Archive for the ‘Culinary’ Category

Party On the Patio – Summer Wine and Cocktails

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The Tennessee summer up till this point has been relatively mild, although the weather forecasts for this week suggest that’s all about to change. Still, an unseasonable amount of rain and temperatures that have been more 80s than 90s well into July is nothing to scoff at, after last summer’s weeks over 110 degrees. So while the worst of the summer heat may be yet to come, I’m still of a mind to do things like serve dinner out on the deck and attend barbecues.

Anyone who’s ever actually lived in the South can put the lie to the scene in Gone with the Wind where Scarlett O’Hara looks perfect in her giant antebellum gown all day in the Georgia heat – reality suggests she’d be dealing with torrid heat, humidity that frizzed her hair beyond recognition, and please, that white and green dress would make it clear women do indeed perspire.  I’ll leave out what I think of the rest of that particular fantasy. Faulkner’s or maybe Tennessee Williams’ version of the South in summer is much more accurate.

 

Faulkner as played by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward

 

The point is, I think we’re all glad that we live at a point where a barbecue involves sizzling meat on the grill, an ice chest brimming with nearly frigid beer and the option of wearing a bare sundress and bare feet – or a short sleeved shirt and a pair of cargo shorts if you’re a guy. Fashion aside, it also means our beverage options get a little better – summer evenings seem made for imbibing, for those who choose to do so.

Of course, for many people, the obvious drink of choice is cold – icy, icy cold – beer. That’s all well and good.

While I won’t say no to the occasional Corona or a bottle of Yazoo Pale Ale, let me be honest up front and say I’m a wine drinker, and generally don’t stray from this particular trend, even in the summer. On a hot evening if we’re sitting on the deck, the meal is usually light – grilled meat and some sort of vegetable – usually a salad, sometimes my tweaked version of an ancient Roman green bean recipe (found in Apicius), sautéed with herbs and pine nuts.

Carl Sittmann Riesling – love a blue bottle

With that, there’s a good chance I’m pairing a moderately priced chilled, not-too-sweet German Riesling. Carl Sittmann is my go-to on the shelf. I’ve also recently found a fizzy German Riesling at the wine shop next to Costco in Cool Springs that I like very much (it’s not in Costco, because this is Tennessee, and we aren’t allowed our wine in grocery stores thanks to arcane Prohibition era laws our legislature is for some reason hesitant to repeal, probably having to do with campaign contributions). Sadly, I’ve forgotten the name, and I recycled the bottle, so details are forthcoming.

Good Rieslings come at moderate prices. The Sittmann retails for about $10, and American favorite Chateau Ste. Michelle is a similar price, and somewhat sweeter, for those who like their Rieslings – or their hot weather wines – with more sugar on the front.  Maryhill Riesling ($11) out of Washington State has recently caught my attention, with a nice crispness and apple on the nose.

If it’s not a Riesling, a crisp Vinho Verde works for me, or an off-dry French rosé. If budget is an issue, Gazela (Portugal) makes a couple of very drinkable, slightly fizzy wines, a Vinho Verde and a rosado (rosé), that retail at about $7 a bottle most places. Both really make for perfect super-hot weather consumption. The rosé, with strawberry notes and tiny hint of spice on the follow-through, has become something I keep on hand to serve when girlfriends appear at my door.

I’m also a big fan of sangria. When I was a small child living overseas, my dad (yes, I am that Southern girl who can legitimately say “My daddy, the Colonel …”) used to make it for his Air Force squadron parties – he has a huge copper punch bowl picked up somewhere in his Middle Eastern travels (Istanbul? Beirut? Marrakesh?) that was always full. The process began, so he tells me, by soaking citrus fruit in rum for about three days prior to the party. This became the base for both the red and white variations of the drink. There was always a punch bowl of each color out on the table, and in the morning, there was always someone still sleeping it off under the table. They throw some great parties, my parents.

My take on sangria is somewhat tamer. It’s fueled by my interest in historic cookery, so it’s got some fairly non-traditional elements to it.

