Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Six Bar Tools I’m Taking to Italy

As someone who writes home-entertaining books (and articles and such), going away for seven months to Italy involves some planning of the bar tool sort--meaning, I can’t leave certain tools at home. Yeah, I’m a bar baby, or too spoiled, or just a glutton for traveling heavy and breaking my rented car and my permanent back. It’s not that I think I couldn’t make slurpable drinks during the next seven months without the following seven drink-making devices (at least I think I could), but I’d just feel so naked behind the bar (or at the counter). And not in the good “making-drinks-naked way.” And I need to make pretty drinks for my other blog as well. So, here’s a look into my suitcase.

1 and 2: Cocktail Shaker and Jigger
The below is my most-utilized cocktail shaker, the WMF Manhattan stainless steel cobble-style shaker. I love both how it fits me, and how it has a little elegance in its lines. It also packs up nice, and since I’ve used it almost every day for the last 10 years, isn’t something I’d leave behind. The jigger alongside it keeps me honest on measuring, and also keeps the shaker company.

3: Fine Strainer
A good fine strainer is used for drinks that contain fresh juice (which should be the only juice you use). I wanted to bring a juicer to go with it, but decided at the last minute that squeezing would work as long as I took the fine strainer to ensure no chunky-ness gets into the drink (or teeth).

4: A Hawthorne Strainer
This is the Oxo strainer, very portable, and a necessary extra just in case the built-in strainer on my shaker gets overwhelmed by the amount of drinks being made, or the fruit in them, or anything else. Can also work if I decide to use another shaker when out and about. A generally handy item to have, and small enough to not worry about packing.

5 and 6: Pug Muddler and Stir Spoon
Just in case you don’t know, a muddler is a sturdy baseball-bat-looking item used to ‘muddle’ fruit, herbs, spices, and to knock people on the knuckles if they try to steal your drink. Mine is a Pug muddler, which means it was made by hand with care by a gentleman named Chris Gallagher. It’s made from Mexican Rosewood (or Bocote), and is a substantial and beautiful thing, and one which, between us, I paid more than I would tell you for—but look at it! Pug muddlers aren’t available in stores, but you can email Chris directly if you want one (and you should), at jcgallagher08 @ hotmail . com (removing the spaces). The stir spoon is one of many I have, needed for stirring drinks.

7: Square Ice Cube Trays
I can admit it: I am addicted to perfectly square ice cubes. I can’t be completely happy without them (okay, okay, that’s going overboard. But I am awfully fond of them, and how them both melt slowly when whole and crack perfectly when smacked with the Pug Muddler, making them the ideal ice for the home bartender). My ice cubes are made in the the Tovolo Perfect Cube silicone ice cube tray, and I’m hoping they don’t get swiped when going through customs. Because customs agents probably want perfect ice cubes, too.

Monday, September 27, 2010

What I Can’t Wait For: A Spritz at 5

Well, I haven’t been able to post nearly enough (or at all, really) on the Six Months yet, due to getting ready to actually leave (as well as getting ready for the release reading for In Their Cups: An Anthology of Poems about Drinking Places, Drinks, and Drinkers, which was last Sunday, and the release event for Champagne Cocktails: 50 Cork-Popping Concoctions and Scintillating Sparklers, which is Friday). But every day I think about the upcoming trip of course, and think about things I can’t wait to do when we get there. Many times a day actually, at different hours, but around 5 I tend to think of one specific thing: the Italian Spritz. The reason it happens around 5 is because the last time we were in Italy (with pals, and talked about here on my boozier blog), Nat and I got into the Italian habit of stopping by a neighborhood bar (first in Bologna) in the pre-dinner and post-work hour for a Spritz. While there are various theories about garnishes, the Spritz is basically the lovely, light Italian liqueur Aperol, usually over ice, and topped with Italian sparkling wine Prosecco—with either an orange slice or an olive depending on where you are drinking at, both bar and region. It’s a fantastic late afternoon/early evening sipper, both in taste and appearance.

Serves 4

4 to 8 ice cubes (optional)
6 ounces Aperol
Chilled Prosecco, or Moscato d'Asti, or Asti Spumante
4 green olives (unstuffed) for garnish (optional)
4 orange sliced or wedged for garnish (optional—but at least have them or the olives)

1. If the Prosecco isn’t well-chilled, or if you’re feeling overly-heated, or you want to have it like you’d get it served in Italy, place 1 or 2 ice cubes each in four flute glasses. Add  1-1/2 ounces Aperol to each flute.

2. Fill the glasses almost to the rim with Prosecco or other Italian sparkling wine. Garnish with each with an olive and an orange slice or some combination thereof.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What I Can’t Wait For: Da Cesari Ravioli

As we get closer to leaving on our Italian adventure (departure date: October 5th), I’m not only thinking about what I have to take (and will post about that, too, but one hint: ice cube trays), and what we have to get together for the dogs (big crates, to start with, for the flight), but also have been spending lots of time ruminating over what I can’t wait to do, and to have, when we get there. This will be our fifth trip to Italy, and while we have lots of favorites in our Lisciano Niccone neighborhood, since we’ve stayed there for at least a few days every time we’ve been, we also have some favorites we can’t wait to get back to in other Italian locales, since we’ve also visited a number of other spots. And by “favorites” I mean both towns and cities and artistic vistas and such, but also specific dishes and drinks, which I’ll blog about as they start to overwhelm my imagination. The first, and a dish I’ve been dreaming of since the night after I ate it, is the Ravioli di Zucca at Da Cesari in Bologna, at Via de’ Carbonesi 8. Da Cesari is, to my mind, one of the must-stops on a culinary tour of Italy (and the spot of one of the best meals I ever had). Da Cesari is over 100 years old and family owned, with all the produce from the family farm and all the wine made by the family, too (we had an especially lush and delicately frizzante Laumbrusco). The staff is incredibly friendly and helpful (even bringing out the house digestif, which was a berry and herbal liqueur in a bottle that is frozen within a block of ice that has berries and leaves suspended in the ice), and everything we had to eat over the few hours we were there was delicious. But my favorite was the Ravioli di Zucca. It had solely a swirl of olive oil and parmigiano-reggiano on top, which is good, because with truly perfect homemade pasta, cooked to al dente excellence, you don’t need or want much in the way of sauce. After that first ethereal munch into the pasta, you hit the pumpkin filling, which is creamy without sacrificing bright flavor. It may have been the best ravioli I ever consumed (and believe me, I consumed every last smidge), and I can’t wait to taste it, and visit Da Cesari. Even though Bologna is about 3 hours away from Ciaro Chielo, we plan on making the trip before too long after we get to Italy (and don’t worry, we’ll post about it here).