For us and for many of our friends, 2007 was a year of extremes and contradictions in our house and in our lives. I’ll spare you the maudlin, navel-gazing adjectives (oh, wait… shoot) and jump right into the highlight reel.
When January was just hours old, we rang in the new year with a streamlined version of our annual cassoulet. The next day, we invited you to tour our kitchens… yep, plural. The dysfunctional old one, the temporary kludge in the basement, and the yet-to-come remodeled dream. Later in the month, Cameron’s birthday was the impetus for the year’s most popular post: Boston Cream Pie cupcakes, which won the cupcake roundup for which they were created! Two other recipes created in the basement ‘camp kitchen’ — Fennel-Pear-Bleu salad and Golden Vegetable Bisque — turned into recurring winter favorites.
February was a slow month on the blog; we had some exciting progress on the kitchen remodel, then took a much needed hiatus to spend time with family after my dad passed away. Mom and I whipped up a batch of her justifiably famous banana bread, and Cameron cheered us up with a hopeful post about the promise of summer fruit from spring’s blossoms.
A March business trip turned up some pretty dismal dining experiences in the Big Apple, but the week was redeemed by fabulous cocktails at Pegu Club, among other worth establishments. Back on the home front: Can it have been nine whole months since we discovered our beloved Gialina? Our early crush has blossomed into a full-blown love affair with this solid, cozy Glen Park pizza bistro. By the end of the month, the kitchen wasn’t quite finished, but we’d moved back upstairs and started cooking. Our first meal: heritage-breed chicken, pasta with pan gravy, and broccolini.
Not long after that, we hosted our first blog event: April’s edition of Mixology Monday featured all manner of Champagne cocktails… more than 16 in all. At Eastertime, Mom came to visit, and DPaul and Sean joined us for a traditional ham supper beginning with a stunning green-pea soup. Sam invited us all to show the world that English food is no joke, and Cameron responded with St. John’s roasted marrow bones and parsley salad from Nose to Tail. The end of April brought our first attempt at locavore eating, courtesy of the Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge. Could we eat exclusively local food for a whole week on just $140? (Answer: Hell yes.)
With May’s warmer weather, we started breaking out the tall, cool drinks. A tonic tasting was first on the list. (Stay tuned for an update with two new contenders). Speaking of drinks, we paid a visit to Seattle and made our first trip to Vessel, home of the inimitable Mr. Jamie Boudreau. Back home at the end of the month, I told you all about the pleasures of learning to cook Thai with Kasma.
Come June, Cameron penned a fairy-tale ode to his favorite new/old restaurant, Two. We marked the 40th anniversary of Dorothy Parker’s demise with a round of classic Martinis. With the finishing touches in place, the kitchen remodel was finally ready for her closeup, Mr. DeMille. We headed up to Napa, new camera in tow, to pick walnuts for our annual batch of Nocino at Mr. Hoffman’s orchard. Rounding out the month, Cameron began his full-circle tour of the edible landscape in our backyard.
July in The City meant that summer was in full swing! Time to grind some beef for the season’s first backyard burgers. Sean taught us how to make perfect Mint Juleps, and we pitted pounds and pounds of fruit for homemade Maraschino cherries. We hosted four carnivorous friends for an afternoon of sausage-making mayhem, then wrapped up the month using our new ‘corn zipper’ to make a gorgeous summer souffle — a plate-licker of a dish if ever there was one.
In August, a young Cameron’s fancy turned to home-cured gravlax. We honored Mrs. Child with a supper of ham in piperade and souffle potatoes. Oh no we di-int make Piña Coladas! (Oh yes we did, and they rocked.) But sometimes you have a flop or two in the kitchen; we had a whole week of them, dammit. Thankfully, we were able to get some decent food into our bellies when we headed north to Cookie’s house to share a retro-style potluck with other Bay Area bloggers.
