Friday, December 31, 2010

Firewater Friday . . . Three grapes, twice fermented

Champagne . . . it’s elegant, bubbly and a little sexy. 

There are 49 million bubbles in a 750ml bottle of champagne, give or take a few.

Champagne is nothing more than wine . . . an exquisite, effervescent wine.  In order for a wine to be labeled "champagne" it must be made in the Champagne region of northeastern France.  Otherwise it’s simply a sparkling wine; although if it is made using the traditional French method it may be labeled "methode champenoise".

The pressure in a bottle of champagne is 90 pounds per square inch, about three times that in an automobile tire.

The shape of the champagne glass is important.   The glasses you see people sipping Champagne from in all the old movies is called a “coupe” glass.  Although classic and elegant, the champagne coupe is not the best choice for drinking champagne.  The design of this glass has broad exposed surface area means the wine's effervescence quickly diminishes.

Legend has it that the champagne "coupe" was modeled in the shape of Marie Antoinette's breast, using wax moulds.

Champagne should be served in a flute . . . not the musical instrument, but a slim glass which tapers slightly inwards towards the top. The shape of a champagne flute helps to contain all those fun-loving fizzies for a longer period of time; prolonging your champagne drinking pleasure. 

A champagne cork leaves the bottle at a velocity of approximately 38-40 mph, but can pop out at as fast as100 mph.

Although the answer to life, the universe and everything may be 42 . . . 45 is the magic number for champagne.  Champagne should be chilled to a temperature down to 45 F before serving and you should uncork a bottle of champagne at a 45 degree angle.  While popping the cork may be romantic and fun, spraying a $100 bottle of wine around the room seems more than a little extravagant and over-the-top.  Champagne must be siiiiiighed opened.

This is how to do it . . .

  • Remove the foil from the cork.
  • Untwist the wire restraint securing the cork.
  • Wrap the bottle's neck and cork in a dish towel.
  • Angle the bottle away from everyone.
  • Take hold of the cork with the towel and gently untwist.
  • Continue untwisting, or hold the cork in place and twist the bottle itself.
  • Slowly ease the cork out of the bottle's neck.
  • Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh
  • Listen for the pop and pour.

Champagne corks are “straight” before they are put into the bottle. The “mushroom” shape is a result of the inserted portion of the cork being compressed in the bottle. Once pulled from the bottle the lower part of that portion of the stopper (the natural cork discs) continues to expand shaping itself into a “mushroom”.


A mimosa cocktail is a lovely and refreshing way to enjoy champagne . . . any time. 

A true mimosa is made of three parts champagne and two parts orange juice served in a proper champagne glass.  For a little something special . . . as if champagne isn’t special enough . . . add a teaspoon Grand Marnier to make a Grand Mimosa.   Mmmm, yummers!

Cheers!  And Happy New Year!

"come quickly, I am tasting the stars!"

Dom Perignon

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The taste that tickles

Rice Krispies  . . . crispety, crunchety, talkative . . . I do whatever my Rice Krispies tell me to.  Not really  . . . I haven’t been able to locate a Snap! Crackle! Pop! translator . . .not from lack of trying either! 

Did you know that Rice Krispies are multi-lingual??  It’s true:

Sweden: Piff! Paff! Puff!
Germany: Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!
Mexico: Pim! Pum! Pam!
Finland: Poks! Riks! Raks!
Canadian French: Cric! Crac! Croc!
Holland: Pif! Paf! Pof!
South Africa: Knap! Knaetter! Knak!

Where do Rice Krispies get their voice?  I’m guessing that there’s not a whole heck of a lot of funding out there for conducting experiments on cereal noises, but this theory seems plausible.

When they are cooked, each piece of rice expands and a network of air-filled caves and tunnels form inside.  When milk is poured on them, the cereal absorbs the milk. As milk flows into the crispy kernel, the liquid puts pressure on the air inside and pushes it around.  The pressure shatters the walls of the air pockets . . . forcing out a snap, or a crackle, or, as you, know, sometimes a pop.  If you look carefully you might even see tiny air bubbles escaping to the surface.

You probably want to eat them before the conversation ends.   Because once the rice is wet enough, all the air pockets have burst, and the sounds stop you’re going to end up with a bowl full of soggy rice puffs.

