Month: September 2018

Varnelli and Cocktail Culture

So, the proper way to enjoy Varnelli is after the meal (LINK ), what about as an aperitif? For this I have the pleasure of experiencing an aperitif tasting conducted by Anna Tosoni, owner of Gossip Wine & Drink in Civitanova Marche and a director of Italy’s bartenders association. Serving as Treasurer, she is the first woman director in its 70 year history. Today she is displaying her talents as she prepares cocktails featuring Varnelli’s Amaro Sibilli and Anice Secco. One of the reasons Varnelli Amaro Sibilla is  popular in mixology culture is that mixologists like to have control over the flavor of their drinks and it is easier to adjust the sweetness in a cocktail that uses this somewhat bitter liquor. Anise isn’t central to Amaro Sibilla, so I won’t write much about it, but I do notice that it has tremendous “legs’ and clings to the side of the bottle after being poured. I am also surprised that gentian flowers and bark are part of the decoction. Orietta tells me that gentian has …

A Meal to End All Meals! Part One

Back in the day, the 3 martini lunch used to be a thing. Beneficiaries enjoyed long, leisurely “working” lunches…well let me tell you about the 2 bottle lunch. In last night’s blog, I marveled that the people around me were eating 3 and 4 courses. Today I learn how. The star of this 2 bottle meal is Rosaria Morganti, chef, owner of Ristorante Due Cigni and master sommelier. She proudly shows me the napkins that are hand woven by her nearly 90 year old mother – who still works in the restaurant! Strong women abound during this meal. Due Cigne offers a farm-&-fish to table experience that is both traditional and contemporary. The decor is refined and minimalist – it occurs to me that there is nothing to compete with the experience of the food. The only thing that isn’t minimalist is its award winning wine cellar! I arrive to meet and interview Orietta Varnelli at noon and walk into an empty restaurant. Well, I think, maybe they open at 12:30. Anna Tesoni is there …

Beyond Aperitivi

My mouth is watering as I plan foods to eat after my anisette and aperitivi. Wild fennel – the taste of anise served up by silken green fronds and starbursts of sunbeam yellow. The flavor is central to one of the best dishes served in Marche – porchetta suckling pig stuffed with herbs. I find another dish of the region that features anise. Coniglio in Porchetta (literally “rabbit cooked like suckling pig”) which is stuffed with fennel. The idea of rabbit conjures 3 stories. First, of my Uncle Angelo who had rabbit hutches behind his house in Wellesley, MA. I thought it was so cool that he had “pet bunnies.” Little did I know that they were to be eaten. Years later, my son Justin and I who had binge watched A Year in Provence ate rabbit in mustard sauce at a Seine-side restaurant in Paris. And later, on the drive in Languedoc to visit our friends a rabbit bounded across the road. It was HUGE. Justin’s comment, “Now I see why they eat them.” …

Women in STEM and Ancient Alchemists

Yes, there is an overlap between my work with Leading Women and my Sip.Savor.Adventure! hobby. It goes beyond the fact that my first official connection is with a woman-owned and operated distillery. The overlap goes back to the tradition of alchemy in ancient times. Here’s how I know. Alchemists from the Ancient World I turn to Wikipedia to learn about the distillation process. I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, to read that Cleopatra* the Alchemist (a woman who lived 1800 years ago) is believed to have invented the alembic still – a precursor to the pot still used to distill liquor. I often use the hashtag, #AnonymousWasAWoman and am not surprised to read that “Cleopatra is a pseudonym for an author whose real name has been lost.” Apparently, women in STEM have had their voices muffled for at least 1800 years. In this case, at least, they get her gender right! The alchemist known as Mary the Jewess lived perhaps as many as 200 years before Cleopatra. If you’ve ever melted chocolate or made custard …

Anice at Renzetti

Before my visit to the Varnelli distillery, I venture into Civitanova Porto (the part of town near its Adriatic port) to taste Varnelli’s Anice Secco at Renzetti Aperitivo&Bar. It is a bit hard to find – only a small sign high on a wall – but I know I am in the right place when I see the napkins! I find a seat on the breezy and shady side of the corner establishment and explain that I am here to taste Anice Secco. I learn that anice (anise in Italian) is pronounced ah’nichay. No wonder no one has understood when I’ve said I was here to learn about liquors made of ah-knee’-say. When ordering my Varnelli Anice Secco, I am asked if I want aperitivi. “Of course!,” I try to say in Italian. That’s what the experience is in its essence – friends and family at ouzeries with meze in Greece or raki table with mezzes in Turkey. I’m missing only friends and family. Aperitivi and Anice First, I am served an abundance of aperitivi …

