Chris and Kyla were taken aback by my presence. They weren’t the first, they won’t be the last.
Today is Flashback Thursday: flashing back to July (gawd, has it been that long?) and the special event was the Similkameen BBQ King competition. For non-Canadians, the Similkameen Valley is a gorgeous part of Southern BC. The river is perfect. The mountains are perfect. The grassy plains are perfect. And, as you can see from the above picture, they are all over the Hipster fashion trend.
I was once on a Greyhound going through the valley; also on the bus was a French Canadian fruit picker and his girlfriend. The girlfriend was from BC and had talked him into coming with her to Keremeos, “the” town in the valley, to pick fruit in the summertime. He was deeply skeptical about this decision, but deeply in love, so he had said yes and there he was on the bus, the scent of Montreal still wafting off of him (it smells like cigarettes and beer), trundling through the Similkameen valley as the sun rose. The mountain caught the light, the huge K (the legacy of a landslide) glowed pink, the valley glimmered green and silver with mist, and the bus stopped, let them off, and he fell to his knees and kissed her hand for inviting him to a place as beautiful as that valley.
So that’s the Similkameen.
Forgive my crappy iPhone pictures, but I did what I could without my trusty photographer Cathy Browne.
The setting? The Grist Mill and Gardens in Keremeos, an historic grist mill, ie where the farmers brought their wheat to be ground into flour. It’s in the hands of my old friend Chris Mathieson, the only person I know with both a degree in Philosophy and skills as a blacksmith, so he’s perfect for this gig. That’s him, along with his wife Kyla, in the top picture. His first words when he saw me there, hundreds of miles from my normal dank cavern in Vancouver? “What are YOU doing here?” A warm welcome indeed, if not heated.
The challenge itself was Chopped-style: in other words, the competitors were given a set basket of ingredients from particular suppliers, and told to do what they could with them on the barbeque.
Similkameen BBQ King Ingredients
The ingredients were all local; the valley, along with the nearby Okanagan valley, is famous for its produce, and is now beginning to wrap its head around the very un-Canadian action of tooting its own horn. This event was an exercise in horn-tooting, and featured local wines along side the BBQ creations. Full disclosure: I got a media pass for the event, but only after contacting the organizers and asking if I could pay by Paypal, because I would have come up just for the day, all five hours each way on the 80-seat limousine. And lemme tell ya, it would have been worth it.
Similkameen BBQ King plates
There were some very professional plates and some outstanding tastes. I’d come primed for ribs (BBQ, right?) but the chicken as a black box ingredient meant that chefs had to think outside that very box, and some of the solutions were very creative indeed. Chicken sliders, sure, but chicken sliders with a skewer of chicken bacon to garnish? That’s a different level, a level not generally found down gravel roads.
I don’t even like risotto, but the risotto was so good I went back for thirds. People were whispering, “Have you had the risotto? Have the risotto! They may run out. Psst, have you had the risotto?…”. And the basil ice cream was velvety, perfectly sweetened, and paired perfectly with the pound cake. Some of the wine pairings were more successful than others, but the main discovery for me was Forbidden Fruit Winery, whose fruit wines are sophisticated, layered, and miles away from Boone’s Farm.
And the winner was Karl Schorb from the Branding Iron. From the remarkable number of “Congratulations, Karl” blog and Facebook posts from his competitors, it’s clear that he’s a key figure in the tight-knit Okanagan and Similkameen gourmet community. Here’s the winning plate:
Delicious winning plate from the Branding Iron
My notes (after perhaps six tasting-size pours of local wine) “Truly yummy.” Yes, I am a master of subtlety when it comes to reviews. Now take a look at the competition (and forgive my iPhone shots through the window of the shuttle bus from Penticton, because what choice do you have, really?).
According to the blog from which I stole this, the woman who submitted the recipe makes it for her husband Dick. Yes, really. Once again, proof that the housewives of the 50’s and 60’s had a lot of repressed issues, Freudian or not.
Longtime readers of the blog (ie me, the Manolo, Mr Henry, and possibly the Liquor Locusts, plus all of my creditors) will know that of all the spirits in this world or the next, the one dearest to my heart — if not my liver — is gin. And today is the day on which the nation joins together to venerate this most sublime if most mercurial of libations. Raise an ice-cold Martini with me in honor of this glorious occasion.
