31 December 2015

A new year, a new you...Just kidding! Let's drink.

Champagne is the drink de rigueur for New Year's Eve, but it’s also expensive. A sparkling wine can be just as special, and many of them rival the flavor of that $150 bottle of Dom Perignon you dreamt of finding under the tree. If you want to live the Patsy lifestyle on a Bubble budget (if you Star Wars people are going to keep talking in code, I'm breaking out the AbFab references, folks), might I suggest...

From Australia

Yellow Tail Sparkling Chardonnay (dry white): $11

Paringa South Australia Sparkling Shiraz (dry red): $13

From Europe

Freixenet Cordon Rosado from Spain (lightly sweet white) : $10

Ratzenberger Kloster Furstental Bacharacher Riesling Sekt from Germany (sweet white): $30

Santa Margherita Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut from Italy (dry-ish white): $15

Martini & Rossi Asti from Italy (sweet white): $12

From America

Domaine Ste. Michelle Cuvee Brut from Washington State (dry white): $12

Gruet Brut NV from New Mexico (dry white): $12

29 December 2015

Winter cocktails, part 2

Part 1 was written in those heady, fit days before Christmas. Cocktail hour is moving a little slower after a few days off and a whole lot of extra fat in the system, and it's also a lot colder out now (currently 15 degrees according to the thermometer on my porch).  Those of you basking in the Global Warming sun may prefer to keep these drinks cold, but here in the Rockies, it's time for some heat! Get ready for New Year's Eve, and pass the blanket...

Bourbon Chai Toddy

Makes 1 drink

1 oz. bourbon
½ oz. Cointreau
1 oz. freshly prepared chai tea
Splash of bitters

Prepare hot chai tea, measure 1 ounce, and pour into a tall glass. Add the remaining liquids. Stir well and garnish with cinnamon sugar and orange twist.

Moroccan Toddy

Makes 1 drink

1 mint cup tea
1 oz. vodka
¾ oz. brown sugar
¼ oz. Yellow Chartreuse

Prepare mint tea and stir in brown sugar. Add vodka and yellow chartreuse and stir to combine. Garnish with lemon wedge.

Over the Weather

Makes 1 drink

2 oz. Atlantico dark rum
2 oz. boiling water
1 oz. ginger syrup
1 stalk rosemary
2 orange peels
2 dash cinnamon bitters
star anise

Add ingredients to a mixing glass, stir gently. Pour all ingredients into a glass, garnish with rosemary and star anise, and serve while hot.

24 December 2015

Another fancy cake option for the holidays

Are you all OK with me not repeating my Thanksgiving posts on roasting pork because I hate turkey, making fresh cranberry sauce, and serving it all with green beans and potatoes?  Because I don't think you need it.  Make what you want.  Then, make a cake.

Spiced Apple Cake with Warm Rum Sauce

Serves 16

Apple Cake
6 cups peeled and thinly sliced Granny Smith apples (about 3 large apples)
1 ½ cups + 5 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
4 teaspoons cinnamon
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 eggs
½ cup light brown sugar
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
½ cup orange juice
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350˚F.  Grease, sugar, and flour a 10-inch Bundt or tube pan.

Combine apple slices with 5 tablespoons granulated sugar and cinnamon; set aside.

Beat eggs and remaining granulated sugar and brown sugar.  Add vegetable oil, orange juice, and vanilla; beat well.  Gradually blend in flour, salt, and baking powder until well mixed.

Pour one third of the batter into the pan.  Top with half of the apple slices, overlapping slightly.  Pour half the remaining batter in top of apples to cover, then top with remaining apple slices.  Finally, top with remaining batter, making sure apples are covered. 

Bake 55 to 60 minutes, until the top is golden and a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.  Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.

 My favorite rum sauce
1/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup brown sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon rum
A generous pinch of salt

Combine all the sauce ingredients together in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until butter is melted, sugar is dissolved, and the sauce is smooth.

To Serve
Cut some cake.  Put what you want on a plate.  Pour some rum sauce over it.  Drink some more rum as you go. 