You know ‘em, you love ‘em . . . and if you don’t, well, you’re in for a treat . . . a Marshmallow Treat

  • 1/4 Cup Butter
  • 4 Cups Miniature Marshmallows
  • 5 Cups Crisp Rice Cereal

Melt butter in large sauce pan over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until melted and well-blended. Cook 2 minutes longer, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Add cereal. Stir until well coated.

Using buttered spatula or waxed paper, press mixture evenly and firmly in buttered 13 x 9 inch pan.

Cut into 2 x 2 inch squares when cool.

Mmmm, a blast from the past!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Waffle Man

The Waffle Man is a fine old man.
He washes his face in a frying pan
He makes his waffles with his hand,
Everybody loves the Waffle Man

New Orleans waffle peddler, Bugling Sam DeKemel, was a well known Waffle Man from the 1920’s. He often belted out a tune aptly called “Waffle Man Blues”

He would come down the street, loudly blowing a bugle from his white and yellow horse-drawn wagon. His wagon was set up on high wheels and children, hearing his bugle blasting would wave their nickels at him to purchase his powdered sugar sprinkled waffles.  Not just one waffle, but four for only five cents.

Bugling Sam made it into Time Magazine and Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” for being the only man to play jazz on an Army regulation bugle.  Sam explained:  “You got to have a tough lip to blow a bugle this way.  You got to use your tongue, your throat and your stomach to push out those sharps & flats because you don’t have any valves.”

Pretty nifty!


Odd Waffle Trivia:

The largest waffle ever made was in 1986 in Chicago. It measured over 3,000 square feet, larger than the average American home! Strangely, the waffle disappeared one night, and to this day no one knows what happened to it.


Anyhoo, if I had to choose between pancakes and waffles, I’d pick waffles every time. .  . crispy edges and the little crevices that hold the melted butter and syrup . . . YUMMERS!

Here’s an awesome waffle recipe . . . with a kicker . . . it’s stuffed with bacon . . . Oh-My-Goodness GOOD!

For the waffle batter:

  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 3/4 Cups Milk
  • 1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon White Sugar
  • 4 Teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Lb Thick Cut Bacon, Cooked

Preheat waffle iron. Beat eggs in large bowl with hand beater until fluffy. Beat in flour, milk, vegetable oil, sugar, baking powder, salt and vanilla, just until smooth.

Spray preheated waffle iron with non-stick cooking spray. Pour mix onto hot waffle iron. 
Place two pre-cooked strips of thick cut bacon crosswise onto the batter.  
Cook until golden brown. 
Serve hot with pats of butter and dripping with maple syrup.

I promise you will NOT be disappointed.  

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Slower than maple syrup

Maple syrup is made from the sap of sugar maple, red maple or black maple trees. In cold climate areas, these trees store starch in their stems and roots before the winter; the starch is then converted to sugar and rises in the sap in the spring.  Maple season is relatively short - usually late February to early April. Maple trees can be tapped and the exuded sap collected and concentrated by heating to evaporate the water.

It takes a lot of maple sap to make syrup . . . forty gallons boil down to around 1 gallon of syrup.

Maple syrup is graded based on its density and translucency. The United States grades maple syrup into two classes: Grade A and Grade B. Grade A is further broken down into three sub-grades: Light Amber (sometimes known as Fancy), Medium Amber, and Dark Amber. Grade B is darker than Grade A Dark Amber.

The lightest-colored, most delicate-flavored syrup, tapped at the beginning of the season when the sap first begins flowing, is usually the most expensive—more than $1 per ounce. As the season progresses and the weather warms, the syrup becomes darker and more intensely flavored.

In the US, any syrup not made almost entirely from maple sap cannot be labeled as "maple”.  This is why you see cheaper imitation syrup products in the grocery store. "Pancake syrup", "waffle syrup", "table syrup", and similarly named syrups are inferior, chemically produced substitutes.  They are less expensive than maple syrup. The primary ingredient is most often high fructose corn syrup flavored with sotolon(1) and have no true maple content.  They are also usually much thicker than genuine maple syrup.

Scientists have identified nearly 300 flavor compounds in maple syrup.