Wait, what? You tell me they make Martinis with vodka nowadays? Well, yes, there has always been the Vodka Martini class, and what would we do without people like that, upon whom to look down?
One of gin’s greatest qualities is its infinite variety: floral, vegetal, crystalline, even spicy. No other form of alcohol has as large a range of natural flavors (of artificially flavored spirits we shall not speak, except in four-letter words).
My good friend and favorite bartender Jay Jones oversees a weekly celebration of gin at Gin & Sin nights at Killjoy in Vancouver’s fashionable Yaletown neighborhood, featuring special pricing and a different featured gin each week, although they always keep the largest selection in town on hand. A couple of weeks ago they started upping the Sin content by bringing in burlesque dancers to spice things up after 10; it’s useful to bring the entertainment on after the audience has gotten good and warmed up. A famous burlesque dancer once remarked that alcohol was essential to a good performance, “a little for you, a lot for the audience.”
Two weeks ago, the sponsor was the very fine Broker’s gin. Broker’s is, like Plymouth, a great example of the London Dry style, crystal clear, neither vegetal like Tanqueray nor floral like Hendrick’s. It’s versatile and smoother than others of the same type. You don’t have to feel guilty putting it in a G&T, nor cheap putting it in a Martini. It simply works either way. Lemon twist, olive or even lime in your Martini; it’s your choice, and all of them will succeed as flavor notes. In fact, this kind of gin is excellent for experimentation and creativity with the garnish, since they will not overpower the oils with their own orchestra of aromas.
The Martini of Yog Sothoth
If you like, here’s your excuse to get out the vermouth atomizer and the fancy oils and play. I call this one, a Dirty Martini with smoked Cerignola olives, the Martini of Yog Sothoth, which lets me find out at once who’s read their H. P. Lovecraft and who I don’t need to talk to at that particular party. Smoked smoked black Cerignola olives are my new favorite Martini garnish that brings out the masculine side of a well-balanced gin like Broker’s or Plymouth, yet also stands up to a serious knife-and-fork gin like The Botanist.
If you feel more chiffon and rosebuds than Savile Row and leather, switch to Hendrick’s or Bombay Sapphire and a spritz of rose water, plus a couple of organic rose petals (which you can buy in Indian neighborhoods, should your burb have such a thing, or you may grow them yourself).
UPDATED TO ADD: clearly until my regular photographer returns from her Eastern sojourn, I need to read my friend Kris Krug’s book on iPhone photography. Either that or I have to buy you all enough Martinis to give you gin goggles.
Well, we had a half an hour of really amusing video (funny that, a vodka tasting and giddy video) but the tech gods decreed it was too powerful for this world and thus, erased it from our videorecorder (it had NOTHING to do with our own intake of vodka, we swear).
Undaunted, we are prepared to report on the blind taste test between the Polish potato vodka Luksusowa, and the Canadian vodkas Iceberg and the significantly more expensive Crystal Skull, repped by Canadian Celebrity (that’s not a misnomer!) Dan Akroyd.
The clear winner: Luksusowa. And not just because I had to pry it out of my unnamed friend’s hands at the end of the evening.
What is the case, according to a taste test at Eat Drink Tweet, a wine and food social media conference?
Iceberg is better than Crystal Skull. So save yourself about $40 a bottle and get the cheap stuff.
The crowd favorite, however (and here I wish the video had come through, for it is PRICELESS) is Luksusowa. After the first round of tasting, in fact, people changed their seats to be closer to this Polish potato elixir, although it must be said, only people of Eastern European extraction.
Luksusowa is softer in the mouthfeel than any grain-based vodka, and the rep (who, full disclosure, sent me the bottle for tasting; I paid for the others) explained that potato vodkas are more expensive to produce than grain vodkas, but that the more complex carbohydrates, otherwise known as starches, are what account for the smoothness and roundness. You could mix this, and it would make any drink better. But for me, if I were to do shots of vodka in the traditional manner, this would be my choice. Yes, it’s strong, but my god, it’s silky too.
Iceberg, as I have mentioned in the past, is my favorite mixer vodka. It’s an excellent meeting of quality and price. In the blind tasting, every tester (and we are talking about people in the business of tasting, wine producers and retailers) guessed that this was the more expensive vodka. The reason was, its smoothness and its flavourlessness.