I start with a simple syrup made with 1:1 sugar and liquid, but as well as water, it’s got the juice of a lemon – which I add to soak into the sugar and warm with the spices (whatever’s handy, but because I like a red sangria, I tend to use cinnamon, fennel seed, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger – I recommend use of a mortar and pestle before addition) and a half teaspoon of pure vanilla extract or ¼ of a vanilla bean pod before I add in the water. Bring to a boil, stir well, let cool and ideally let it sit for a day or two in the fridge in a nice glass jar. (Strain before using.)

For a pitcher of sangria, I use about ½ cup of the simple syrup (if you leave it to set, it gets quite strong). To that I add a bottle of inexpensive Merlot (Australia’s Alice White is ideal), ½ to one cup of peach brandy, and then top it off with pomegranate juice or Ocean Spray Cran-Pom if you prefer. To serve, pour it over ice, and top lightly with sparkling water – or, if it’s a long party and no one is driving anytime soon, sparklng wine (this will knock you over before you know it, drink advisedly and with actual food).

If I were doing this with a white, I’d likely top off with San Pellegrino Limonata after using a lighter juice – peach or pear nectar, perhaps, or Raspberry Simply Lemonade. White grape will work fine too, but I like to emphasize the citrus in the summer, and most grape juices always taste watered down to me.

To keep things festive, I cut up a lemon a day or so in advance (lemon is the right note for summer sangria, whether you’re making red or white) and soak it overnight in whatever is handy – rum, brandy, vodka, bourbon.

 

Traditionally, people go a little nuts on the fruit in sangria – I like to keep it simple. Classic sangria uses lemons, limes and oranges – that works for me in summer. In the winter, I keep the blackberries I froze from the summer bushes handy.

Sparkling wine in general, chilled to icy perfection, never goes wrong for me in this weather. I keep a ready supply of Segura Viudas (Spain, $9-$10) in the crisper drawer or the cooler – if I’m serving friends, this particular Spanish Cava is gorgeous alone or in “champagne” cocktails if you want mimosas or Bellinis. It’s an unsung bargain at that price too, which makes it even better – from a more well-known producer or famous locale, the price would be much higher, I promise.  It is lusciously drinkable.

Since I don’t do a whole lot of spirit mixing in the heat (I’m working on that, thanks to a new obsession with bitters and their uses), I decided to ask in someone who did to answer a few further questions. My friend James Hensley is still probably best known for his former role at The Patterson House speakeasy in Nashville, but these days he’s with Nelson’s Greenbriar Distillery, producers of one of our local artisan spirits, Belle Meade Bourbon.

James wrote for me for years when I edited Nashville Lifestyles, and I’ve always admired his take on cocktails both classic and original. Whenever I want to know anything about the spirit world, I ask him – and know I can trust the answer.

He also occasionally blogs over at The Spirit Monkey, but since the birth of his son not long ago, work and being a parent have limited that a little bit.

 

So James, what spirit goes with Middle Tennessee summer drinking – hot, humid, typical weather – especially if you’re trying to do something outside like a barbecue? I personally like gin in the summer. The botanicals play well with juices of all sorts and it keeps a light and fresh feeling going. However, I am also partial to Blanco tequilas and rums aged just a little – five years is plenty. If I was doing a barbecue right now, I would offer all three, as a good host should always offer options. What would I drink? I’d opt for tequila with barbecue as gin don’t jive with it in my opinion, and rum may be sweeter than I want. I like savory when it’s hot.

A Hapsburg In Jalisco

2 ounces Lunazul Reposado tequila

¾ ounce fresh lime juice

½ ounce Green Chartreuse

¼ ounce Falernum

¼ ounce simple syrup

5 drops Fee’s Old Fashioned Bitters

Shake briefly with ice and strain over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a grapefruit peel expressed over the drink and stand in glass.

It’s an herbal, earthy, spiced drink that feels like the season. As for the name, Emperor Maximilian the First of Mexico was the Hapsburg used as a puppet ruler by the French during their attempted takeover of the country in the mid-19th century.