As the rest of the Bay Area blogoverse headed to Bi-Rite Creamery to celebrate September’s Indian summer, we snuck over to the Mission District’s other local treasure of an ice-cream shop, Mitchell’s. As always, there was plenty to drink at our house: An ode to our local Hetch-Hetchy water, a batch of homemade pear-infused brandy, and a cocktail in honor of Cameron’s favorite musical.
Some folks questioned our sanity, but yes, we really did can 100 pounds of Mariquita Farm tomatoes last October. Spending a couple of weeks at Mom’s meant lots of comfort food: a revamped Creole Rice Casserole, and our entry into National Meatloaf Day. Later in the month, we went public with our locavore status, plunging headlong into the Dark Days Challenge. A search for an all-local eats and drinks led us to an eerie tale of murder most fowl and my new favorite cocktail: Gin, honey, and lemon is indeed the Bee’s Knees.
November was obviously booze month: I won the inaugural edition of Raiders of the Lost Cocktail, and got to choose the next theme ingredient: Benedictine. We learned the truth about Mai Tais at Tiki-Ti, took our place behind the bar chez Hedonia, and won a “Does My Blog Look Good in This?” mention for… wait for it… a cocktail photo.
Which brings us barreling on home to December… what a month! After we shared our favorite way to gobble up turkey leftovers (that’d be Enchiladas suizas), we bellied up to the bar for a sweet vermouth tasting, and spent seven straight nights eating locally sourced suppers. While preoccupied with Menu for Hope, were stunned to be nominated for Best Blog Covering Drinks — we never expected to win! (Thank you all, again. Wow.)
So yeah… highest highs, lowest lows, and all the what-have-you in between. I wouldn’t repeat this year for love or money, but I can’t say it wasn’t without its memorable occasions. I know it seems trite to say we couldn’t have done it without you, but it’s true — we’re truly blessed to have so many passionate subscribers, thoughtful commenters, and fabulous foodie friends.
I hope 2008 brings you everything you want, both in and out of the kitchen.
Dia de Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is a bit of a misnomer, especially in Mexico where the festivities are often spread out over two or more days. Like most Latino holidays of a spiritual sort, this fiesta integrates indigenous traditions alongside Catholic feasts, blending traditional pre-Hispanic ancestor worship with the Europeans’ All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Children and other innocents are remembered on November 1, and those who died as adults are honored the next day and night. As someone for whom death is a relatively fresh memory, setting aside a few days to remember those we have lost seems eminently wise, a useful way of mourning together and acknowledging individual loss as part of a universal experience.
The celebration — somehow more intimate and yet more festive than Halloween — gives people time to openly remember their dearly departed, and many Mexican and Mexican-American families erect memorial altars in their homes. These ofrendas typically feature a photo of the deceased surrounded by candles, glasses of water, vases of marigolds, small statues of saints or skeletons, decorated sugar skulls, and plenty of food. In addition to the rich bread known as pan de muerto, altar offerings often include moles or other fragrant dishes, bottles of beer or tequila, and other treats to tempt the spirits of the departed to return for a visit home.
Not far from our house, the streets around 24th and Mission are filled with shoppers stocking their altars: The craft stores sell skeleton figurines and papel picado, the florists put out bunches and buckets of marigolds, the panaderias set up tables of pan de muertos on the sidewalk, and the smell of incense fills the air. The mood is festive and the decorations colorful, and tonight, there’ll be a festive parade through the heart of the Mission. What a civilized way to celebrate life’s ultimate certainty.
One of the most recognizable symbols of the fiesta is La Calavera de la Catrina, the fancy-lady skeleton. As with many macabre figures in Mexican folk art, La Catrina serves as a reminder that death comes for us all, even the well-to-do and the beautiful. But La Catrina doesn’t let her mortality stand in the way of a good time: She dons her best plumed hat and heads out for a jaunty stroll. Although La Catrina is, herself, dead, she looks so much like a storybook widow-in-black that it’s hard to remember that she’s actually the deceased, not the mourner. No wonder she feels so festive! If you catch her in the right moment, she might just give you a…
1-1/4 oz Calvados or other apple brandy
3/4 oz Benedictine
3/4 oz yellow Chartreuse
2 dashes aromatic bitters
Stir all ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry, or a sugar skull.
