Dessert Day

I am not a dessert addict, and while I like cocktails, the sugar in them doesn’t always like me.
But sometimes you need to break the rules.

We were in need of an all-day distraction, so we decided to explore the Ballard district of Seattle, Washington.

Most restaurants provide alcohol beverages in some form or another to accompany the food.

But I’ve never seen so many restaurants in one place that place an emphasis on alcohol in food – specifically, alcohol in desserts.

Kiss Café with a misleadingly coffee-oriented sign. All photos: PKR

Kiss Café with a misleadingly coffee-oriented sign.
All photos: PKR

Over the course of the day, while shopping for things we didn’t need, we had Tennessee bourbon ice cream.

We were lured into the Kiss Café by the sign out front that promised Whisky Ice Cream.

Creamy whisky ice cream and a wall of patrons' individual glasses for the Ballard Drinking Team.

Creamy whisky ice cream and a wall of patrons’ individual glasses for the Ballard Drinking Team.

To be fair, we had soup and salad before our run on desserts started, just to lay a solid foundation.

It’s not like we were being irresponsible.

Then we moseyed over to Hot Cakes and had S’mores with smoky whisky infused chocolate and caramel.

A S'more like I've never tried - still marshmallow, chocolate and graham cracker, but not like the ones we used to make at camp.

A S’more like I’ve never tried – still marshmallow, chocolate and graham cracker, but not like the ones we used to make at camp.

Sure, we viewed other sights. The Ballard Locks, shipping locks located in the Lake Washington shipping canal that move boats and ships from one large body of water to another.

The Chittenden Locks, an artificial salmon ladder that allows salmon to traverse the same route.

It was a glorious sunny day for walking and talking.

The Pie Bar menu.

The Pie Bar menu.

Our real goal all day, however, had been the Pie Bar, which didn’t open until mid-afternoon. It’s a bar that serves mainly pies and pie-inspired cocktails.

We had pies, and pie-inspired cocktails.

It was worth the wait.

Pie Bar treats.

Pie Bar treats.

 

Sipping Glaciers

Travel in the 21st century means you can fly to the other side of the world for a few short days with little more than a toothbrush and a change of clothes.

Which is what I did last week when I flew from Geneva, Switzerland to Palmer, Alaska.

It took me four blissfully uneventful but long flights on very large planes (and a drive in a large SUV) to get to my destination, but the fifth flight was of an entirely different nature, and decidedly retro in more ways than one.

The fifth plane. All photos: PKR

The fifth plane.
All photos: PKR

Pre-flight, we stopped off at a local place and tried a few locally produced goods. Actually, our pilot Rob was having lunch. We arrived late and decided on afternoon cocktails in lieu of food. After all, we were just along for the ride.

Both cocktails were made with vodkas produced by Alaska Distillery in Wasilla, Alaska, just up the road from Palmer.

The Imperial Mimosa included the unlikely (for me) ingredient of Sprite, which I can honestly say I haven’t drunk since around 1985. More importantly, it included Permafrost Vodka, which is made from iceberg meltwater harvested in Prince William Sound.

I suppose of all the things glacier meltwater might become instead of staying put in a glacier, premium vodka is decidedly not the worst.

The Glacier Made Imperial Mimosa (right) and the Alaskan Birch Syrup Coffee Cooler (left).

The Glacier Made Imperial Mimosa (right) and the Alaskan Birch Syrup Coffee Cooler (left).

The Coffee Cooler was a version of a White Russian, one of my favorite deadly sins when it comes to cocktails. It was made using Birch Syrup Vodka, birch syrup being made from a sweet tree sap and similar to maple syrup.

Now, it was a bit early in the afternoon to start trying straight shots of these two vodkas to get the true shape of their taste, so we stuck with our two Alaska-sized cocktails.

And they were both delicious – unique in their own ways. The Coffee Cooler is probably the most flavorful White Russian I’ve ever had, likely due to the sweet vodka and the excellent locally-roasted coffee. The Imperial Mimosa was surprisingly un-Spritey, refreshing and clean.

The menu and the mixes at the Palmer City Ale House.