21 December 2015

Make a fancy cake for the holidays! (post #1)

That's right, I didn't say Christmas.  I do not find the acknowledgment of other world religions oppressive, I think we all deserve to eat cake, and I think it's particularly appropriate when it's cold outside and you're packing on a little extra layer of warmth.  Get over it. 

This cake is resplendent and actually not difficult to execute.  I'll give you a simpler one next week. 

Pistachio and Almond Cake with Orange Salad

I adapted this Italian-inspired gem from Food and Wine, swapping precious ingredients for ordinary ones and simplifying the process slightly. 

For the pistachio and almond cake:
1 1/3 cups unsalted shelled pistachio nuts
1 1/3 cups blanched whole almonds
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
3 lemons
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 eggs
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
For the orange salad:
5 oranges, of mixed variety if you wish
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup plain yogurt
Unsalted shelled pistachio nuts, optional

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 300ºF. Butter a 4-by-8-inch loaf pan. Then, using a sifter or a fine-mesh strainer, dust it with flour, tapping out the excess.

In a food processor, combine the pistachios and almonds and pulse until finely ground. Set aside.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Grate the zest from the lemons directly into the bowl. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes, or until smooth and creamy. Mix in the vanilla just until incorporated. On low speed, gradually add the nuts and mix just until incorporated. Then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition just until incorporated. Stir in the flour and salt and mix just until incorporated.

Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then, run a pairing knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake sides, invert the cake onto a plate, and lift off the pan. At this point, the cake can be served warm or allowed to cool completely before being sliced and reheated.

To make the orange salad, cut a slice off the top and bottom of 1 orange, stand the orange upright, and cut downward to remove the rind and pith in thick strips. Cut the orange crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices, capturing any juice. Repeat with all of the remaining oranges. Set the orange slices aside until needed.

Gently heat the marmalade in a pot over low heat for about 3 minutes, or until syrupy. Add any captured orange juice along with lemon juice to the marmalade. Remove the pot from the heat and add 1 to 2 tablespoons water to thin the marmalade to the consistency of a vinaigrette. Let cool.

To serve, allow cake to cool at least thirty minutes. Cut into slices and place on individual plates.
Place 4 or 5 orange slices on each plate and drizzle generously with the marmalade syrup. Place the warm pieces of cake next to the orange slices and top with a dollop of yogurt and a few pistachios. Or just put everything on the table and let people help themselves. 

18 December 2015

Winter cocktails, part 1

I hope things are starting to wind down for you all at work, or at least that you're making some time to party with friends.  I am doing just that, and I'm thrilled to be hosting a cocktail hour tonight, the first opportunity I've had to do so in months.  I'll have some red wine and a Chardonnay around, and these...

Rudolph's Nose Punch

Makes one-ass big bowl of punch.

3 cups chilled vodka
3 cups chilled orange juice
3 cups chilled freshly squeezed lime juice
3 cups chilled grenadine
3 cups chilled club soda

Mix all ingredients together in a punch bowl. Add an ice ring if you want to be fancy (or have ice on hand).

Santa's Nightcap

Makes one drink.

2 1/2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce walnut liqueur
1 teaspoon real maple syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters*

Ophelia, which I shamelessly stole from Denver's fabulous Olivéa

Makes one drink. 

For the Rosemary Simple Syrup:
¼ cup minced rosemary
½ cup water
½ cup of sugar

For the Cocktail:
1 and ½ oz Gin
¾ oz rosemary syrup
¾ oz fresh lemon juice (about ½ of a lemon, squeezed)
Club Soda

To Garnish:
Sprig of rosemary
Lemon wedges

To Make the Rosemary Simple Syrup:

Bring the water to a boil, add the sugar and rosemary and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and steep the mixture off heat for 45 minutes.
Strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer into a container. 

To Make the Cocktail:

Fill glasses with ice.
Add gin, lemon and rosemary simple syrup and stir.
Top with club soda, stir briefly and garnish with a rosemary sprig and lemon wedge.