Last weekend, Cameron and I spent the better part of our monthly cocktail budget on a pair of tickets to the Independent Spirits Fest. Although my mom thought it sounded like the kind of groovy gig where you’d follow your bliss, it’s actually a trade show for distillers who aren’t aligned with any of the booze juggernauts.
One of the best Fest perks was the opportunity to taste a number of liquors you can’t easily put your hands on, either because they’re too rare (often combined with “too pricey”), or too new to find in stores. With more than 30 exhibitors filling two small conference halls, we decided to focus on those near to our heart: Folks making booze in Northern California.
Between us, we tasted 20+ locally-produced items from a dozen different producers over the course of the evening. (Don’t worry: Most ended up in the spit bucket, and we took a cab home.) Some names you’d recognize from the shelf of your local bar, like Junipero gin and Hangar One vodka. But many new-to-us discoveries — like St. George’s lovely single malt, a bierschanaps made in Mountain View, and Charbay’s haunting pastis — were almost worth the cost of admission.
Best of all, it was a treat to find so many liquors produced within 100 miles of our home bar. Of the major booze families, I think we’re really only lacking a local American-style whiskey (one’s coming soon from Pioneer Spirits in Chico, with any luck) and a tequila equivalent, which can only be a matter of time given the mezcal explosion and the Bay Area’s love affair with agave.
But even after Wednesday’s Dark Days post, I can’t say that we’re going totally loca-boire. I think it’s safe to say, however, given the diversity of what we found — gin, whisky, rum, vodka, brandies, eaux de vie, liqueurs of all sorts — you’ll start seeing a lot more local products on our shelf, and on the blog.
But on to this week’s drink: I’d been playing with honey drinks for a while, but it wasn’t until I sat down with my brand-new (to me) copy of David Embury’s classic The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks that I found one that really appealed to my tastes. Early in the book, Embury holds forth on the dark days of Prohibition and the birth of a number of “pernicious” cocktails, including a concoction christened the Bee’s Knees — equal parts honey, lemon, and gin. Thankfully, the days of bathtub gin are long behind us, and the modern version of the drink (which Embury endorses in later chapters) calls for saner proportions.
The glorious thing about the Bee’s Knees — which fully lives up to its name — is that it’s another one of those drinks you can easily make with ingredients you keep around the house. And, if you’re lucky like us, even with ingredients grown or distilled within a few miles of home. Careful observers will note it’s a close relative of the Whiskey Sour, and it shares that drink’s easygoing ways.
Although they weren’t exhibiting at the Fest, our favorite white liquor these days is sassy 209 Gin, distilled along the San Francisco waterfront at Pier 50 (a full 6 miles from our door, if you’re counting). It’s a lovely, mixable spirit, well-balanced but spunky.
The honey we get from Meeks’ in Soquel (72 miles) is fairly solid stuff. To bring it to a spreadable consistency, we usually warm the jar in a small saucepan of water. Alas, that’s not such a clever idea when mixing drinks: Hot honey isn’t exactly conducive to a crisp and cool cocktail, and it seizes back up as soon as it hits the ice. The problem’s easily remedied by using honey syrup: Heat equal parts honey and water in a pan, stir until dissolved, then pour into a bottle for storage (in the fridge, please).
Last but not least, there’s lemon juice. Although local honeybees are big fans of our backyard Meyer lemon tree, its current crop of fruit isn’t quite ripe. Luckily, a number of the farmers at the Ferry Building market keep us well supplied with Eureka lemons. In a few weeks, when our lemons turn yellow at last, this drink’ll get about as local as can bee.
