A perfectly splendid sun rose up to create a wonderful picnic on a careless afternoon for my dear old friend and her son, visiting from Norway. I had only seen her once or twice in the last thirty years since we were in high school together and had never met her charming, buoyant boy, who is soon looking to hit the ripe old age of thirteen. We sat at an appropriately picnicky red-and-white checkered table on the Sun Deck of my building under a cloudless sky, with impish breezes at times attempting to whisk our paper plates away. Our merry trio unpacked our basket as well as a lot of memories, even as we were creating new ones. Bellinis with chilled Spanish cava and peach juice filled our flutes and were readily poured (the young man only had the peach juice and bottled water, of course). I set out "everything" spelt bagels on a platter of slivered yellow onions, thick slices of screamingly ripe red summer tomatoes, Irish smoked salmon, herring in sauce, and creamy French Neufchatel cheese to slather over the whole lot. Popsicles (pulled from a cooler) and brownie minis (allowed to bake in the sun) were a treat to finish while we discussed the ages...
I fell in love with my dear friend, was it 1983? 1984...? How the time passes since the moment I met her those years ago. I cherish it all; yes, friendship, memories, and the years spreading across the distance.
Solbeso, roughly translated to "sun-kissed" I suppose, has recently launched the first spirit to have been distilled from the cacao fruit (hand-sourced from countries such as Peru and Ecuador), resulting in smooth, concentrated aromas and a refined flavor. Although currently only available in Miami and NYC during this preliminary phase, below are several cocktails to ask for by name--and to make in your own home soon!
The Birds & The Bees
2 parts Solbeso
.5 part lemon juice
.5 part honey syrup
Combine ingredients into a shaker filled with ice. Shake, then strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel.
Solbeso + Iced Tea
2 parts Solbeso
2.75 parts iced tea
.75 part simple syrup
Build in a highball glass over cubed ice. Stir and garnish with a wheel of lemon.
After having encountered a dish or a drink that I wasn't satisfied with, something such as fried chicken soaked in peculiar pecan gravy or a miserable mai tai, what do I do when the thoughts niggle at me? I go home to make it myself, usually with better results. I'd heard about Valencia's historic, specialty cocktail, the Agua de Valencia, first crafted about 50 years ago, with gin, orange juice and Spanish cava. When Baby and I went off to Spain, I was excited to try one. I was left as flat as yesterday's cava. The campy, florid Cafe de las Horas (suitably suggested by our local friend) served a wonderful pitcher, I think with vodka, but I was still unsatisfied. I spotted the brittle, gruesome waitress at the popular Cafe Sant Jaume behind the bar attempting to pour the revered cocktail, premade and out of a plastic bottle! In a word, "no." When I returned to the states, I positioned myself behind our bar and set to work. A splash of rum did the trick and resulted in a deliciously refined, refreshing respite. The following recipe is courtesy of Saveur magazine.
Agua de Valencia
1 oz gin
2 oz freshly squeezed orange juice
Splash dark rum
1-2 oz chilled cava, or similar fizzy white, such as prosecco
Fill shaker with ice. Add first three ingredients and shake with vigor. Strain into a stemmed glass (I used a beautiful, etched coupette from a collection that belonged to my Nana, used on her wedding day back in the 1920's--but you needn't perhaps go that far). Top off with the fizzy, sparkling goods and leave the aforementioned waitress out of it. Do enjoy!
Red Jacket just launched their new cookbook Fruitful--Four Seasons of Fresh Fruit Recipes at The Johnson Room in the fabulously fantastic NoMad hotel and gratefully, I was in attendance with a pal of mine in tow. For over 50 years, Red Jacket has been the purveyor of carefully considered fruits and juices--now, Brian Nicholson (third-generation owner) and food writer Sarah Huck have sealed it all with a kiss with Fruitful. Masterly chef Daniel Humm (Chef/Owner, awe-inspiring Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad) is a contributor to the book and was gracious enough to pause as I took the photo, above! The book is gorgeous, bursting with recipes that I cannot wait to stick a fork into. Apart from summery, fruit-filled pies or cobblers, there are many other ruminations that include: a Rhubarb Tom Collins; duck breasts, pan-seared with honeyed gooseberries; pork chops with apricot-rosemary sauce; grilled shrimp skewers with prosciutto and peaches; and (insert gasp! here) vanilla cream cheese cupcakes with black raspberry buttercream.