 

What do you emphatically NOT want to drink during the summer months (aside from the obvious hot beverages)? When it’s hot out I don’t really drink brandy. Good brandy is full of warm flavors that are better suited for cool weather in my book.

What, in your opinion, makes a cocktail particularly appropriate for summer drinking? Summer cocktails should be fresh and refreshing. Summer cocktails can still include things like earthy amaros and big, full, dark-flavored spirits, but they should be used in shaken drinks. The fun of warm weather drinks is in taking cold weather spirits and combining them with citrus and fresh muddled seasonal fruits to make something unexpected and sublime. Therein lies the evolution of a good bartender/mixologist, venturing out to discover new flavor combinations.

What do you always want to have on hand during the hot weather for your bar? I always like to have fizzy stuff on hand during warm weather. Collins-style drinks are great hot weather drinks and twisting them around with sodas from around the world, champagne or sparkling wine, and sparkling water, is a fun and easy way to liven up an old recipe.

Prefab, bottled sangria – yes or no? Prefab sangia is fine if you don’t have time, but fresh is always better and fun to make. For really warm weather I like to think of hot weather ingredients: Torrontes, tequila, pineapple, peach, lime, and orange, with a little agave to sweeten if you like. Throw some sliced up star fruit in for garnish.

 Is there such thing as good summer red wine? It seems like everyone gravitates toward white when the weather is hot. The best summer red wines in my book are light reds, and I’m not talking about rosé but they of course are great during warm weather. I mean seeking out the lighter Burgundy and Côtes-du-Rhône blends.

Are there better whites for hot weather? Most all white wines are great in warm weather, save for, in my opinion, the rich California-style Chardonnays. Too much rich buttery flavor doesn’t sit well with me in the warm weather.

 

From James’ personal collection – here’s an easy summer cocktail that’s packing plenty of flavor.

Fiat 500

2 ounces  Beefeater Gin

1/4 ounce Campari

3/4 ounce fresh lime juice

3/4 ounce simple syrup

 

Shake all ingredients briefly with ice and strain into a large rocks glass over ice and top with a splash of San Pellegrino Blood Orange. Garnish with lime wedge.

 

Sweetest Thing – A Chat With Southern Author Alicia Hunter Pace

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As someone who has English degrees, I often find myself perplexed by those who reject the value of genre fiction. Like it or not, some of the most creative and original writing around actually happens within those genre boxes. If the intention of the writers of literary fiction is to move us, then they could learn a whole lot from writers of genre categories.

I am lucky enough to have any number of friends who write and are published in various “genres” – ranging from romance to thrillers to science fiction. In each case, every time I read one of their books, I find something very worth taking away from its pages. This is absolutely true in the case of Alicia Hunter Pace, writer of both romance and fantasy.

“Alicia” is an alias, because the author is actually the dynamic team of Jean Hovey and Stephanie Jones, two women I was lucky enough to meet and have befriend me long before they any of us had publishing contracts.

Swwet Gone South

While their first publishing efforts came in fantasy (nerd girls after my own heart and all), their most recent success has come as authors of chick-lit romances that capture very much the flavor of small town life in the South. Their “Gone South” series published by Crimson Romance – Sweet Gone South, Scrimmage Gone South and the forthcoming Simple Gone South – takes the traditional boy-meets-girl story and layers on broad depths of emotion and energy.

 

While they might be grounded in the traditional worlds of the Junior League, high school football, book clubs, comfort food, and cotillions, among other quintessential aspects of Southern life, they subtly challenge the formula for these kinds of stories.  The characters have minds of their own: no one’s perfect, no matter how much they might seem it on the outside. Inside imperfections, when drawn to the surface and laid bare, make for misunderstandings, hurt, recrimination and alienation that force each character to let go of complacent assumptions about who they are and how they live.

Inevitably, to escape the past and build a solid future, the characters must confront their own assumptions, prejudices and preconceived notions about relationships between people – often built up by past trauma that makes it hard to revisit the why behind those assumptions.  Jean and Stephanie understand and make clear that relationships are a two way street, and very rarely is courtship a happy-happy Disney movie. To build a genuine romance, adjustment, compromise and work are all necessary – and strength can be built through conflict.