An Accidental Ouzo

It’s Brussels in September. Gray, damp, rainy. I sit down to dinner and what do I see on the menu? Ricard (pastis from France) and Ouzo from Plomari*! It’s shocking. How is it that ouzo from Plomari is on the menu of this charming old (very Belgian and family run) hotel? A fortuitous accident? What to choose, the famous Ricard from France or the ouzo? Having recently sampled the Ricard at my first tasting party, I order the ouzo – only to be scolded by the waiter who tells me, “Ouzo is a summer drink.” Being unconventional is not going to stop me!  If I’m to become a world renowned authority on anise flavored drinks (the recent way I describe my adventures sipping them around the Mediterranean – and, apparently, beyond) then I must try this ouzo. After all, Plomari on the island of Lesvos is the most famous distilling location for ouzo – or so the Barbayanni distillery would want you to believe. They even have a museum. Somewhat befuddled by my insistence on …

The Best of Belgian Chocolate

I’m a chocoholic. I admit it. I love sampling chocolate in locales famous for it. I once hosted a champagne and chocolate tasting featuring chocolates sourced from around the world. No surprise then,  I was a wee bit skeptical about the superiority of Belgian chocolate over that of other countries, but I’m almost convinced. Why do I say almost, well chock it up to a most delightful chocolate tasting tour with Groovy Brussels. Spend More, Eat Less César begins our tour by claiming that we would find that the investment in the tour would save us money! I’m deeply and visibly skeptical. “Rest assured,” he says, “the tour is organized so you’ll come to understand.” At the first shop we learn 3 things about chocolate: Chocolate is made of ground, roasted cocoa beans and sugar. Cocoa beans are about half fat and half solids. If you buy a chocolate bar that is 100% cocoa, it is 50% cocoa fat and 50% cocoa solids. A bar that’s 70% has 30% sugar, 35% fat and 35% cocoa …

Sipping Raki in Istanbul

I’m not drinking milk with my mezzes* (appetizers). That’s raki! In Istanbul for a client, I’m exhausted and tired of eating at the hotel. By pure luck (and with a little help from my maps app), I discover Meze by Lemon Tree. It’s a tiny, charming restaurant right around the corner from the hotel. Come to find out, it’s quite historic. Anyway the miracle of the mezzes they serve turns it into our go-to restaurant after a hard day of work. And it is where I discover that there are, indeed, differences in anise-flavored liquors. With my first meal I try the least expensive raki on the menu and am repulsed by its ethyl alcohol (gasoline?) scent and aftertaste.  Not one to be daunted, on the next visit I order the most expensive and am blown away by the difference. It’s smooth, rich, delightfully bursting with the scent, flavor and aftertaste of anise. I turn around and see that tucked away in a corner is a collection of all the rakis they serve. Meze by …

Thanking Peter for Pastis

“For me, the most powerful ingredient in pastis is not aniseed or alcohol but ambiance, and that dictates how and where it should be drunk. I cannot imagine drinking it in a hurry. I cannot imagine drinking it in a pub in Fulham, a bar in New York, or anywhere that requires its customers to wear socks. It wouldn’t taste the same. There has to be heat and sunlight and the illusion that the clock has stopped. I have to be in Provence.” Peter Mayle, Toujours Provence I won’t lie. I’ve read every “move away to live a new life” book I can lay my hands on. Walden Pond in high school, Chop Wood, Carry Water, in my 20s and uncounted others since – including Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence (which came along when my son, Justin, was entering the terrible 3s and running away to start a new life seemed like a sensible thing to do.) Four years later, when the book was turned into a mini-series, Justin and I loved watching it …

Tasting Party!

Last night we had our first anise liquor tasting party. In preparation for my trip to sip along the Adriatic, we sipped 2 brands of pastis and an Italian anisette, tested the new Sip.Savor.Adventure! Tasting Template (which definitely needs a bit of work), and savored an array of typical appetizers. Sadly, there are no action photos because Jim neglected to give my my very first lesson in how to use my new Canon Powershot SX60 16.1MP Digital Camera. (Note to self: always take it with you!) We learned at least 5 things (maybe more, but I confess my memory is a bit clouded): Straight up, the pastises by Pernod and Ricard burn the lips. No wonder a dilution of cold water is recommended. Meletti Anisette isn’t an aperitif – it’s sweet and better suited to after dinner. If I had read the bottle, I would have known that. And it doesn’t louche! Hmmm – something to seek further to understand. Also, more than the others, the anisette has legs. This makes sense because it is relatively …