The Absinthe Ritual

Absinthe is distilled from a mixture of whole herbs in alcohol. These herbs include grande wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), green anise, sweet fennel and other culinary plants.

Created as a medicinal elixir by a French doctor living in Switzerland around 1792, it achieved great popularity as an alcoholic drink in late 19th- and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers where the drink was said to act as an aphrodisiac and stimulate creativity.

The Absinthe Fountain
“Rimbaud’s Poison”
“The emerald hour when the poet’s pain is soothed by a liquid jewel held in the sacred chalice, upon which rests the pierced spoon, the crystal sweetness, icy streams trickle down. The darkest forest melts into an open meadow. Waves of green seduce. Sanity surrendered, the soul spirals toward the murky depths, wherein lies the beautiful madness – absinthe.”

The bar at Chaya Downtown in Los Angeles, and our Absinthe Guide (bartender) Victor.

He pours ice water into the absinthe fountain.

Then pours 1 oz. absinthe into the special glass. Places a sugar cube over an absinthe grille or spoon in a saucer and soaks the sugar cube with absinthe.

Traditionally, the sugar cube is not ignited, as purists believe the caramelized sugar detracts from the herbal flavors. Apparently the use of fire in the absinthe ritual is a newer phenomenon was not a part of the custom during the Belle Époque. Sugar is used to cut the bitterness of the strong herbal spirit.

The spoon is placed over the glass and the sugar is lit on fire. As the sugar begins to caramelize, the absinthe water drip is begun.

Ice water from the absinthe fountain spigot slowly drips over the sugar into the glass, extinguishing the flame and melting the sugar and sweetening the absinthe.

L’Absinthe
Edgar Degas
1876
Oil on canvas

The cold water releases the oils from the absinthe, unlocking the powerful anise bouquet, and causing it to louche or cloud up into a light opalescent green. Absinthe is usually diluted in a 1:3 or 1:5 ratio to water. La louche has a symbolic meaning as well – As the water transforms the absinthe, so will the absinthe transform the mind.
La Fee Verte
The Green Fairy is the affectionate French nickname given to absinthe.

Can you spot the green fairy?

Absinthe had been portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug. The chemical thujone, present in small quantities, was singled out and blamed for its alleged harmful effects. By 1915, absinthe had been banned in the United States and in most European countries.
Although absinthe was vilified, no evidence has shown it to be any more dangerous than ordinary spirits. Its psychoactive properties, apart from those of alcohol, have been much exaggerated.
Absinthe’s popularity grew steadily through the 1840s, when absinthe was given to French troops stationed in North Africa as a disease preventative. When the troops returned home to Paris, they brought their taste for absinthe with them. It became so popular in bars, bistros, cafés, and cabarets that, by the 1860s, the hour of 5 p.m. was called l’heure verte (the green hour).
A revival of absinthe began in the 1990s, when countries in the European Union began to reauthorize its manufacture and sale. In 2007 French absinthe “Lucid” was the first authentic absinthe brand to be legally imported to the US since the ban in 1912. The absinthe must contain less that 10 mg/kg of thujone to be legally imported. Also that year, the first batch of legally produced absinthe was made in California.

Absinthe produced for consumption outside the US can contain up to 100 mg/kg thujone, like Century Absinth. Some aficionados claim that this is the true absinthe which creates the “effects” cherished by famous absinthe drinkers of the day: Edouard Manet, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Oscar Wilde, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, and Ernest Hemingway.
(some information for this post from wikipedia.com)

Pom Prosecco & Popcorn

Pom Prosecco
Popcorn with Truffle Oil

Pop regular popcorn in canola or peanut oil in a heavy, covered pot. Ratio: 3 T. oil to 1/2 c. popcorn kernels. Add fine sea salt then drizzle the warm popcorn with truffle oil. Extraordinary!
I don’t make popcorn very often, and in recent years, when I did, it was in the microwave. I am so glad to have rediscovered the old-fashioned way to make popcorn. I want to thank my blogger friend Thatgirl for the suggestion. Simple and really really good.

Great start to a cocktail party!
A Pom Prosecco was a great complement to our Miso Glazed Swordfish luncheon too. This is a mighty tasty cocktail, and food-friendly. Simply pour a few ounces cold pomegranate juice into a flute and add cold Prosecco, a dry Italian sparkling wine. Personally, I am not a huge fan of adding juice to Champagne, but Prosecco is different. The method used to produce Prosecco is much less costly than Champagne, yet still produces a high quality dry sparkling wine, which is meant to be consumed young.
And POM Wonderful is a perfect addition because it is not too sweet, gives the Prosecco that awesome pink color and depth of flavor, and you can take an inexpensive bottle of this bubbly and have a really nice fresh, crisp, refreshing drink. I purchased this bottle of Prosecco at Trader Joe’s for $5.99 US.
Thanks to the folks at POM Wonderful for the gift of the delicious anti-oxidant juice! I highly recommend a visit to the POM website to check out the pomegranate recipes and beautiful food photos too. I definitely look forward to using this juice in future recipes.
Browsing through my photo library recently and noticed a recurring theme, Glassware. Thought it might be fun to compile some of the photos here:
Glassware

  1. Alex, Las Vegas
  2. La Mar, San Francisco
  3. Cline Cellars, Sonoma, California
  4. Guy Savoy, Las Vegas
  5. Per Se, New York City
  6. Gramercy Tavern, New York City
  7. Cline Cellars, Sonoma, California
  8. La Mar, San Francisco
  9. Per Se, New York City

Cheers!