15 December 2015

Faking grace in the kitchen this holiday season

Things are getting crazy, and yet people keep coming over to the house asking for food! (To be fair, they're family members and other assorted guests we invited long ago, but I always lose the ability to recall how tired and busy I am at the end of the semester, so they feel like beggars now to me.) This recipe might be my single greatest feat in the kitchen, producing moist, succulent meat and a satisfyingly crispy skin in under 45 minutes including prep.  I used my leftover chimichurri  sauce from last summer, and I served it with an old fave, Turkish Green Beans, and some Israeli couscous with a little more chimichurri stirred in. With a bottle of Chardonnay, it was both comforting and put-together enough for guests, but I still had time to sit down and visit with everyone while it was cooking. (Side note: if you ever get crazy cravings for fried chicken and live nowhere near the South, this recipe will also scratch that itch, and it's way less unhealthy.)

Crispy Oven-Roasted Chicken Thighs

Serves 4 (or more, assuming 1 thigh per person)

4 chicken thighs (or however many you want)
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup white vinegar
(optional: chimichurri, pesto, or other herb paste to taste)
Lemon wedges for serving

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper. Place all ingredients in a ziplock bag and allow to marinate at least 2 hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 425 F.

If using optional herb paste, rub generously underneath the skin. You could also just stick some minced garlic, chopped fresh herbs, and thinly sliced lemon in there.

Place chicken at least an inch apart on a foil-lined baking sheet, skin side up.

Bake 35 minutes, or until the skin is crispy and the juices run clear. Serve hot with lemon wedges on the side to squeeze over individual pieces.

11 December 2015

Holiday fun in Denver

Unless you are just a horrible monster, you know that Denver is a pretty great little city.  If you are lucky to either live nearby or have friends or family to visit in the Denver area this holiday season, you can take advantage of quite a few homey, FREE events all around the city. Might I most humbly suggest...


The Ice Palace at Cherry Creek Shopping Center
The Ice Palace, an extensive new, free holiday experience features a magical snow and light show inside a soaring 22-foot dome encircled with a series of arches and snow globes. Pro tip: Complimentary downtown weekend hotel shopping shuttles are available from the Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Regency, and Westin to Cherry Creek Shopping Center.

Southwest Rink at Skyline Park
The Southwest Rink at Skyline Park (Arapahoe & 16th St., Downtown Denver) will kick off the holiday season with ice skating and family fun. The rink is FREE and open to the public with the option to bring one’s own skates or rent a pair at a minimal cost.

Denver SkatePark
This expansive area – one of the most renowned skate parks in the country – is filled with bowls for all levels of skating skill. Admission is free. Helmets are required.


LoDo Aglow
This holiday season experience winter in a whole new light with LoDo Aglow, a window design contest sponsored by Great Western Bank and the LoDo District, Inc. Local business owners, designers and art students have been given the chance to let their imaginations run wild and create holiday themed window art to brighten LoDo. The entries will be reviewed by a panel of guest judges who will choose the winners based on the originality and presentation of the design. Winners will be announced in mid-December.

Denver Pavilions: Weekend Wonderland
Enjoy the sounds of the season at Denver Pavilions. Choirs and concerts from talented groups will entertain shoppers on the weekends in the plazas.

City & County Building Holiday Lights
The largest lighting display in Denver comes on nightly at 6 p.m. at the City & County Building, where 600,000 lights deck the neo-classical building. The bell tower plays carols nightly as well.

Holiday Performing Arts
Check out this guide to the symphony, opera, and ballet during the holiday season.



Golden Holiday Art Market
A seasonal tradition, Foothills Art Center (FAC) is proud to present the 36th annual Holiday Art Market (HART). Set against the vintage charm of our historic buildings and stained glass windows, HART caps a wonderful year of exhibitions at FAC by filling the galleries with a diverse, locally handcrafted selection of fine art and craft.

First Friday Art Walkwww.denver.org/what-to-do/museum-art/denver-art-districts
First Friday Art Walks in Denver’s art districts are known for the rich, shared experience of performance art, music, painting exhibitions and lots more. It’s an event that feeds both the need for art and culture and the desire to have fun!

Free Tours

Colorado State Capitol Tour
Tour Colorado’s magnificent gold-domed Capitol Building. Stand at exactly a mile high on the steps, see Allen True’s beautiful murals, listen in on the Colorado General Assembly, and check out the gorgeous Rose Onyx wainscoting. Free tours are available Mondays through Fridays.

