Maui Mixology

I’m not sure what I was expecting from the poolside cocktail mixing class at the Hotel Wailea on Maui – the reinforcement of a few basics, maybe a couple of exotic ingredients in a familiar drink. We’d signed up the day before for the mixology class, but by the time it rolled around at 11 a.m., we felt like we’d already had a long day of intense touristing behind us, working hard to get the most out of our vacation.

Just after dawn on Haleakala, a wild mix of clouds and colors.

Just after dawn on Haleakala, a wild mix of clouds and colors.

We’d spent the morning making the drive from the coast of Maui up to the summit of Haleakala to watch the sunrise from 10,000 feet above the ocean, high above the clouds and slopes of Maui. We’d gotten up at 3 a.m., watched the 7 a.m. sunrise, and gave ourselves a pat on the back for getting up early and seeing such a spectacular sight as a reward.

Sometimes having fun requires a genuine effort.

Kerry, the beverage wizard who was teaching the mixology class, blithely dispensed with cocktail basics within the first ten minutes. What she really wanted to talk about was a lesson altogether more fundamental: the place in life where we take what we have on hand and make something wonderful. Less hard work, more appreciation.

For example, simple syrups. Sure, anyone can buy a simple syrup – that basic sweetener, water and sugar cooked together. And adding a flavor to that concoction is nothing new.

A few samples of simple syrup: Honey, jalapeño, rose, lavender, hibiscus.

A few samples of simple syrup: Honey, jalapeño, rose, lavender, hibiscus.

What I liked about Kerry’s approach was the notion of making just about anything into simple syrup, the spices or herbs or flowers or chilis or leaves that are in the kitchen, in the refrigerator, in the garden or blooming on the balcony. I especially liked her low-heat approach to processing these ingredients – in a blender with water and sugar, and then some time sitting in the sun before straining – adding sunlight to maintain pure flavors and come up with a lavender mojito, or a hibiscus margarita.

She introduced our small class to the lovely Pau Vodka, a Maui-produced spirit based on pineapple. Now, pineapple was introduced to the Hawaiian islands by the Spanish, so technically it’s not an indigenous plant – but Hawaii is the only U.S. state which produces pineapple. Pineapple cultivation might be a fraught subject, but the vodka was a delight, with a hint of the fruit’s tangy sweetness.

(Ocean Vodka is Maui’s other locally-produced vodka, one we didn’t try – and one more reason to go back to the island. Another would be the pineapple wines of the Tedeschi Vineyards.)

The well-used hydrosols - basil, lime, allspice, etc., with the simple syrup bottles and a few of the fruits used.

The well-used hydrosols – basil, lime, allspice, etc., with the simple syrup bottles and a few of the fruits used.

Kerry also had a number of hydrosols – the bi-product of essential oil distillation and condensed water left over after steam or water distillation – on hand. Not something I’d likely produce on a regular basis in my own kitchen, but easy enough to get at the local health food store.

After a morning of trying hard to get the most out of the day, the class was a lesson in taking life as it comes and making the best of what’s right in front us.

Back home and thoroughly bundled up against the Arctic temperatures both outside and inside our old stone house, I’m trying to do just that.

I think I’ll start with this:

 

 

 

Cherry Diversion

The view from beneath a cherry tree.

The view from beneath a cherry tree.

It’s been a hectic few days and I’ve gotten behind on my posts and other writing, but sometimes life requires a different kind of presence besides work.

I was already at my desk this morning, ready to write a post, when my neighbor called. There were three key points she wanted to make: First, the cherry trees in the orchard between our two houses were heavy with ripe black cherries, and the farm owner had kindly placed a large ladder against one of the trees should we want to help ourselves. Second, she could see a major storm cloud approaching over the Jura range behind us, a black wall of rain. And third, the farm owner, who usually picks the cherries, is out of town for a week and the incoming rain will probably ruin all the ripened cherries.

The sheep follow us when we pick, hoping for scraps and offering the occasional leg lick in return.

The sheep follow us when we pick, hoping for scraps and offering the occasional leg lick in return.

It goes without saying that I dropped everything, picked up a bag and a camera, and marched next door with the sole mission of saving several pounds of cherries from impending rain damage.

The cherry orchard has been sold to developers. By this time next year, the old trees will be gone and this orchard will have nine double townhouse constructions, several driveways, and if the other suburban projects are any indication, no trees (or sheep) at all.

Lamb diversity.

Lamb diversity.

The owner’s sister came by to water the farm’s kitchen garden, and told us that these early ripening black cherries – planted by her father back in the 1950s, were a naturally resistant variety. The black cherries planted much more recently by her own neighbor down in the next village – a more fragile variety – are susceptible to worms and mold.

These old farm cherries have just kept putting out hundreds of kilos of magnificent cherries over the decades, fertilized mainly by successive generations of grazing sheep herds, and with no pesticides.

One of the cherry trees, and my intrepid neighbor at work.

One of the cherry trees, and my intrepid neighbor at work.

 

And so my neighbor and I picked cherries among the sheep, achieving a ratio of perhaps 70 – 30 when it came to cherries that landed in the basket versus cherries that landed in our mouths. Now, obviously, I am back at my desk.

Today’s other unplanned task will be making a batch of cherry jam, as well as a batch of drunken cherries bottled in (what else?) whisky.DSC02249

Come winter, we’ll have cherry jam on toast and marinated cherries in champagne.

We’ll drink to the orchards of spring and summer, and to seizing the day.DSC02265