Oh heyyyyyy. Has it seriously been over a month since we last talked?! Yipes. And my little seasonal favorites section is still all about spring favorites – oops, must fix that!
Anyway, since I was last here I’ve been up to a few little things. I was on Minnesota Public Radio a couple times, for example, first talking about porridge and then talking pie crusts (they even made a video of me for that one! That was weird, having a guy come in and video me for a couple hours while I made a pie crust. I practiced for two weeks to make sure I could roll under pressure, and then I tried to just pretend I was talking to a friend in the kitchen about how I go about making pie crust. I think it mostly worked. Except that it lead me to babble about some fairly silly things. Thank goodness for video editing and the fact that they took two hours and turned it into two minutes.). That’s been cool. I like radio recording equipment even better in person than I did in concept. It makes you feel very official to wear giant headphones and talk into a microphone attached to a long arm.
We took Espen trick or treating for the first time (well, sort of. Really we visited two neighbors and then we were done) – he was a stegosaurus. And he’s now had his first Thanksgiving meal, which he loved. He went to town on the turkey, cranberry sauce, and sweet potatoes, and then took his plate of pie and whipped cream and smashed it into his face to lick it clean with the vigor and enthusiasm that I always secretly want to apply to my pumpkin pie eating but am too concerned about table manners to do so.
I started teaching a class about organization theory and its application in public health, which is an incredibly interesting subject, but man, teaching even just one class takes waaaaaay more time than you expect it to. Even when you expect it to take a lot of time. Somehow it still takes more!
Oh, AND we started a cocktail bar in our distillery.
What, that old thing? Oh it’s nothing, really.
JUST KIDDING – IT’S TOTALLY A THING! IT’S A BIG DEAL! ACTUALLY IT’S KIND OF SUPER CRAZY!!!! When we came up with the idea for the distillery, being able to serve cocktails and food was always part of our concept, but if you asked us, I don’t think either Joel or I really thought, ‘oh that means we’re going to wind up opening a cocktail bar.’ Because, to be perfectly honest, as much as we didn’t totally know what we were doing when we set out to open a distillery, we really, really didn’t know what we were doing when we added a cocktail room (we call it a cocktail room because it’s like the equivalent of a brewery taproom, but for a distillery!). But shhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone we’re scrambling to learn as we go because so far it all seems to be going pretty well! We’re serving yummy, yummy unique cocktails at our beautiful handmade bar out of funky glasses our cocktail room manager Chelsy scrounged from ebay and estate sales, and it is all remarkable fun. Crazy amounts of work, yes, but who needs any sleep or free time or anything like that when there are cocktails on the line, right? That’s what we’re telling ourselves for the moment, anyway. Also we’re hiring employees to help out, and I do believe our employees thus far are the best employees that exist anywhere in the world. They’re so great, and they are slowly but surely helping us feel sane again.
The reason starting a cocktail programme (the extra M and E are requisite when talking about a program related to cocktails, don’t you think? Our ice programme also has extra letters.) was quite crazy is because we came into this know virtually nothing about cocktails. Apart from the odd negroni, I virtually didn’t even drink cocktails. I know! I’m such a dilettante! I’ve just always been fine with a nice glass of red wine. However, I’ve come to realize that one of the main reasons that I didn’t enjoy cocktails was that I didn’t understand them. I like understanding things or at least knowing what goes into them helps me appreciate them. And for cocktails, I had no vocabulary, no real knowledge of the ratios or the techniques or equipment or basically any of the thinking that go into crafting a cocktail. As I’ve spent the last year diligently reading and thinking about cocktails – and taste testing them, hehe – I’ve now come to love them.
I’m still a dilettante, and if I tried to have a conversation with a real cocktail geek I’d probably just get nervous and shy and shut-up or maybe go and hide. But, I think loving it is a good place to start. And, I now make some pretty darn good-tasting cocktails, if I do say so myself. I like that cocktail making can be incredibly simple or incredibly complex depending on how you think about it. Many of the great classic cocktails only have a few ingredients, so if you have good quality versions of those ingredients and combine them with a little care, you’ll find yourself with a gorgeous drink. At the same time, many of the ingredients that go into a cocktail are themselves flavored with dozens of herbs and spices, so combining, say, vermouth and chartreuse in a cocktail is in a way like trying to combine a curry and a Caesar salad into a single dish. It can be done, but it can’t be done without a little forethought.
The other interesting thing is that the law in Minnesota that has allowed us to have a cocktail room (up until a few months ago it wasn’t legal) specifies that it’s for serving alcohol we distill. But as far as we can tell that means we can’t serve alcohol from other companies, which eliminates a good number of ingredients that go into some of the standard cocktails – vermouth, or Campari, for example. So, in addition to geeking out on cocktail mixing experiments, I’m now also geeking out on creating our own liqueurs and vermouth and bitters and sodas and all manner of fun flavorful thing. So maybe soon I’ll be able to tell you about how to make your own orange liqueur and hazelnut falernum and suggestions for aquavit cocktails and whatnot. That’ll be fun, right? I think it’s fun.
And in the meantime, here is some yogurt bread. Because in the last month I have also fallen in love with this extraordinarily simple, forgiving, hearty quick bread. With a smidge of cheese it is just grand at breakfast or for afternoon snack. I found the recipe via my friend Marian, who adapted it from a Mark Bittman recipe. It’s a barely sweet loaf, an actual bread more so than a loaf-cake being called bread (not that there’s anything wrong with that, hehe). It is hardy with molasses and cornmeal, rich with yogurt, craggy and sturdy, unassuming and approachable, perfectly willing to be a showcase for any fruit – fresh or dried – or nuts that you feel like adding (I used raisins because I had raisins. Cranberries would be ideal, apples and pecans would be lovely…). Stir sparingly, bake for about an hour, let it cool at least a little. Repeat throughout the wintry season whenever you need a comforting breakfast nibble.
- 2½ cups all purpose flour or white whole wheat flour, or a mixture of wheat and rye flours
- ½ cup medium- or coarse-grind cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1⅔ cups whole milk yogurt
- ¼ cup molasses
- ¼ cup honey
- 1 to 1½ cups raisins, cranberries, chopped fruit, or nuts
- Butter, for greasing the pan
- Heat your oven to 325F.
- In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour(s), cornmeal, salt, and baking soda.
- In another bowl (I actually like to use a big measuring cup) stir together the yogurt, molasses, and honey until smooth.
- Stir the wet ingredients into the dry in two portions, stirring gently just until there are no dry streaks left - don't over mix. Stir in the fruit and nuts while there are still some streaks of flour visible. The dough will be thick, and it may even fizz subtly from the baking soda.
- Add a nice pat of butter (I think I used a whole tablespoon) in the bottom of a loaf pan and put the loaf pan in the oven until the butter is melted. Take the pan out of the oven (wear oven mitts! Don't burn yourself!) and swirl it around to coat it with the melted butter, then gently scrape the bread batter into the pan and put it back into the oven.
- Bake for about one hour - until a toothpick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool on a cooling rack until at least most of the way cool. Then tear on into it.