Crystal Skull vodka, however, is not without its adherents. Retailer Rod Phillips explained that it’s a top seller around Halloween, when the company comes out with an extra-large decanter. Frat boys and their decorators apparently favour the 1.5 liter size, something Phillips described as “an expensive candle holder.” Still, awesome.
The tasting notes on Crystal Skull are somewhat less complimentary. Uniformly, the testers described it as either medicinal or antiseptic. This reflects, Phillips says, the split in vodka schools between the flavoured and the “stripped of flavour” super-filtered varieties.
The victor of the taste test was Luksukowa, with Iceberg pushing second, and the most expensive entry coming in a distant third, with not one vote. Oddly the next day there were no leftovers of the first two for sober comparison and contrasting.
Just ask Doc Brown, British rapper after our own heart. Rage is fundamental to rap, and this man connects to it in a powerful way, letting it out in a stream of impassioned poetry dedicated to that greatest of beverages: TEA, motherfucker!
Which reminds us of that great classic, the UK Narnia Rap with its great chorus.
By the way, Doc Brown’s rant about the milk in first deserves some explication. “Milk in first” is a coded class signifier, meaning downmarket, low-class, tacky. Where does this come from? Why, I’m glad you asked. It comes from the fact that in the old days, poor people couldn’t afford the freshest milk, and if you put milk-that-is-going-but-not-quite-sour-yet into a cup of hot liquid, what you get is cottage cheese floaties. If you put the same milk in an empty cup and add hot water, stirring the whole time, the milk does not curdle. Handy to know when you have a) some iffy milk and b) no witnesses.
And now, to conclude our lesson on the Greatest of Beverages for this afternoon, I present to you a little ditty that was presented to me on Twitter, in response to a cri de coer from moi upon sipping my first good cup of tea in AGES. Thanks, Blenz, for some really good English Breakfast and thanks to the author, whose name has been lost in the mists of time. If it’s you, @ me or comment, so I can give credit where credit is due.
Enjoy your Sunday food porn, this time with added celebrity goodness. Remember, always use a condiment!
In related news, to support the Heiltsiuk people and schoolchildren of Bella Bella in their protest of the Enbridge pipeline project, I’m going on a hunger strike for 48 hours, starting at 4pm today. Wish me luck; when I did the green smoothie cleanse, I lasted 36 hours, and that was drinking my own body weight in pureed spinach every day.
The students and staff of Bella Bella Community School stand together in opposition to the proposed Enbridge Pipeline that would bring supertankers filled with oil along the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest, jeopardizing the environment upon which we rely for sustenance, both physical and spiritual. We will be engaged in a 48-hour hunger strike from April 1st at 4 pm to April 3rd at 4 pm. This coincides with the Enbridge hearings in our community. We hope to open a dialogue with other concerned students and communicate through video conferencing during our hunger strike. We invite your school or community to join us in our strike and help make a statement that can’t be ignored.
You do not have to fast for the full 48 hours! If you have health concerns or are unable, for whatever reason, to fast with us, join us anyway. Help volunteer on the evening of the 1st or 2nd, fast for only a day, or half a day, or simply send out the invitation to as many people as you can think of. Every little bit counts. Please sign up and pass it on!
For those of you who, like me, find the entire Occupy Movement to be really well-intentioned, justified, and (indeed) not a moment too soon, but also somewhat dry (The General Assembly is the Filboid Studge of participatory democracy) we have some good news! Occupy Wall Street’s Liberty Plaza General Assembly has taken a lesson from the mainstream media and spiced up its hard news Committee Reports section (is that Spokes? Or Tranches? Who can keepWall Street terminology straight anyway?) with some food-and-spirituality-related entertainment.
Christine: let’s start. The name of your WG. Winter w Safer Spaces & spirit vegetable is edamame. #nycsc#ows
Yes, it was back to the salt mines for your poor, martyred blogger here, thanks to an invitation to the opening of Xi Shi, the posh new bar in the Shangri-La hotel in glamorous downtown Vangroover. It helps when you know the head barman. The woman in charge of the bar at Xi Shi is Heather Yau, who competed admirably in last year’s Tales of the Cocktail both in Vancouver and in New Orleans. Accompanying me was the lovely and talented Cathy Browne, who took all these gorgeous pictures; impressive enough, but moreso when you realize she’s legally blind.
