposal.

On a recent trip to Baja California, I had the pleasure of getting outside my comfort zone and into some really good tequila, the kind of stuff that isn’t easy to find outside the country.

My father happens to live near Ensenada, and if he’s as much of a whisky fan as I am, he’s also become something of a tequila aficiodano.

Religious candles, shoe polish and insect spray, an unexpected combination of cylinders.

Religious candles and shoe polish, an unexpected combination of cylinders.

 

One of the tequilas he pulled from the shelf was the Herradura Ultra, a newish addition to the Herradura premium line that is a mixture of añejo (aged 1-3 years) and extra añejo (aged over 3 years). In the case of the Ultra, a 25-month-old añejo is mixed with premium extra añejo that’s been aged in bourbon barrels for up to four years in American White Oak barrels.

 

herradura-tequila-ultra-01

The common brown hues are filtered out, some pure agave nectar is added, and the result is a clear drink with a crystalline taste that rings like a bell. It’s got a lovely oakiness, with sweet hints of vanilla, almond and fruit. Meant to be chilled and then served neat, just the way I like the best spirits.

This stuff is so smooth, it has almost no resemblance with the stuff I knew from way back when. Salt on the hand and a lime? Banish the thought!

I was smitten.

Tequila Herradura, as the Grupo Industrial Herradura is generally known, was founded in 1870 in Amatitán, Jalisco, Mexico. The distillery is now owned by U.S. run Brown-Forman, but Herradura continues its traditional production from growing the agave to the finished product, and the spirit is still made from agave hearts roasted in clay ovens, then fermented with wild yeast.

Clown cupcakes, perfect for anyone trying to combat coulrophobia, fear of clowns.

Clown cupcakes, perfect for anyone trying to combat coulrophobia, fear of clowns. Also perfect for anyone trying to induce coulrophobia in others.

We bought two bottles at a supermarket in Enseneda to bring home to France, a place that had a range of tequilas comparable to the whisky shelves in good European supermarkets and which opened my eyes to everything I must be missing. I’m sorry to say that we won’t be drinking our imports all to quickly, because at the time of this writing, Herradura Ultra isn’t yet available in Europe.

You might be wondering why this post doesn’t have any images of the tequila itself in our glasses, or the tequila shelves.

An inexplicable cake and cupcake set featuring what I suppose a Santa's belt cake and elf cap cupcakes. At least, that's my interpretation. There's nothing like going into a large foreign supermarket to get out of your comfort zone when it comes to food assumptions.

An inexplicable cake and cupcake set featuring what I suppose a Santa’s belt cake and elf cap cupcakes. At least, that’s my interpretation.
There’s nothing like going into a large foreign supermarket to get out of your comfort zone when it comes to food assumptions.

Those images, which I had dutifully recorded in anticipation of this post, were lost along with my phone when I dropped it into the Pacific Ocean on an early morning walk. I was dodging an unexpected wave that swamped the shore and took my phone back out to sea with it when it retreated. The images here were from our other camera.

One thing I won’t be dodging in the future is premium tequila.

The phone-thieving and ever unrepentant Pacific.

The phone-thieving and ever unrepentant Pacific.

 

 

 

Light Show

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We’re north of Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico.

First evening sunset. All photos: PKR

First evening sunset.
All photos: PKR

 

The place we’re staying is directly on a small beach. Well, ‘small’ is probably the wrong word.

photo 2-5

 

It doesn’t have a poetic name, it doesn’t have majestic cliffs, it doesn’t have any fancy restaurants or hotels or activities.

photo 5-3

 

It’s just a regular, small, coastal beach on the Pacific Ocean. My favorite.

 

Small but filled with the sky. 12316080_10206990175466031_4192824010251365864_n

 

Shadows and Light

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An unexpectedly glorious evening drew me out for a sunset run this week.

I got out while the sun was still peeking over the Jura, creating sharp divisions between gold-drenched light and the shadows below.

French Jura All photos: PKR

French Jura
All photos: PKR

These two fellows up on the hill were in high spirits, and stopped what they were doing to watch me watching them.photo 1-7

As I turned to leave, I heard the loud thudding of a rapid approach, and turned to find one curious pony who was ready for his close-up.photo 2-7

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Well, there was one cloud, strategically placed as if to provide a last glowing mirror for the setting sun.

Far in the background, over the mouth of the Rhône Valley, were a couple of contrails. I realized one reason the sky was so dazzlingly clear was that there were no other trails – usually the blue dome is criss-crossed the lines of jets flying across Europe.photo 5-2

 

It was an evening of appreciation.

I’m preparing to launch a new sister blog for ChampagneWhisky soon, one that will be open for contributions. Hopefully by the beginning of the new year. I look forward to new horizons.