2 oz dry gin
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz honey syrup
Shake all ingredients with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Drink of the Week, 1 Year Ago: Moscow Mule
Las Vegas is perhaps the last place on the planet you’d expect to find anyone attempting to practice the locavore lifestyle. It’s the kind of city, after all, where restaurants brazenly tout their ‘locally caught salmon’ knowing full well that the closest ocean lies more than 300 miles away. (Perhaps they’re secretly stocking Lake Mead with King and Chinook?)
But the evidence that times are a-changing is there in black and white: Wednesday’s Review-Journal Living section featured a front-page story on chefs seeking out local purveyors and farmers attempting to create a market for their produce. To my surprise, a fair number of crops are grown within an hour’s drive of Sin City, just over the hill in Pahrump – a town better known for its ‘chicken ranches‘ than its vegetable farms.
And there’s more good news, quite literally just over the horizon. Although the Las Vegas Valley’s extreme temperatures — well over 100 in the summer and occasionally below freezing in winter — make large-scale farming nearly impossible, the nearby valleys of Southern Nevada can support a wide variety of carefully selected crops. Although water-intensive fields of alfalfa and grain are out of the question, the article points out that water-conscious drip irrigation (much like the kind we use in our own mini-orchard) is particularly well-suited to food crops grown for humans, rather than livestock. The UNLV cooperative extension specialists are working with folks interested in raising “everything from natural beef and pheasants to vegetables and fruit”, right within shouting distance of the neon and nightlife.
It’s a fascinating article about a region in transition. One only hopes they gain some traction before the local housing boom puts pressure on farmers to sell out to developers of yet another slapped-together townhouse pod.
The story arrived too late for me to explore many of its finds — the lone retail farmer mentioned operates a stand only from June through September. But I’m ecstatic to read that Whole Foods has her farm, and presumably others like it, under contract for next year’s harvest. The last time I was in town, just months ago, the local Whole Foods in Henderson was trucking in every last apple and avocado they sold all the way from our very own Central Valley. Most of their produce had travelled almost as far as I had, and some even hailed from another hemisphere. I suspect we have Michael Pollan to thank for this radical change, for holding Mr. Mackey’s feet to the fire.
You can even find backyard edibles from green-thumbed gardeners making the most of their fickle surroundings. Some Asian friends have a few makrut lime trees, and another grows cilantro so prolifically that she can share giant batches with her friends. The neighbor up the hill has wide-paddle cactus along his fence; I doubt he’s making nopales, but we do see him harvesting tunas with a pliers now and then. (Let’s hope he’s making Margaritas with the juice.)
But although you might expect to find edible cacti among the sand and sagebrush, the desert is full of other surprises. On my last full day in town, Mom’s friend from across the street arrived bearing a pair of picture-perfect pomegranates from her own backyard. It’s one of those smack-your-forehead discoveries: These seedy fruits hail from the Middle East, so they’re well-adapted to dry desert climes. The ones grown just feet from our front door were large and beautiful; they weren’t as sweet as the cultivated variety, but they would make a delightful addition to a winter salad or a garnish for chiles en nogada.
Next time, we’ll have to put aside the casseroles and meatloaf for one night, and see where the desert leads us. Perhaps by then, even Whole Foods will have made good on its agenda, and ‘local Southern Nevada produce’ might no longer be an oxymoron.
Sure, sure… we’ve all heard the swooning coming from the assembled masses lining up outside Bi-Rite Creamery. (And yes, we’re in awe of their salt-caramel ice cream, just like everyone else.) But waaayyyy down at the other end of The Mission, there’s another ice-cream shop that’s packing them in every night, just like they have since the kids in line sported white bobby socks and greased hair.
Although the days when Mitchell’s used milk from its own dairy farm are long gone, each flavor is still made on the premises in small-batch freezers. More than 50 state-fair ribbons and medals on the wall tell the story of the family’s commitment to quality.