It’s a lovely space once you’re inside, but getting inside consists of going around to the “back” of the building which is really the “front” and standing around the lobby, looking confused, until a staff member asks if you’re here for the Xi Shi party, and gently points the way. I’d tell you how to find it yourself, but I think they’re trying to keep it a secret, and besides, the staff need to keep busy!
Xi Shi Bar
It’s a long, light, L space with ceilings that go up to HERE and sightlines that go out to THERE, which is great for people-watching if you’re not as nearsighted as I am. This isn’t the place for a discreet affair, as the “around the corner, tucked away” tables are basically just off Robson Street, ie you might as well be parked outside of TMZ. This is the place raincoaster, who now refers to herself in the third person because she’s imaginary-dating much higher-grade people lately, will be taking her next boytoy for a quiet drink.
Right after she alerts the paparazzi and gets her hair did.
The general theme is Contemporary Asian, meaning airy and Zen, with referential scatterings of Chinoiserie, as in the cheongsams worn by the waitresses. It must be said, and that by me, that it’s good to see a place that doesn’t go for Generic Vancouver Glossy: black on black on black with black leather chairs and chrome and everything shiny and hard. The cascade of glass over the bar changes colours thanks to clever lighting, although there’s a definite preference for pink: even the house cocktail is pink, at which point I am tempted to insert a reference to intimate anatomy but yea verily, am too way classy.
Ahem. Anyway…as I was saying, a lounge shouldn’t look like a dance club, and it shouldn’t look like an operating room. I like a place that looks good by day as well as by night. See for yourselves:
It's hard to pull off jazz in the daytime, but this worked
Did I say Chinoiserie? Yes, yes I did, even though Spellchecker tried to replace it with “Chitterlings,” but I was having none of that! Chinoiserie I said and Chinoiserie I meant, speaking of which, behold the Lady Grey Cocktail:
Lady Grey sure is pretty
The Lady Grey cocktail is a beautiful thing, a mellowed orange with brassy glints. The pot, by the way, is full of hot water so you can adjust it to the strength you prefer; it and the cup and saucer are a custom-made iteration of the classic Blue Willow pattern which tells the story of a pair of runaway lovers. It’s made with Earl Grey tea-infused Tanqueray gin with an extra measure of Bergamot, and seemed to me a little too sharply citrus. And oh! if you only knew what it costs my very soul to criticize a free drink! Ah, the trouble with using fresh ingredients is, the difference between one lemon and another can be substantial!
Jay Jones has come through with the recipe for us so you can judge for yourself. And wouldn’t a bottle of Earl Grey Tanqueray liven up a nice bridge party? I don’t know about you, but the presence of card snobs of any variety usually drives me to drink, or at least calls me a cab to. And somehow bourbon goes with poker the way gin goes with bridge.
1.5 oz earl grey tea-infused tanqueray gin
.4 oz fresh lemon juice
.6 oz sugar syrup
small pot of hot water
-all ingredients (except hot water) combined in shangri-la blue willow china tea cup & saucer
-served with matching small shangri-la blue willow china pot of hot water
-pour hot water to fill tea cup – top up as desired
*served with lemon zest
Earl Grey Tea-Infused Gin
1. empty a 1.14 liter bottle of Tanqueray London Dry Gin (room temperature) into a clean, dry, sealable container
2. place 4 heaping tablespoons of loose leaf Earl Grey tea in the Gin (use bags alternatively – much neater)
3. seal container and leave to steep for minimum 1 hour at room temperature – longer if desired (2 hours suggested)
4. after steeping, shake sealed container throughly
5. strain tea leaves/remove tea bags from Gin – the Gin’s colour should be deep brown
5. seal and refrigerate to preserve freshness (max 1 week shelf life when refrigerated)
Iron Lotus poured by Heather Yau
The signature cocktail here is the Iron Lotus, concocted by cocktail queen Heather Yau; only last year she was a humble apprentice at hipster central, the Waldorf, and look at her now! Xi Shi is a PBR-free zone!
The Iron Lotus is a hard drink to turn out in bulk, each being made from the same number of fresh raspberries. The sweetness varies wildly depending on the particular individual raspberries, but whether more tart or more sweet, this is as lovely to drink as to look at.
