Whew! It’s been quite a year. There were some ups and a few downs. Looking back as the year draws to a close, I’m not sure they balanced out this time around. I had my share of moments when I just had to stop, take a deep breath, and do a little reassemble and reassess. One highlight might include the day at the mobile phone office when I purposely drew my head back then banged my head on the counter. (And no, repair of forehead dents isn’t covered by the French sécurité sociale, the national health insurance.) Another was when someone explained to me – and yes, with a straight face – that they don’t have USB ports in one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world.
There were a host of other things that were a little more serious, that I won’t inflict upon you. But I am pretty sure there are enough to stories from this year to fill a book. But I am also pretty sure that no one would believe me.
Like most cities, Paris presents itself as it is. It’s the beauty of the Left Bank and the Place Vendôme, contrasting with the realism of Barbès, the outer arrondissements, and the ragged fringes that surround the city. But we all know that a perfect baguette doesn’t look right. It’s the bubbles, burnished spots, and irregularities that make it so appealing. Nor should a croissant like look it belongs in the Louvre. Part of it is crunchy, with craggy ridges – and the ends might be a tad burnt. But the inside may be tender and delicate, and balance out the irregularities. Flaws are what makes something interesting, and I prefer a few blemishes over a pristine appearance. Cities have lots of diverse, incongruous characteristics, too – they’re happy and sad places, exciting, sexy, heartbreaking, gritty, busy, lively, dark, boisterous, bustling, and charming, all at once.
I love writing about the city of Paris, meeting chocolatiers and chefs, coming up with recipes for my blog, and working on a book that I’m so excited about that if I didn’t need to sleep, I would be up all night banging away at it, living only on cocktails, duck confit, espresso, and dark chocolate-covered marshmallows dipped in warm salted butter caramel.
But then there are formidable roadblocks, including one I wasn’t able to succeed at hurdling, which left a rather indelible dent in my forehead that just might never heal. So who knows what’s in the future? Living here has been quite an adventure – but wherever I am, or wherever I go in the near or distant future, I will be sure that it’ll be somewhere that has salted butter caramel. And yes, a full bar, too.
On a recent trip to the states, I brought back some cocktail paraphernalia, including a muddler, which falls into the category of “Is that something I really need?” Which those of you who live (or have lived, like me) in tiny kitchens, constantly ask ourselves. So no, you don’t need a muddler, but you will need to find something to mush down the fruit with. If you do get a muddler, though, it might be a good excuse to make more cocktails, so you can justify the purchase.
Kind of like how I justify shoe purchases with “Well, my feet aren’t growing anymore” or at the flea market, with “Even though I already have 223 vintage French jelly glasses, well, I do tend to make a lot of jam.” And find myself wrapping up and bringing home yet another set of beveled vintage jelly glasses, to add to the boxes and boxes of them that I have already amassed. As a favor to you, someday I will publish my complete list that will allow you to justify practically anything you want to buy.
Here’s a little cocktail I muddled and mixed up, inspired by the Prince of Wales, which livened up the holidays a little around here. Sweet/tart pineapple muddled with some zippy fresh ginger, a clever shot of rye whiskey, strain that baby into a glass, and finished with a splash of sparking wine or Champagne. And voilà – it’s cocktail time.
For those watching their pennies, or centimes, Champagne is always a good choice, but there are other sparkling wines out there – such as cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy, and Crémant from Alsace – that are fine choices as well.
Sparkling wines vary in quality and flavor, so I try to find a bottle that is dry (not sweet) and has delicate bubbles. In my quest, I took one for the team and tasted all three, and ended up using the Prosecco. Although the Crémant d’Alsace was no slouch either, and in fact, I preferred it straight. But the spritzy Prosecco added just the right little lilt with the boozed-up, pulpy fruit.
Quite a while back, I helped open a restaurant for a very interesting man who taught me something that stuck with me. I’d been cooking for a long time professionally when I started working with him. But early on he said to me – “If you mess up something, throw it away. Don’t give it to the staff or offer it around because everyone will get all worked up and fixated on it. Just throw it away, and move on.”
I didn’t quite throw away that bottle of Crémant, but like turning life’s lemons into lemonade, I turned it into a Sparkling Wine Jelly (from RfD) that people who folks were eagerly spooning up, until the only sound in the room was the sound of metal spoons threatening to crack the bottom of the glasses, they were digging so hard to get every last drop.
So even though I didn’t toss out that leftover bubbly, for all of us – yes, including you – who made it through this year, we owe it to ourselves to give the heave-ho to something that needs to go, and celebrate with something better, whether it’s a shiny new muddler, a pair of shoes, another set of beautiful vintage jam jars, a new place to call home, or even just a cocktail to toast ourselves with.
Pineapple-Ginger Sparkling Wine Cocktail
Adapted from Saveur.
- 1-inch (3cm) cube fresh pineapple
- 1/4-inch (1cm) slice fresh ginger, unpeeled
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
- 1 1/4 ounce rye whiskey
- Champagne or sparkling wine
1. In a cocktail shaker, muddle the pineapple with the ginger and sugar.
2. Add the lime juice and whiskey, then add some ice to the shaker and shake vigorously for about 15 seconds. Strain the mixture into a glass then top the glass off with Champagne or sparkling wine and add a twist of lemon or lime to the glass.