You won’t find any honey-lavender or soy-chai scoops here, but that doesn’t mean that Mitchell’s doesn’t get its gourmet groove on. The shop’s biggest claim to fame may be its roster of tropical flavors, sporting tongue-twister names like langka, macapuno, and lucuma, alongside a longer list of ‘standard’ (but still interesting) tastes. Reading the menu’s like a trip around the globe: Thai tea, Mexican chocolate, and New York Cherry are just three options. Feeling cocktailian? Rum raisin, Kahlua, and mojito might do the trick. A set of flavors rotates seasonally; peach holds court today, but pumpkin can’t be far off.
Go ahead, take a number. You’ve got plenty of time to decide…
Mitchell’s Ice Cream
688 San Jose Avenue (at 29th)
San Francisco, CA 94110
I am not an enormous fan of rum, except for when I’m vacationing in a tropical clime. Then, it’s practically the only thing that I want to drink. I blush to think of how many Painkillers I put away during our too-brief trips to the British Virgin Islands, and as soon as my feet touch the ground in Hawaii, I develop a thirst for Mai Tais that strains the bounds of good taste.
But take the boy out of the tropics and the desire fades. The fruity mixtures never taste as good back in the real world, and when the going gets hot, I’d just as soon have a tequila (or gin) and tonic or a cold beer.
This week’s drink may change that, as I’ve fallen in lust with Cruzan Black Strap rum. It’s the perfect liquor to have a summer fling with: a bold, sexy troublemaker that dares you to stay out late. You know that by the end of the summer it will seem pushy and cloying, but until then: wow, what a body.
The enabler of my infatuation is the Corn ‘n’ Oil, a traditional drink from Barbados and other points Caribbean. The essential ingredients are rum and falernum — beyond that the proportions and additions vary greatly. For the rich, sweet Black Strap, use the recipe below. If you’re using a paler rum, double the falernum and ease off on the bitters and lime.
Want more? Allow me the honor of introducing you to several worthies who have written extensively on both the provenance of the drink and the history of (and creation of): falernum. Like the man said, I stand on the shoulders of giants.
Corn ‘n’ Oil
2 oz Cruzan Black Strap rum
1/4 oz Velvet Falernum
2-3 dashes aromatic bitters
Juice of 1/4 lime
Build over ice in double old-fashioned glass.
I felt a bit odd concocting this week’s entry, given that I had never before had an authentic sangrita — by which I mean served in a roadside shack in Mexico, or in a dark Mission District dive drawing inspiration from our friends to the South. Truth be told, I’d never even had an inauthentic sangrita — served anywhere. Given my fondness for tequila, this seemed an odd state of affairs. A post from Steve over at Rancho Gordo extolling the virtues of “a shot and a sangrita” inspired me to correct this deficiency.
I was initially concerned that my lack of personal experience with the drink might prove to be an obstacle, but my research provided me with great comfort. As far as I can tell, if you ask fifteen sangrita aficionados to list the drink’s ingredients, you will get fifteen wildly different recipes and possibly an entertaining fistfight, depending on how many of the aficionados are in the room at the same time and how much tequila they’ve had.
Most of the sangrita recipes that I found started with some combination of tomato juice and citrus — usually orange juice. The next most common ingredient was grenadine or pomegranate juice. After that, ay dios mio, baby, just go to the vegetable market, close your eyes and point. I found instructions for chopped onion, chopped jalapeno, lime juice, chipotle powder, dried chopped ancho chile, Tabasco, cayenne pepper, chili powder, and lemon juice. I’m sure that there are even more exotic mixtures lurking in the darkness. I’m just happy that I stopped before I found anything that would require the services of an entomologist.
We tested recipes that included nearly every ingredient mentioned above, but ultimately settled on a combination of juices without a lot of additional hoo-hah. The key was achieving a balance between the tomato and fruit juice flavor — a process that required countless hours of selfless taste-testing… all in the interest of you, our faithful reader. With that done, we found that all of the other exciting additions just got in the way, added to the prep time, and made the drink grainy and unpalatable. Our winner was loosely based on a recipe from Rick Bayless’ Authentic Mexican. The beauty of this concoction is that you can easily adjust the proportions to your taste.