Raspberries in the Iron Lotus
The focus at Xi Shi is on lighter, less alcoholic, and more feminine drinks overall; this is not a place where you will find many people testing flights of bourbon or single malt. There’s no doubt that Xi Shi, named after a goddess, was put together with the fact that women choose the date spot firmly in mind. The flattering, rose-coloured lighting makes everyone look ten years younger (I’m sure they only failed to card me out of deference), and the lower alcohol content in the drinks ensures that you don’t slip from Charming Anita Loos to Scary Dorothy Parker.
And the food ensures you don’t slip from Perky Britney to Sad Britney.
Mary had a little lamb. And then she had another cocktail.
Squeeee! This adorable little roast of lamb was less than two inches long, and came with crunchy yogurt. Yes, crunchy yogurt, and not because it was left in the back of the fridge for six months and then scraped off the lid of the container like your revolting roommate used to do; because the kitchen is a Shangri-La kitchen, and they do things right and just a little weird.
Xi Shi has crabs. But she's a goddess, so who's going to tell her, eh? Not me, that's for damn sure.
Behold the mammoth crabcake! Did I already say “behold?” I did, didn’t I? Oh well, you wouldn’t believe how many people I’m beholden in this town, although their bank managers would.
The salmon was so good the waiter wouldn’t let me refuse, although I was getting pretty full. Believe me, I will never again doubt a Xi Shi waiter.
What to do when you’ve had as much food as you can hold? That’s right: back to cocktails!
Naked Botanical Martini. It sets a certain tone. I intend to order it when I bring Julian!
Just look at the legs on that thing! My pal Jay Jones knows I’m a gin snob, so he made me a Martini using The Botanist gin from Scotland, one I hadn’t tried before. Frankly, this may be Too! Much! Gin! even for me: the title role botanicals are dense and overwhelming if you’re unprepared. Because it’s produced by Bruichladdich, a famous and famously insane Islay Whisky distillery, it is viscous and powerful, and my recommendation is to have one, but have it James Bond style: very large, very cold, and very well-made. And have one only. This gin is Serious Business. Here’s a list of the various botanicals:
Apple Mint Birch leaves, Bog Myrtle leaves, Chamomile (sweet), Creeping Thistle flowers, Elder flowers, Gorse flowers, Heather flowers, Hawthorn flowers, Juniper (prostrate) berries, Lady’s Bedstraw flowers, Lemon Balm, Meadow Sweet, Peppermint leaves, Mugwort leaves, Red Clover flowers, Sweet Cicely leaves, Tansy, Thyme leaves, Water Mint leaves, White Clover, Wood Sage leaves, Angelica root, Cassia bark, Cinnamon bark, Coriander seed, Juniper berries, Lemon peel, Liquorice root, Orange peel and Orris root.
Say THAT three times fast! The nose on this is citrus and juniper dominated, the taste complex, puzzling…you just can’t figure out the various elements and it can’t be said they blend into one single whole. It’s like listening to a Beethoven symphony and then trying to pick out each of the instruments. And trust me, this ain’t Brahms: it’s DEFINITELY Beethoven. The aftertaste is long and powerful, and in it you begin to discern some of the different components. I like it, but it’s definitely Special Occasion Gin, not It’s Five O’Clock Gin.
Hemingway Daiquiri so much more macho than the Fitzgerald Daiquiri
Ah, the Neo-Classical Hemingway Daiquiri! One of the greatest summer drinks, featuring grapefruit where you’d expect lime, and a sour cherry where you’d expect … nothing at all. Not for Papa your silly blender drinks! Although this has a noticeable alcohol content, it fits right into the Xi Shi aesthetic of light-tasting, citrusy cocktails.
Cue the Darth Vader music…
Why ahoy there, sailor! The Nautical Disaster, a Jay Jones original
The Nautical Disaster is not a drink to be trifled with. It shouldn’t even be left alone with your wallet. This dark and dangerous newcomer is a rum-based take on the classic Sazerac, and it’s hearty, thick, spicy, complex, and sweet, just like me. It’s also definitely your last cocktail of the night. If he has one of these and still hasn’t sealed the deal, well my dear, just get up and go home.
Manolo the Shoeblogger is not Mr. Manolo Blahnik. This website is not affiliated in any way with Mr. Manolo Blahnik, any products bearing the federally registered trademarks MANOLO®, BLAHNIK® or MANOLO BLAHNIK®, or any licensee of said federally registered trademarks. The views expressed on this website are solely those of the author.