Echoes and Mementos

Thoughts and pictures about cooking, eating, reading, writing, and living.

Category: Drinks

Kiss-Winter-Goodbye Sangria

Perhaps you are familiar with the rain dance. According to legend, some Native American tribes would, when their cornfields were thirsty for water, don tribal masks and vestments and dance wildly. The hope was to invoke the presence responsible for rain and, for the price of a dance, buy a watery drink for the parched fields. Why would a similar dance fail in 2012? From this half-baked thinking follows my strong belief that we can chase the winter by swilling summer drinks and pitchers of sangria in March.

The winter elements of this sangria are cold-weather fruits (apple, pear), a few fingers of brandy (for inner warmth against the frost), a shade of vanilla, and a half-teaspoon of cinnamon. Here we use the shock of cinnamon to stand in for sugar or simple syrup. The absence of sugar makes this an unsexy sangria, and thus a perfect drink for 40- and 50-degree weather. In the same modest spirit, we can use a cheap bottle of wine; the brandy alters the drink’s personality, making the purchase of good wine a bad decision. (For this reason restaurants have a sky-high profit margin on sangria). The hint of warm weather, the brightness with which the sangria summons spring, comes from, what else, citrus.

Makes 4-6 drinks

1                apple

1                pear

⅓               lemon

1 bottle      cheap Spanish red wine (I used Tempranillo)

¼ cup        brandy

½ tsp          ground cinnamon

A few drops of vanilla extract

1 cup         club soda (refrigerated)

1) Core the apple and pear. Discard the cores. Chop the pear into small pieces. When for sangria I cut a pear into crescents, the fruit becomes strange after soaking in the wine, so chop those white wedges to bits. (Other fruits do better; check back in 3 months.) Chop the apple as you did the pear, but leaving a few slices large if you wish. Put the chopped fruit into a large pitcher.

2) Cut the lemon-third into wedges. Remove the seeds. Over the pitcher, squeeze each lemon wedge into submission, then toss the juiceless lemons onto the chopped fruit.

3) Pour the wine and brandy into the pitcher. Add cinnamon. Pour in a whisper of vanilla extract. Stir well. For the night, let the pitcher sleep in the back of your fridge.

4) The next afternoon or night, add the cold club soda, stir, and drink the pitcher with a friend or two.

Flavoring Vodka

Given a choice between the two, the cupcake vodka winking from the second shelf, and the Southeast Asian spirit in which snakes and scorpions swim, which would you rather drink? Me, I am choosing reptile over pastry. But the question matters little, for, though banana and iced-tea particles may lurk in commercial vodkas, the plain stuff takes well to home flavorings.

Vodka distillers aspire to a tasteless drink. As with rice or eggs, you can build whatever flavors you want onto the blank base. With these thoughts I had another: Why not, instead of turning my leftovers into fried rice or a frittata, turn them into a drink? I used ginger, mint, and jalapeno peppers to flavor the vodka. Here’s how it happened:

Makes 1 cup

1      Jalapeno pepper, halved lengthwise (for a milder drink, use just one half)

1      Ginger knob, golf-ball sized, cut into quarter-thick rounds

12    Mint leaves

1       Cup vodka (or so, I used about a shot glass more)

1) Put jalapeno pepper and ginger in a mason jar. Tear the mint leaves and add them. Pour vodka in jar and twist the lid shut. Let sit for two days, gently shaking the jar two or three times a day.

2) Unseal the jar. Strain vodka over a sturdy bowl. Pour now-yellow vodka back into jar. Seal. Drink soon.

What to do with it…

Mix 1:1 with cranberry juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice. Shake for 15 seconds. Pour into martini glasses. Drink.