Summer = Rosé

M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes du Rhône Rosé 2006
A gorgeous mix of aromas and flavors of cranberry and dark tart cherry.
Surprisingly complex, with a dry intriguing peppery finish.

Established in 1808 in France’s Rhone region, Maison Chapoutier has been passed from father to son to grandson. All of their wine labels have been embossed in Braille since 1996.
Maurice de la Sizeranne (1857 – 1917) President of the Association of the Blind in France and owner of the famous La Sizeranne vineyard in Hermitage, was blind since age 9. He was the inventor of the first version of abbreviated Braille. M. Chapoutier’s trademark pays tribute to this man while making sure their wines are accessible to people who are blind.
In Sizeranne’s book “The Blind as Seen Through Blind Eyes” (Putnam, 1893), he asks, “May not we be instrumental in giving hope and happiness to those who are less fortunate than we, by aiding them to become self-sustaining?” Over three quarters of a century after Monsieur Sizeranne’s passing, it would know doubt would please him that this producer is doing just that. The Braille label provides the following information:
  • M. Chapoutier
  • Appellation
  • Name of the Wine
  • Vintage
  • Color

Truffle Butter Popcorn, Iron Horse Blanc de Blanc

If you had a chance to read yesterday’s post, you would know that I am now enamored with Michael Mina. Here is another reason: 
Truffle Butter Popcorn with Chives as a bar snack!

…which we thoroughly enjoyed with a glass of Michael Mina Iron Horse Blanc de Blanc 2000. Iron Horse produces a limited number of special cuvées for select chefs and restaurateurs including Michael Mina. (And, oh, by the way note the cool leather bar top).

From their website: Blanc de Blanc is the most elegant and sophisticated of the Iron Horse cuvées, made from 100% Chardonnay.

It is ethereal – like drinking a cloud. It seems to effervesce away in your mouth and tastes like, among other flavors, a perfectly browned, lightly buttered slice of sourdough toast.
Ah yes, pair with popcorn anyone?

Chianti Classico & Carpaccio

Carpaccio is named for Vittore Carpaccio, the Venetian Renaissance painter known for his use of brilliant reds and whites. Giuseppe Cipriani, owner of Harry’s Bar, invented this dish in 1950, the year of the great Carpaccio exhibition in Venice. It was inspired by the Contessa Amalia Nani Mocenigo, a frequent customer at Harry’s Bar whose doctor had placed her on a diet forbidding cooked meat. (Interesting diet, no?)

Marchese Antinori is produced from the finest grapes grown in the Chianti Classico wine region of Tuscany. Deep ruby red with predominant cherry fruit flavors. It is a full-bodied, rounded, delicious red wine. 90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and other red grapes. This is hands down one of my favorites, and a good value too.

Thinly sliced raw beef is drizzled with olive oil, garnished with capers and freshly ground pepper, topped with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.

V. Carpaccio, The Marriage of the Virgin, 1504-08, Oil on Canvas

Do you agree with Cipriani, isn’t the raw beef dish reminiscent of the painting?

Wine with Dinner


Stony Hill
Napa Valley 1995 Chardonnay
Stony Hill Vineyard has been producing delicious, fruity, non-oaky Chardonnay for over a half century. This wine has been off my radar screen for years. Too bad. This is just the style of Chardonnay that I adore – non-oaky, balanced and elegant.
The 1995 vintage is still fresh and lively, with concentrated fruit, it is complex and graceful, has an attractive minerality with a honeyed character. Love it! It was an extraordinary complement to some of first courses of David Humm’s fresh modern French dishes we enjoyed at Eleven Madison Park restaurant.

Marcassin, Three Sisters Vineyard
Sonoma Coast 2003 Pinot Noir
We had ordered a variety of main courses at Eleven Madison Park including the Lavender Honey & Spiced Duck, Vermont Farm Suckling Pig with Plum Chutney & Five Spice Jus, and Organic Chicken with Oregon Morels & Sauce Vin Jaune. We were very excited to have the opportunity to drink Helen Turley’s world-class Marcassin Pinot Noir with our main course.
Wine writer/critic Robert Parker writes: “The 2003 Pinot Noirs are showy wines, with the 2003 Pinot Noir Three Sisters offering a combination of white chocolate, blueberry, raspberry, a touch of smoke and earth, with good underlying, tart acidity, very seductive aromas and flavors, and a spicy, long finish.” Ooohhh!

Helen Turley, one of the world’s most influential winemakers, talks about Marcassin Pinot Noir:

FYI – Marcassin is French for young wild boar.

Cold Sake

What are you drinking with sushi?

Otokoyama has been making sake for over 340 years on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, which has ideal climate and water conditions needed to make superior sake.

There are five elements involved in brewing sake – water, rice, technical skill, yeast, and terrior. More than anything else, sake is a result of a brewing process that uses rice and lots of water. For a terrific lesson on all things sake, please visit esake.com.

It is customary to pour sake for one’s table companions. Here it is served from this nifty vessel with ice in the center. As with wine, you don’t want the sake too cold, or the delicate fragrance and flavors will be masked.
Vinography blog has excellent tasting notes on Otokoyama:
A floral nose with hints of jasmine tea and just the tiniest hints of fresh pink bubblegum. It is smooth and extremely silky in texture with lovely acidity and a floral, rainwater quality that makes for an incredibly clean experience on the palate.

Otokoyama, translation “Man’s Mountain,” is one of my favorites.

Kanpai!