A few words about the ingredients: The orange juice was freshly squeezed; storebought juice will be more acidic and not as sweet. You can substitute grenadine for the pomegranate juice, but the result will be much sweeter. It’s worth the time to make your own good-quality tomato juice — all you need is a blender or food processor, a fine metal sieve, and some canned tomatoes.
Finally, skip the Tabasco, Tapatio, or other vinegar/cayenne sauces in favor of a good quality hot sauce that adds flavor as well as heat. We used Frontera Red Pepper Hot Sauce, which is, coincidentally, the bottled version of Bayless’ Chile de Arbol Hot Sauce, another recipe from Authentic Mexican. These days, the Frontera line is available in most grocery stores; you can also buy it online. Por supuesto, we got the very best results using Rancho Gordo Rio Fuego Very Hot Sauce, but we are impossibly biased.
makes four shots
4 oz. tomato juice
2 oz. orange juice
2 oz. lime juice
4 tsp. pomegranate juice
1/2 tsp. hot sauce
1/8 tsp. salt, or to taste
6-8 healthy dashes Worcestershire sauce
Combine all ingredients in a glass container, and chill well in the refrigerator. When thoroughly chilled, divide into 4 shot glasses, and serve alongside 4 shots of good-quality gold tequila, preferably reposado. Sip… first the tequila, then the sangrita.
I can’t remember exactly when I first tried a tequila and tonic, but I can remember why: I was searching for a standard drink. I wanted to have a drink in my mental back pocket that I could order when the specialty cocktail list got too goofy. Or when I’d arrived late and everyone else was already halfway through their glasses and a waitress was asking, “And can I get you anything?” as she whooshed by on her way to another table. An easily-described drink made out of ingredients available pretty much anywhere, one that even the most ham-handed bartender couldn’t screw up too badly.
I started from a gin and tonic baseline. Rum and tonic was too sweet. Vodka and tonic just tasted like tonic. I never tried bourbon and tonic, because that’s just too weird even for me. But one night I asked for a tequila and tonic with a lime, and I’ve never looked back. Tequila and tonic trades on the same bittersweet, citrus pleasures as the gin and tonic, but substitutes spicy roundness for medicinal bite.
These days, I’m looking forward to a tequila and tonic at the homestead even more than usual, as the renewed national interest in cocktails has spawned a couple of boutique tonic waters. So, as part of the Drink of the Week and Mixology Monday festivities, we rounded up a couple of the new entries–Stirrings and Fever Tree–to put them to the test against the supermarket standbys: Schweppes and Canada Dry.
The results were interesting. Canada Dry was the clear loser with a Two Tongues Stuck Out in Disgust rating; “Overly sweet and chemical-tasting,” said our panel. Our tasters were also a bit disappointed by the Stirrings tonic. It had the advantage of tasting like natural product, but was nearly as sweet and oddly fruity as the Canada Dry. The second mass-market entry, Schweppes, fared better, although it brought out the boozy, horse-blanket nature of the tequila. The overall winner was the Fever Tree tonic, which balanced sweet and bitter and added welcome herbal notes.
Purely in the interest of science, we also compared the two supermarket brands in multiple formats: 10-ounce bar bottles and liter-sized big ‘uns. Just as I’ve always thought, the contents of the larger bottles were OK when fresh, but quickly took a turn for the flat and lackluster, which further exacerbated their chemical-y, medicinal undertones.
Tequila & Tonic
2 oz. aged tequila (we use El Jimador Reposado)
3-4 oz. good-quality tonic
lime wedge, for garnish
Build over ice. Sip suavely, Rico.
