Living life between the barrel staves in Bourbon Country

Recipes

On Mint Juleps and Margaritas

A true Kentucky Mint Julep, from The Bluegrass Tavern in Lexington, KY

In social settings, regardless of what city I’m in, one question comes up repeatedly as soon as I reveal that I hail from the Bluegrass State.

“Do you drink mint juleps?”

It could be the third Thursday in November, and for some reason all anyone wants to talk about from that moment forward is the Kentucky Derby and its ubiquitous cocktail.  Inevitably someone in the crowd either makes “the best mint julep” or knows someone else that does.  Sidebar conversations tend to break out at that point over whether the julep should be “strong” or “sweet”, whether the mint is incorperated as an essential element or used more as garnish.  It’s no wonder there is confusion among outsiders over how to make a proper mint julep.  Kentuckians can’t agree on the correct preparation either.  Books have been written on the subject.  It would not surprise me to discover a thesis at the University of Kentucky has been written on “The Psychological and Social Aspects of the Proper Preparation of the Mint Julep Cocktail”, such is the level of diverse opinion on the subject.

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Channeling Mexico

I’m lucky in that I don’t have to encourage my son to take an active role in food choices around the house.  His favorite past-time (next to playing with Lego’s) is hanging out in the kitchen.  He’s happy to do the most menial chores provided it somehow pertains to preparing a meal.  Grocery shopping, such a labor when he was younger, has become an almost hilarious experience as the now eight year old browses the produce and meat selections, asking questions and combining flavors in his head prompting regular outbursts like “Oh Daddy, I bet these would taste great together!”. Coupled with the fact that he’s met few foods he doesn’t like or won’t try at least once, it’s a pretty simple exercise to turn him in an active participant in cooking.  My challenge to him lately has been to pick at least one recipe from our cookbook library each weekend.  He takes his job to heart, and will if allowed come up with a whole menu instead.

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A Mid Winter Repast

In the end, I think it came down to the simple fact that we were all just so damn tired of the cold.  And the snow.  And the ice.  We needed a night of good company somewhere warm.  So it was inevitable I suppose that we ended up spending most it in the kitchen.  While we have a deserved reputation for the improvised “shop in the morning, cook in the evening” dinners, this time the conversation started several days in advance.

“Fish sounds good”, was Charlotte’s reply on the phone Thursday night when I asked if we were going to cook this weekend.  Without little instruction or opinion besides that, we each set about determining what our contribution to the meal would be.  The division of labor for dinner is less about who prepares what dish than about utilizing the combined resources of our kitchens, along with the requisite dividing and conquering of a shopping list.  Sometime after our initial conversation, dinner for 2 plus 2 (2 adults and 2 kids) on Friday became dinner for 4 adults and 3 kids on Saturday and the whole affair was relocated to Carlie’s farm.  “I have plenty of wine” Carlie volunteered, having just celebrated her birthday the week before and receiving from her friends a more than adequate restock of her wine cellar.  So it was on Saturday afternoon with the wine shop crossed off the “to-do” list that we made final preparations for dinner on the farm.

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The Notes of Autumn

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The chromatic scale consists of 12 notes, out of which endless variations exist to give us everything from Beethoven to the Beatles. The seasons number only four but account for an almost equally diverse number of possibilities for combining flavors and ingredients. One flavor note that most people associate almost exclusively with autumn is apple cider. Apples have their place nearly year round, from crisp green apples in summer salads to caramel apples at Halloween. Apple cider, however, is one of those flavors that just seems fundamentally wrong if you encounter it at any other time of the year besides the harvest and holiday seasons.

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Simple as Salsa

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It’s that time, towards the end of summer, when the garden really begins to give up it’s bounty. Around here that means it’s salsa time. In Kentucky it’s not until late August that the hotter variety of chile peppers start to flourish. Convential wisdom is you never plant anything you want to keep before Derby Day (the first Saturday in May). Even then, it’s a race to bring in a harvest of some of the hotter chile’s (like Tabasco’s) before the cold night air starts to cut off the plants’ fruiting. This summer with it’s unusually cool nights has been a particular challenge in the old chile pepper patch.

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