Because tapping the trees is basically stealing food from the trees they are damaged; however if done properly and conscientiously, tapping can occur for over fifty years without killing a tree.  Also, each tap hole is a wound that the tree must heal. Unlike ourselves trees heal their wounds by sealing off instead of repairing the damaged tissue. So, until the wound is healed it serves as an access route for diseases and boring insects.


Every summer my husband and I take a trip to New Hampshire for 10 days. We spend our time riding motorcycles, kayaking, enjoying the amazing scenery and drinking beer at our favorite brew pubs.  

One must do ride is the trip from North Conway, where we always stay at the White Trellis Motel, to Christie's Maple Farm in  Lancaster.  It's a 100+ mile round trip for maple syrup but it's an awesome ride with the majestic Presidential Range in view the whole time.  We get our year supply of maple syrup . . . Grade A Amber . . . enjoy a local soda pop and maple fudge.  

Good times!


A similar variety of this cookie was introduced to me by a dear friend.  They are delicate and wafer thin with the rich flavors of maple and butter.   These are a fairly expensive cookie to make  . . . using real maple syrup and sweet cream butter . . . so make them only for your nearest and dearest.

New England Maple Lace Cookies

1/2 Cup Maple Syrup
1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter (1 Stick), Melted
1/2 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup Oatmeal

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Stir maple syrup and butter together.  Add add flour and oats, mixing well.
Drop by 2 teaspoonfuls onto greased baking sheets, 6 cookies per sheet (they will spread).
Bake 7-8 minutes.  Make sure you keep an eye on them because they will burn fast. 

Remove from the oven and let cool 1 minute, then scrape up with spatula. If the cookies have hardened too much to remove easily from baking sheet, return to warm oven for about 30 seconds.

Simple and Decadent!

(1) Sotolon (also known as sotolone) is an extremely powerful aroma compound, which smells / tastes like maple syrup, caramel, or burnt sugar at lower concentrations.  (i.e. fake maple syrup smell and taste)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Lady of the Haystack

In 1776 an unfortunate woman was found taking refuge under a haystack.  She was said to be quite young, very beautiful and well mannered.   By day she would seek charity from the local people, but at night she would always return to the haystack.  Ladies from the nearby town, who knew of her situation, provided her with food and begged her to seek proper shelter.  The young woman would decline saying only that “trouble and misery dwelt in houses.”    She retained residence in the haystack for nearly four years refusing the protection of a roof even in winter.

Hannah More, an English writer and philanthropist, took up the cause of the Lady of the Haystack.  Hanna found her “handsome, young, interesting, enough Mistress of her reason carefully to shut up from our observation every avenue that might lead to her secret.” Hannah had her removed to a private lunatic asylum, paid for her food, clothing and a personal attendant. 

When asked, The Lady of the Haystack declined to give any account of her birthplace, parentage, or past life, though from casual remarks it was inferred that her family was of high distinction. A peculiar accent led observers to suppose that she was a foreigner.  It believed that she was the illegitimate daughter of the Emperor Francis I, emperor of Austria, and thus a half-sister to Marie Antoinette.  The Empress had her arrested and secreted off to Belgium where a small number of coins "were put into her hands, and she was abandoned to her wretched destiny."  

Hanna wrote of her ward in “A Tale of Real Woe”,  offering what little she had been able to learn about the woman: “that her Father was a German, her Mother an Italian; that she has one brother and one Sister; that her father had a very fine garden full of olive and orange Trees.”
The Lady of the Haystack spent the last 16 years of her life in the asylum eventually degenerating into helpless idiocy.  She died in December, 1800. Miss More continued to the last to contribute towards her maintenance, and paid the expenses of her funeral. The mystery surrounding the Lady was never cleared up and when she died, she took her secret with her.


The Lady of the Haystack may have been half-baked but these yummy haystacks are no-bake.

These cookies are extremely easy to make and make a fun introduction to the kitchen for children.

No-Bake Haystacks
  • 3 Cups Quick Cooking Oats
  • 1 Cup Flaked Coconut
  • 1 Cup Roasted Peanuts, Chopped
  • 2 Cups White Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Milk
  • 1/4 Cup Butter
  • 1/4 Cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla

Mix the oats, coconut, and peanuts together in a large bowl.