As we pored over the pages at the event, there was Champagne on hand and a few exclusive cocktails that were passed around, namely the relieving Charlie Watts with Red Jacket Apricot
Stomp, a potent blend of rums from Barbados, Guyana, and Batavia, spicy
tellicherry black pepper and refreshing doses of pineapple and lemon. We snacked on a number of nibbles too: rounds of beets marinated in white vinegar, topped with goat cheese and caraway seeds; salted French breakfast radishes, some of which were wrapped in a delicate shawl of creamy butter; foie gras on brioche toasts dotted with a cherry and rhubarb coulis and what I believe was a slight sprig of tarragon, to further the effect.
Cheers to such a fruitful collaboration and thank you to Nancy and Pam at Trent & Company for the kind invite!
A menu light in fat, calories, ingredients, deed and task!
Chilled Butternut Squash Soup
Asparagus with Pixie Tangerines Unfried Chicken
I love to hover over and linger in the kitchen but it's not always
possible--that's all well and good when you have your own show and staff
everyday, but I don't--so when ease and time is a consideration, more
often it is a must to just get down to it and cut as many corners as you
can, while still creating an elegant, carefully composed meal wrought
from thought and imagination, devoid of ideas revolving around Sandra Lee's Jell-O and ice cream laden concoctions (although I did pull orange popsicles out of the fridge for dessert). Insert blushing emoticon here.
A box (don't cringe) of delicious, chilled butternut squash soup led to the asparagus that I topped with supremed pixie tangerines and a drizzle of bottled shallot vinaigrette; the inspiration from a recipe on PureWow.com may be found here but I opted instead to order a bag of microwavable asparagus from FreshDirect.com.
The gently sauteed crab cakes were pre-made and also enlivened by a little shallot vinaigrette. The unfried chicken has long been one of my favorite preparations and is courtesy of Rosie Daley.
Thanks to PureWow.com for the photo, just above! Credit to Squire Fox, who we believe just may be in league with Squirrel Nutkin.
Quite off the beaten path in Valencia, take the Ring Road (V30) to Alqueria de Brosquil for some of the best paella found there. Signs eventually lead to a simple, low-level hacienda anchored amid the rice fields.
It is surprisingly beautiful inside--wine barrels serve as bar tables and tableaux for melted candles, which I imagine are quite ambient in the evening. We however had stopped in during the day for a lingering (and somewhat liquid) lunch. Our friends who live in Valencia, Baby and I were there for about four hours full of food, wine, and conversation, as is customary--they told us only the tourists have paella at night! The point is to relax over an afternoon and well, these days, take a break from the cell phones. Imagine? We weren't interrupted at all by others elsewhere.
The lot of us looked upon a beautiful orange grove and ordered bieres, rosadas, and gin y tonic or two with greenish tinted lime. A silky, full-bodied, slightly sweet Belondrade y Lurton (100% verdejo grapes) accompanied the ensuing food.
The Quick Bites:
Formatge y Pernil; a platter of pert cheese balanced by subtle ham
Esgarradet salad; pale crisp lettuce, roasted red peppers, and bacalao (salted cod) dressed in olive oil
Amanda de la Casa; tuna and smoked salmon, pickled red onions, and besotting local rainbow tomatoes freckled with capers and cornichons
Puntillas; fantastic lightly fried squid with lemon
Paella Valenciana (top photo); traditional rice dish with rabbit, winking snails in their shells, and green beans, flavored with rosemary sprigs
Arroz Abanda; saffron rice with caldo (broth) that had been cooked in
langostino, bacalao, calamari, removed and served on the side. Sprays of
vibrant, fresh lemon a must!
It was around here that we started playing with our food, mixing the paellas together.
Postres (desserts) included: Callabesa, a wonderful spongy pumpkin pudding of sorts; gorgeous, nutty, caramelized orange flan with a touch of brown sugar and a saffron-inspired Chantilly cream (below); fig creme; sopada (like a creme brulee without the brulee)
After weathering a soul-shredding career as a theatrical agent that lasted entirely too long, Mr. Sherwood left his stable of actors from the stage and screen and went on to pursue his literary aspirations. He is currently the dining editor for Next magazine (nextmagazine.com) where he writes a weekly restaurant review column which also features Manhattan's best food and drink recipes from the finest chef's and bartenders on the island. In 2010 he was published in Foodista’s Best of Food Blogs Cookbook. He toiled as web editor for industry leader Interior Design magazine for several years and has also written for New York magazine, Travel & Leisure and Woman’s Day.
A proud graduate of the University of New Hampshire, one of the nation’s top drinking schools, Mr. Sherwood also studied voice and theater abroad at Regent’s College, in London’s historic Regent’s Park, and at the Royal Academy of Music. He spent a year at Hunter College in Manhattan.
Mr. Sherwood recently published his first novel, the pale of memory, available on Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, and iUniverse.com. He is in the midst of writing a second.
Twitter/tweet/twat him @kaleidabox