Coors Brewery Tour
The world’s largest brewing site still uses the same Rocky Mountain spring water that Adolph Coors discovered in 1873. Free tours show every step in the brewing process, and end with free samples for those over 21.

U.S. Mint Tour
Learn how to make money! The Mint produces 50 million coins a day, each one stamped with a little “D” for Denver. Free tours show every step in the process of turning a dull, blank, metal slug into shiny pocket change.

Celestial Seasonings Tour
See how the largest specialty tea manufacturer in North America blends, packages and ships its teas, then enjoy free samples of every variety they make, and discover a gallery of original artwork from their famous tea boxes.

Great Divide Brewery Tour
Get a behind-the-scenes look at Denver’s craft beer world on a free tour at the Great Divide Brewery in Downtown Denver. Tours take place from 3 to 4 p.m., Monday-Friday, and on the hour on Saturdays between 2 and 7 pm.

Downtown Denver Historic Walking Tour
This walking tour will take walkers to some of the best spots in Downtown Denver, where the city’s past and present come together in utterly unique ways. Many of the sites and buildings are listed as official Denver Landmarks, or included in the National Register of Historic Places. Many also have historic markers and plaques noting their original intended purpose and construction dates.

Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tours

Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tours gives guests the opportunity to see the all-natural brewing process and marvel at their state-of-the-art facilities, brewhouses, cellars and packaging plants. Enjoy a complimentary tasting of their finest beers and browse through gift shops. Tours are approximately one hour in length and include visits to both indoor and outdoor facilities. Reservations are required for groups of 15 or more.

Public Art Walking Tour

Great art isn’t just in Denver’s museums. Throughout the city, discover hundreds of masterpieces, ranging from the whimsical to the inspiring. Download the guide to Downtown’s public art and start exploring!

Visiting a museum is always a good way to pass the time with guests, so don't forget to check the calendar of free museum days before you make your plans!

07 December 2015

'Tis the season...how to hate the airport a little less (hopefully)

Most of my travel in any given year is to go somewhere and perform a show, maybe give a master class, maybe give a talk on music entrepreneurship.  This kind of travel is OK; I end up in the airport during the week, generally between the hours of 9am and 4pm, and most of the people waiting to go through security with me are individual business travelers.  Now, they can be pretty tedious, always shouting into their phones and jerking out their arms to sigh at their wristwatches, but they do know the drill, and that makes everything flow a lot smoother for everybody.  There is also the fact that you simply have numbers on your side; there are no large families and no national guilt trips driving everyone to the airport at the same time to eat the same overcooked turkey, if you get my drift.  Denver International Airport, my home base, is quite large and often very busy, but it's a pretty serene place on a Thursday at 2pm.

When I do travel for the holidays, it is like being swung around rapidly by a total stranger and then punched in the face. Hard.  It doesn't matter how slick I think I am at the airport, it is a completely different place the day before Thanksgiving. It is an ugly place.  People who travel so infrequently that they are mesmerized and confused by all the directions at security and small children who can't carry anything or even take off their own shoes are particularly hard to be behind in line, but that's about all I ever see this time of year. Everyone at the airport hates being alive in the days leading up to and immediately following a major family-oriented holiday, from security to the gate clerks.  Here's how I try to cope (and I beg of you, fair readers, if you have any other tips, please share them in the comment section below.  There is no such thing as too many coping techniques this time of year.):

GETTING WHAT YOU WANT. There is no guarantee that you will get anything you want this holiday season, but I can guarantee you will be treated like a criminal if you show an attitude.  Repeat the mantra "I'm so lucky this isn't my job" over and over in your head while you are dealing respectfully (and pityingly) with harried airport personnel, and try a little play acting by adopting the "Kindly Brontosaurus" posture. (I've been using this a lot, and it really works, even if it looks silly.) Above all, DO NOT act like a head case who's about to throw a temper tantrum.  You will be seen as a violent enemy of the state. 

DISTRACT YOURSELF. You're stuck waiting in a crowded, noisy, uncomfortable seating area near your gate.  People who sound like they are literally swallowing the microphone scream what sounds like pertinent information, but you really have no idea how to decipher it.  Everyone who has ever procreated in the last six months anywhere in your state is taking the same plane as you, and they all think the aisle between rows of seats is a reasonable place to change a diaper.  What can you do? 