The menu and the mixes at the Palmer City Ale House.

It appears that Alaska Distillery spirits are readily available in some U.S. states and not at all in others. Nor is are they available yet in Europe, as far as I can tell.

Which is a pity, since I was sorely tempted to try their other highly-acclaimed spirits, especially the smoked salmon vodka and the hemp-seed variant known as Purgatory. But we had a flight to catch.

And while 21st-century travel means getting around the world and back with just a toothbrush and a change of clothes, 21st century travel limitations prohibit carrying bottles of vodka in carry-on luggage over three flights back home with transfer times that require sprints between terminals.

What this means, of course, is that I will have to go back to Alaska.

As for the post-cocktail flight in the Cessna, more on that tomorrow.

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:

 

 

 

Hidden Treasure

Wild blackberries, the kind that stain my fingers for days after a long picking session, that leave me with scratches on my legs and arms from wading through large hidden patches, the ones that allow for long, lazy conversations with fellow seekers and which reward effort with the nirvana of a fresh blackberry pie and later, much later when summer is gone and tans are faded, fill my mouth with the sweet purple ink memories written on those days  in the form of blackberry jam – wild blackberries rank among my favorite of all fruits.

A hidden blackberry patch. Photo: PK Read

A hidden blackberry patch
Photo: PK Read

This hasn’t been a year for stone fruits, but I have hope for the blackberries. I went and checked on a couple of patches yesterday. I was relieved to find that this one, which hasn’t really brought forth much of interest over the past couple of seasons, is in bloom and is doing well. It’s nestled between two fields – one a cow pasture, the other a neglected orchard – a triangular bit of forgotten hedgerow that’s invisible from the small country road that passes it, and uninviting to those who do notice it. Perfect for picking. Fingers crossed, this place will be a treasure trove in about 4-5 weeks.

Hedgerow flowers Photo: PK Read

Hedgerow flowers
Photo: PK Read

Two of my best hedgerow patches – long, rangy stands of trees, brambles and bushes that stood between fallow fields – have been lost to housing developments over the past two years, and I fear that will be the fate of most of them. The fields and the hedgerows are all under tidy suburban lawns and charmingly names streets now.

Blackberry blossoms Photo: PK Read

Blackberry blossoms
Photo: PK Read

Another patch, one that looks inviting and proffers all its goods openly, as if it’s some free market stand, is actually a place I never use. I run by it every day, watch the berries ripen, watch them get fat, then watch as the bushes get picked clean by passers-by and birds. It’s a nice hedgerow, right out there in the open, but I wouldn’t pick from it. Why?

Golf course hedgerow. Buckets of berries here, but the trees along the golf course don't look very healthy. Photo: PK Read

Golf course hedgerow. Buckets of berries here, but the trees along the golf course don’t look very healthy.
Photo: PK Read

It’s in the rough of a golf course, and I also see how they regularly spray pesticides all along the perimeter.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

Still, the bench on the other side of this hedgerow offers a good place to stretch, and sometimes to sit, to look out over Lake Geneva, and to dream of pies and jams to come.

Blackberry jam fixings from a couple of years ago Photo: PK Read

Blackberry jam fixings from a couple of years ago
Photo: PK Read

Another favorite is a Blackberry Bellini – fresh wild blackberry sludge with champagne or sparkling wine. Not bad, not bad at all.

Blackberry Bellini
4 cups fresh blackberries
sprig of mint
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ tablespoon sugar (optional)
1 bottle champagne, prosecco, or a bubbly, non-sweet cider for the non-alcoholic version
Mash the blackberries, mint, lemon juice, and sugar until the mixture is sludgy and juicy. Strain the pulp through a sieve (I like a bit of actual pulp in my drink, so I don’t use a fine sieve – just enough to keep out the seeds). Divide blackberry mixture evenly among serving glasses. Add the bubbly and stir just a bit – the juice will color the sparkling wine, the pulp will sink down to the bottom to be enjoyed at the very end. Spear or float a blackberry for garnish.

Kitschy hedgerow pinwheels Photo: PK Read

Kitschy hedgerow pinwheels
Photo: PK Read