When we visit Seattle, we always head straight from the airport to the bar at the Zig Zag Cafe. Our drinking patterns are possibly the worst-kept secret in the modern world, and so try as we might to keep first-Seattle-nights to ourselves, our friends often have other plans for us.
And so it came to pass that last Friday, while you all were sipping Cosmimosas with Sean, we were sampling a number (and a rather large number, I must confess) of flawless Murray Stenson cocktails with a rolling roster of the Seattle crew. We bumped into Wendy and Dayne on our way into the bar, and soon their friend Della and her fiance found two stools at the bar. Then, just as Wendy and Dayne headed home for the night, none other than Rocky showed up, followed closely by Jason. As you might expect with a group this cocktail-obsessed, we ended up sampling a serious portion of the drinks on the seasonal menu, plus a number of specials that Murray concocted, and a few old standbys.
We’ll get to all of the drinks in due time, I assure you, but — in case it’s escaped your notice on dozens of other blogs today — Saturday is Cinco de Mayo, so I couldn’t resist sharing a tequila cocktail. The Prado, which graces the current drinks list at the Zig Zag, shares many traits with that most famous of all Mexican cocktails, but the maraschino lends a Continental flair.
1-1/2 oz. tequila
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 egg white
1/2 oz. maraschino liqueur
Shake with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
The Prado is our first entry into this month’s Mixology Monday. (Cameron’s planning to post another, closer to the actual day.) Over at My Bar, Your Bar, our host Matt is gathering tequila-based cocktails from far and wide. Be sure to head over to his place on the 15th, where he’ll be posting a roundup of all the entries.
This month’s Mixology Monday, hosted by the folks over at Imbibe Unfiltered, features Winter Warmers — a happy thing for those of us who happen to be living in unheated basements. Now, I realize that “warmers” refers to these drinks’ effect on the drinker’s internal comfort, rather than the temperature at which they’re served. But with the weather in Fog City threatening to dip into the 20s overnight, a double-dose of warmth seems wise.
I was looking for something that packed the twin punch of alcohol and heat, along the lines of an Irish Coffee. But unlike my better half, I am not much of a coffee drinker. I love the taste, but I can’t do caffeine… especially once the sun goes down. Mexican chocolate is one of my favorite warm drinks, so it seemed natural to fortify this brunchtime favorite with a nip of something strong.
Plenty of complementary liqueurs came to mind; we tried brandy, Cointreau, Kahlua, and even nocino. But in the end, tequila worked best. A tot of mezcal adds fire and a touch of funk, which keeps the drink from veering off into sickly-sweet territory. A dash of orange bitters rounds out the taste and keeps the tequila’s aroma in check. (In a pinch, Cointreau or another orange liqueur would do the same, but the drink needs no extra sweetness.)
The Spanish word chispa literally translates to “spark”, but it also has connotations of enthusiasm, liveliness, and — a ha! — small amounts of liquor. And in some parts of Latin America, chispada (lit. “sparked”) is a colloquial expression for “buzzed” or “tipsy”. More genteel than borracho (“drunk”), it’s something you might say about your grandma after she’d gotten uncharacteristically alegre at a family gathering. In other words, you’ve imbibed just enough alcohol to warm your toes, but not enough to slur your speech.
If you don’t want to buy Mexican chocolate tablets just for this recipe, feel free to make your own, or simply add cinnamon (preferably canela) to your usual hot cocoa mix or recipe. The texture won’t be the same, but the flavors will still sing.
Mexican chocolate, such as Ibarra or Abuelita
1 cup milk
1 to 1.5 oz. medium-quality tequila, to taste
2 dashes orange bitters (or a dash of Cointreau)
whipped cream, perferably unsweetened
Prepare the Mexican chocolate according to package directions — typically 8 oz. hot milk blended with 2 wedges of chocolate tablets. In a mug or an Irish coffee glass, combine the tequila, bitters and the hot chocolate, and stir gently to combine. Top with a dollop of whipped cream, and dust with cinnamon or chile powder.