Dried Acorns and Mirabelle Vodka

Of all the things dropping to the ground this summer, rain was particularly scarce.

The area of eastern France where we live is always hot in August. This year, though, after a rainy spring, June started heating up. And then July was hotter. As hot as August, but weeks early.

#wheat #wildcarrot #summer #sunshine #flowers #countryside #running #France

Wild carrot blooms along the verge of a wheat field just before harvest.
Photo: PKR

The minimal amounts of rain we got weren’t enough to keep the fields irrigated, so like other farmers around Europe in this hot season, our local farmers brought in the crop early to salvage what they could.

#harvest #summer #rain #countryside #running #France

The dry running path beneath gathering clouds.
Photo: PKR

The sunny mirabelle plums on our garden tree ripened weeks ahead of time, as did the wild blackberries all around the area. Tasty and delightful, but almost unseasonable in their timing.

#vodka #plums #mirabelles #garden

The last two mirabelle plums picked from the tree, and a bottle of some plums from earlier in the season. They’ll steep in vodka with a sprig of garden thyme and some sugar for a few months.
Photo: PKR

Acorns, too, carpet my running path – they should be hitting the ground in late summer. Hopefully the squirrels and other animals have noticed the weird clockwork of this year, and are taking a cue from the farmers by harvesting early.

Out on runs, I sometimes hear the boom of thunder somewhere in the mountains, and I watch for signs of relief. Often, the skies cloud over, and I’ll see rain falling somewhere nearby – but only for a few moments, and only over a limited area.

Of course, it’s not that there haven’t been heatwaves in the past. But even in the twenty-odd years since we moved here, the heatwaves have gotten more frequent, hotter, and longer.

This week, the heatwave finally broke and we’ve gotten a few evenings of rain and wind. It’s a welcome change to listen to rainfall rather than the constant thrum of fans, because of course an old place like ours doesn’t have central air conditioning.

The stone walls were usually enough to take a few weeks of August heat and still stay cool inside. We used to be able to lean against them, bare skin on stone as a quick refreshment. Not anymore – the stones of our house are heated through and radiate inward.

#harvest #summer #rain #countryside #running #France

A rain cloud brings a bit of relief.
Photo: PKR

Of course, we aren’t alone with our heatwave – it’s a phenomenon shared around the world this year. With any kind of luck, the slow climb of temperatures will come in fits and starts. With any kind of luck, we’ll have some time to take action, to adapt, to correct. With any kind of luck, a bit of luck will be on our side.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep using the luscious mirabelles for making plum vodka cordial, something to keep the winter nights warm once the heat has left the stones again.

#summer #acorns #oak

Acorns picked up during a run.
Photos: PKR

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.

Simple, Slow, Good

We harvested the last of the mirabelles today under heavy skies and to the sound of rolling thunder, the first raindrops already falling as we packed away the ladder and hurried inside with the last couple of kilos of yellow plums.

There’s something so simple and satisfying about making old-fashioned jams and cordials, a word that has a distinctly Victorian ring to my ears. Or at least, it’s simple and satisfying once the pots have all been put away and the kitchen is clean.

We were in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, and I was talking to one of the fellows behind the bar at The Library in the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.

A vodka cocktail from The Library.

A vodka cocktail from The Library.

It’s a dimly lit place of deep leather seats and candles, with thick stacks of books piled up as table supports. The kind of place that invites spending more time than foreseen, and maybe a few unplanned confessions

After we’d tried the first couple of surprising cocktails, I had to go over and see what this guy was up to. I’ve never had such a bright pomegranate vodka martini; the margarita was spiked with unexpected cilantro and green chili.

As it turned out, the countertop looked more like a salad bar than a standard bar for booze. Fresh fruits, everything from pears and pomegranates to bell peppers and chills. Not to mention a wide variety of fresh herbs in bunches. Any juice for a drink is crushed or squeezed on the spot, the herbs mashed with a mortar and pestle.

A not-so-great picture, taken in very low light, of a small part of the bar counter.

A not-so-great picture, taken in very low light, of a small part of the bar counter.


What I liked even more was the time taken to really pay attention to each concoction, including the strawberry/balsamic vinegar/vodka creation I had (top picture), topped with a foam of elderflower St. Germain liqueur.

Sure, it all takes longer, just like cooking up and straining mirabelles for a couple of liters of sunny golden cordial. Still, so satisfying, a real pleasure.