Author: Susan Colantuono

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 …

Anisette, Salatini and Aperitivi

When I first read about ouzeries I was gobsmacked. In Greece ouzeries are small eateries that specialize in mezes (appetizers) meant to accompany ouzo. Are there, I wonder, similar establishments in France, Italy, Spain and beyond? In Italy, the answer is something of a yes. Aperitifs  (aperitivi in Italian) are drinks  – often with alcohol content – that are meant to get the digestive juices flowing – to, literally, open the appetite. Anisette is such an aperitivo that is often served with salatini – the small nibbles that can include potato chips (what??!), nuts, olives and such. Many establishments will serve salatini with your anisette. Happily, in some places there are actual establishments that are more like ouzeries. One such, on my list of places to visit, is Renzetti Aperitivo&Bar in Civitanova Marche where I’m staying at the lovely B&B Casa tra gli Ulivi  (in an olive grove). I found it through Booking.com (which has a woman CEO, Gillian Tans!) where you’ll find me sipping and savoring along the Adriatic.

Anise and the Adriatic

I don’t drink. Now, that’s a strange statement to launch a blog about sipping anise-flavored liquors around the Mediterranean, but it’s true. Except for one raucous evening in the south of Spain when I was 19, I’ve mostly consumed one glass of wine with dinner a couple of times a week. So why am I on a quest to sip sip anise-flavored liquors around the Mediterranean? I grew up a 3rd generation Italian-American in the mid-50s in a rural town of 6,000 (where Mr. Ferguson plowed our driveway with a horse drawn plow!). Differences of national origin weren’t highlighted in ways that I noticed. I did have hints of my family’s uniqueness though – Donna’s family didn’t have lasagna at Christmas. Marilyn’s family didn’t have ravioli with their Thanksgiving turkey. And no one had a Nana who fried squid. Squid! Now, it’s all the rage. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the flavor of Easter was anise. Easter – a holiday marked by many courses beginning with a breakfast of the anise flavored …