Stir the sugar, milk, butter, and cocoa powder together in a saucepan and bring to a boil; boil for 1 minute and immediately remove from heat.

Stir the vanilla into the cocoa mixture; pour over the oat mixture and stir to coat.

Scoop heaping tablespoonfuls of the mixture and drop into haystack-like piles onto waxed paper; allow to cool completely before serving.

Makes about 30 cookies.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Boxing Day . . . let's not fight, okay?

Mom, is it OK if I punch James?" I asked.

She gave me one of those surprised looks. You'd have thought that I'd asked her if I could live on the moon.

"No, you may not punch James," Mom scolded. She carried the laundry basket into the kitchen. "Besides, I thought you and James were friends."

"So did I. But James told me we're going to fight after Christmas," I explained. "He said that boxing day is coming and that he has something for me." I hoped it wouldn't be a black eye or a bloody nose. I liked my face the way it was.

"Well, I'll just have to call Mrs. Simons and find out what's going on," Mom said. She picked up the kitchen phone and dialed. …

Boxing Day is not about punching people’s lights out . . . even if they gave you a really rotten gift for Christmas . . .

Boxing Day is a bank and public holiday celebrated on December 26th in many countries throughout the world.  It has been a long-standing tradition to use this day to give money, food and gifts to the needy and less fortunate.  It’s thought that the holiday developed because servants were required to work on Christmas Day, but took the following day off. As servants prepared to leave to visit their families, their employers would present them with gift boxes.

How to celebrate Boxing Day . . .

  • Attend a sporting event – i.e. have fun!
  • Remember those who have provided a service to you during the year – your mailman, employee, etc.
  • Remember those in need – there is always someone worse off than you.
  • Go shopping – take advantage of those after Christmas sales
  • Celebrate with friends – take time to relax after all the hustle and bustle

Oddly enough, Boxing Day is not celebrated in the United States.  Although on the same day we celebrate National Whiner’s Day.

National Whiners Day is the day after Christmas.  Why?  To whine about the stuff you didn’t get and the stuff you DID get.  Us growed up folks are plenty good about disguising how we feel about the wretched loot we received from well-meaning morons.   

Now the kiddies . . . oh, they know how to express themselves just fine and dandy . . . you can look at your tot’s face and know exactly how pleased (or displeased) they are with their holiday haul.  But, we more mature individuals have learned the diplomacy of political correctness.  

Unless you’re as lucky as me to have a thoughtful, loving and conscientious gift giving spouse who gets me the most awesomest presents EVER . . . seriously, I don’t think he actually HAS disappointed me yet 

. . . the day after Christmas is your day to whine, complain and otherwise commiserate about the awful offerings bestowed upon you.  Pssst . . . just not to the person who handed over the calamitous contribution.    And, since it’s a nationally sanctioned day for bellyaching, why not take the opportunity to complain about all the time you spent shopping, moan about the time you spent decorating and groan about how long it will take you to get your decorations packed away and the house back in its proper order.  While you’re at it, why don’t you go on about EVERY little ol’ thing that is annoying you . . . 

. . . the weather, politics, your hair.  Once you get all the griping out of your system  you should be refreshed and motivated to take enter into the New Year with a positive outlook and a optimistic state of mind.  Yeah right . . . it’s a thought, not a good one but a thought.  Anyhoo . . . just make sure you get you’re bitchin’ done by midnight or you’ve let the opportunity slip through your disillusioned fingers.

I’m thinking that if Boxing Day was instituted in the good old US of A  it would probably be a day of re-gifting.

Follow these simple rules for regifting . . . if you must regift do it right!

#1 Is the gift regiftable?... Never regift handmade or one-of-a-kind items.
#2 How is the condition?... If you have to dust it off, it is not regiftable.
#3 Is this going to work?... Only regift items to people who are not likely to see the original giver.
#4 Do you have good intentions?... Be sure that the recipient will appreciate the item.
#5 How does it look?... Always spring for a new card or gift tag.
#6 Can you handle it?... Never feel guilty about regifting once you've done it.
#7 Have you considered your options?... An unwanted gift could be a welcome donation to a charitable organization.