The three novels follow the lives of a circle of friends in Merritt, Alabama – a classic small Southern town with an actual Southern flavor, instead of a veneer.  I won’t give any more away, but I will tell you that if you’re intrigued after reading this interview, you can “like” the Buttermilk Trace Facebook Page and like the link to this article there or comment for a chance to win a copy of Sweet Gone South for yourself.

And now without further ado, let’s let Jean and Stephanie talk for themselves.

 

One of the toughest thing for some authors to do is work in conjunction with another author – how do you find the balance between your voices? We are such close friends and share so many interests that our voices blend together pretty easily. Each of our characters belongs more to one of us than the other, so, once in a blue moon, one of us will have to say, “Hey, he wouldn’t do/say that.”  We seldom disagree about how to proceed.

Speaking of balance – how do you balance your creative life with your day to day one? It’s a work in progress. Some days go better than others.  The important thing is to work every day and have some down time every day. Of course, when the edits come in, that’s a different day.

What’s the toughest thing about writing as a team? What’s the easiest thing for you to write together? The hardest thing for us is pacing. One of us likes long, the other, not so long. We try to hit a happy medium and, most of the time, succeed. When we don’t, our editor will cut it or say, “A little more here.” Without fail, she makes it a better book. The easiest thing, by far, is dialogue. There are those who have been kind of enough to say we do a passable job at that. Sometimes, we will each take a character and speak a scene though. That’s when the chemistry between the characters is best.

You’ve shifted from writing fantasy to writing more traditional romance – how did working in the fantasy genre challenge you differently than the romance genre, and do you foresee writing another fantasy book at some point in the future? Unlike with the contemporary, there is little research for the fantasy. You can create any world you like, but once you do, you have to live there—that is, don’t change the rules in your own mythology. As far as writing more fantasy—never say never; we would like to one day see some present day elves running around a small Southern town. Wouldn’t that be fun? An elf princess, pretending to be human, who is president of the Junior League?

In your “Gone South” series, you’ve followed the lives of a group of friends as each finds the right match – in spite of some deeply personal obstacles. You’ve sent the third book in the series off to the publisher – is this the end of the characters, or will we see them again?  We have seen too many authors overstay their welcome in a series, and we want to be careful not to do that. However, we find that we have one more “Gone South” story to tell. The proposal is with our editor right now. After that, we have a few more ideas kicking around. Regardless of the direction, what you will see next is a series of connected characters and a small Southern town.

One of the things I really enjoy about the series is you have a strong sense of the small town everything takes place in – small city, really. How much of your vision is guided by Decatur and Huntsville, Alabama, and the areas in which you live?  The town is a compilation of the best parts of the different towns where we have lived; Merritt is as much a character in the series as Missy Bragg with all her well-meaning and bossy ways.

Do you find yourselves building personal relationships with your characters? Do you relate to one of them in particular? I think we relate to the ones who are breaking our hearts at the moment. And trust me, your heart has to be broken. We are very fortunate to have as plotting partners two very fine writers and USA Today bestsellers, Lynn Raye Harris and Janette Kenney. They convinced us that we were not hurting our characters enough, and they were right.  Shortly after we learned that lesson, we sold. A few months ago, while finishing Simple, I texted Lynn and said, “I hope you’re happy. I’ve cried into my keyboard over Brantley three times today.”  She texted back, “Then you’ve got a book.”

I have to ask – your characters have some pretty specific job requirements – candy maker, football coach, etc. how deeply do you have to immerse yourselves in the details to get them right? You really do. When writing Sweet Gone South, we hung out in candy shops all over the Southeast. We know a great many coaches and former college and high school football players, so the research for Scrimmage Gone South was easy. We have found that people are very willing to talk about what they do and love. In Simple Gone South, (November 2013) the hero, Brantley Kincaid, started out as an investment banker.  It just wasn’t working so, all of a sudden, he was a preservation architect—which is something we know more about.  Looking back, we don’t know how we could have ever thought he would be anything else.