  • PLAY WITH YOUR PHONE. I'm an android person, so pardon my non-Apple-centric advice here.  If you can tap into free WiFi at your airport, you can watch YouTube for free, or Hulu, Netflix, Amazon or Google Play movies for a fee.  Podcast apps abound (I like Podcast Addict and NPR Podcast), and so do news apps, which help you avoid the constant CNN running everywhere overhead (try Ted Conferences to get sucked into something inspiring on a long wait, Slate for a little junk food while you're waiting to board the plane.) And of course, don't forget to load some appropriate music before you leave the house. 

  • EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY. Airports are not known for their great prices and competitive dining, but they're trying to do better.  And honestly, your aunt's Christmas meal is still going to be worse, and your grandparents don't have a liquor cabinet.  I blogged a while ago about some honestly good places to drop your money in some of my frequented airports; share some of your own in the comments section below! 

  • GET SOME REST/EXERCISE. Those prayer rooms tucked away in major airports don't get used all that often.  Be respectful, but if the place is deserted, this is a great opportunity to do some stretches, yoga, breathing exercises, or even some jumping jacks and push-ups to avoid atrophying while you wait. Stretching before wedging yourself into your airport seat makes the recovery time on the other side of your trip much shorter.  (Pro tip: I've practiced my flute in these spaces before when in dire need.  Just keep an eagle eye on anyone else entering the space to actually use it the way it was intended.) Many airports are even adding yoga rooms so you don't have to risk offending the truly pious! 
When I travel to see family, I like to treat myself for behaving once I get there.  In Chicagoland, it might be a stop at White Castle (which we don't have out West) or a request for Brown's Chicken for dinner that night, because while this is total and utter junk food, it reminds me fondly of my childhood. Judge if you must.  If we go down South to see my in-laws, I would like very much to arrange a trip for crawdads and oysters. Generally family are happy to oblige, especially when you are stingy with your visits. It's not the same as sitting in my own living room enjoying a glass of wine in my pajamas, but it's still an improvement over the airport.  

Happy holiday season!

04 December 2015

24 Hours in San Diego

Well, I was there for slightly more than 24 hours, but I was also being very lazy part of the time, so I probably only did 24 hours' worth of stuff. It was an OK time.

Donut Bar: They're all yeast-based donuts (like Krispy Kremes), but they do come in a lot of pretty variations of frosting decoration.

Balboa Park: If I lived in SD, I would go here every week.  There are so many museums (not huge, but nicely curated), walking trails, and just great places to sit and gawk.  I loved walking in the desert and rose gardens, and the art museum and botanical building were pleasant. The mind-blowing tree pictured above was in the desert garden, which was like walking around in a Doctor Seuss book. Don't waste the $5 on the Art Institute; try another campus around town instead. I would go back and walk down in the palm canyon if I could, especially on a hot day. The park was originally built for the 1915 World's Fair, and buildings are lovingly recreated from the original Spanish Renaissance style that formed the theme of the exhibition.

Little Italy I went here after dark, had delicious beer at Acoustic Ales (see above photo), and ate amazingly prepared, fresh seafood at Blue Water Seafood and Market, which is basically a fish market with casual seating where you go up to the counter to order meals. I had (environmentally irresponsible) swordfish in their "platter" configuration, which included a big, diverse salad with homemade dressing and jasmine rice alongside a very generous portion of grilled fish with your marinade of choice. It was heaven. These places were both a short walk from the Washington Street Station off the Trolley (which is actually light rail) green line.

Hillcrest Neighborhood: If you take the 120 bus to Balboa Park, you'll get off at 4th & Laurel in the Hillcrest neighborhood, and then walk a couple of blocks East to the park. Cucina Urbana offers a fresh, Cali-twist on Italian food and a great, local-centric wine bar. At happy hour, there are some great dips (I loved the cannellini bean hummus with smoked tomato), cheeses, and charcuterie on offer.  Artisan Bento across the street is basically a Japanese deli, with simple, fresh sushi options, soups, rice bowls,bento boxes, and salads behind the counter, and some great happy hour deals on all wines and sake. The seaweed salad was ridiculously good.