What’s next on your writing agenda, now that you’ve told Lucy’s story (the last in the series of friends)? As we mentioned above, we have one more “Gone South” story to tell. Luke Avery ‘s (Sweet Gone South) sister, Arabelle,  has a story. She has made a few cameos and had a few mentions here and there. You’ll see a little more of her in  Lucy and Brantley’s story, Simple Gone South—plus you will meet Will Garrett, a hunky artisan furniture maker who grew up on the wrong side of town.

When you finish up a book, how do you escape that world for the much needed break and refresher time? Honestly, I don’t know if we ever escape completely. There’s always promotion and the next project to get underway. Of course, just as you are immersed in the new story, the edits come in from the one you’ve put to bed. When working on Scrimmage we used to tease that the hero, Nathan Scott, hated it when we left him in temporal stasis to edit Luke, from Sweet, and propose Brantley, from Simple. Our Nathan had anger issues.

This business of writing and publishing is one big chaotic carrousel—and we thank our lucky stars that we are getting to go for a ride.

 

Now for the fun stuff, the Proustian questionnaire!

 

Favorite dinner

Jean:  Spicy tuna salad and a Madison roll at Edo’s Japanese Restaurant

Stephanie: Chicken Tikki Marsala at Sitar Indian Restaurant

Chicken Tikka Masala

Lunch

Jean: Black and brie salad at Albany Bistro, Decatur, Alabama

Stephanie: I love it on Wednesday’s when it is Chicken Nugget Day at school.  I capitalized it because it is like a holiday!

Buying clothes

Jean: I have never been able to commit since the death of Parisian, but have recently liked some fun stuff at H&M.

Stephanie: I buy things all over the place.  I am a pretty big fan of a bargain so I love T.J. Maxx and Ross.

Latest gadget

Jean: HP Touchpad.

Stephanie: I bought a George Foreman Grill last week and love it.

Jeans brand

Jean: Not married to one.

Stephanie: Me either since I hardly wear them, but St. John’s Bay makes a mean trouser jean.

Coffee shop

Jean: A local place called Java Jaay. Great sugar free, fat free toffee latte.

Stephanie: Joe Mugg’s in Books A Million. Books and coffee shops just go together like peanut butter and chocolate to me.

 

Favorite perfume/fragrance

Jean: I wore Clinique’s Aromatic Elixirs for years but stopped when perfume allergies became so prevalent. Now, I like a citrusy body wash.

Stephanie: Mine are some of the allergies to which Jean refers so I don’t wear much in the way of perfume; I do like [Bath and Body Works’] Vanilla Bean Noel so much I wear it year round.  It is hard to have a bad day when you smell like cake.

Reading

Jean: Yes. Almost everything.

Stephanie: Me too and constantly.  I am currently reading: a biography of Martha Washington, a military fiction, a werewolf romance, and a book on different methods of teaching reading.

On your MP3 player/Pandora

Jean:  Bon Jovi, Blake Shelton, Eagles.

Stephanie: Avett Brothers, Beyonce, and the soundtracks from both the Lion King and Twilight.

Must-see TV

Jean: Big Bang Theory, Duck Dynasty, Downton Abbey.

Stephanie: Duck Dynasty, Vikings, Longmire, and Hell on Wheels

Cocktail

Jean: Bloody Mary made with Zing Zang.

Stephanie: I am not so much on the cocktail. I like beer and bourbon, but not usually together.

 

 

Vacation spot

Jean: Scotland and Ireland.

Stephanie: New Orleans.

Kitchen appliance

Jean: Kitchen Aid mixer. Love it.

Stephanie: As I mentioned earlier. I have a new George Foreman grill.

Shoes

Jean: Yellow Box.

Stephanie: Espadrilles of all sorts.  I am so excited that they are back.

Guilty pleasure

Jean: Barry Manilow, though I don’t feel that guilty.

Stephanie:Readinglate, late, late at night in bed.  This is probably because my parents always made me turn out the light and go to bed. You know what they say about forbidden fruit.

Want to know more? Follow the blog at http://aliciahunterpace.wordpress.com/

 

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