Fear and Loathing in the Lift Line

d ski close up(plus, DIY Cherry Heering and a gorgeous après ski cocktail, The Powderhound). 

For a while there, I was afraid of getting on the ski lift.  I don’t fear falling off the chair or have acrophobia (although there’s that puckerish stretch on the Summit chair at Solitude that gives me the heebs.  Every. Time.)  Nope, the thing that had me squirming was the inevitability of hearing some Really Bad News from a girlfriend.

It began innocuously enough.  Usually a casual “hey, do you have a half-day open this week to get some turns in?” invitation prompted our outing.  I’d meet up with my girlfriend and we’d make a warm up run or two.  Then it would happen:  I’d hear those dreaded words, “So… I don’t know if you’ve heard yet, but…”

Two divorces.  One separation (with the ugly cheating-spouse details).  Another friend struggled with understanding her child’s recently-diagnosed learning disabilities.  A scarily inconclusive mammogram.  After a long decline with Alzheimer’s, a friend’s mother passed away.  My girlfriend Cherry Heering’s husband did some Very Naughty Things on the interwebs and was facing criminal prosecution (amazingly, she’s not one of the ones who got divorced.  You are a far more forgiving person than I, Cherry).

I started packing extra tissues, and my cheeks were chapped from tears collecting under the lower edge of my goggles and freezing on my face.  I wondered if therapists along the Wasatch had started prescribing the ski date as the perfect opportunity to practice talking about bad news.

And at the end of the day, after the cheating bastards were soundly trashed, the injustices of life questioned and pondered, and our friendship reaffirmed with fresh air, exercise, and swaying teary hugs shared at the parking lot, I’d go pick up my kids from school.  I’d remind them how awesome I think they are, and hug them until they squirmed.  Tell my husband I loved him.  And I’d make myself a stiff cocktail.  And count my blessings, high among them my amazing, strong, and resilient friends.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to spring.

A beautiful après ski cocktail:  THE POWDERHOUNDpowderhound

I made up this cocktail when I wasn’t in the mood for either a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned, and knocking back two fingers of bourbon seemed a little too ironic (even for me) after a day spent skiing with a friend who’d been looking into rehab facilities for her husband.  It’s a gorgeous ruby color, and the sugar/cayenne rim adds a nice balance to the sweetness of the cherry heering and bite of the rye.

2-3 cherries (fresh, or from your home made cherry booze)

1 tsp. granulated sugar

1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

Two dashes Angostura bitters

1 oz. Cherry Heering*

1 ½ oz. rye whiskey

1 oz. club soda (optional)

In a shallow saucer, combine sugar and cayenne.  Rub the rim of a highball glass with a cherry to coat with juice.  Dip the glass rim into the pepper-sugar mixture.  Add bitters to the glass, and swirl to coat the interior of the glass.  In a cocktail shaker, add 3-4 cubes ice, the cherry heering, and whiskey.  Shake for 10 seconds or so, and then pour everything into the highball glass.  Garnish with cherries, and top with a little club soda, if desired.

BOOZEMONGERING: Cherry Heering 

* Cherry Heering is a (duh) cherry-based liqueur available at most liquor stores.  After my eponymous friend gave me a pint of her home made version –old cherry trees like hers are everywhere in our fair city—I’ve been making my own, too.  Here’s the super easy two ingredient recipe:

To a clean glass quart jar, add 2 cups washed & pitted sweet cherries.  Pour enough vodka to cover cherries (about 3 cups).  Let stand in a cool, dark place for at least 1 week and up to 1 year.

Field Trip: Finca’s High West Distillery Whiskey pairing dinner

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Finca’s cheese & charcuterie plate, paired with High West Prairie Punch

Last night Salt Lake City experienced a small but powerful bit of wonder that I couldn’t have envisioned ten– maybe even five– years ago:  60+ guests gleefully paid for the opportunity to sample Utah-made whiskeys paired with a delightful small-plates tasting menu.

At a neighborhood restaurant.

On a Wednesday night.

With just a couple of weeks of social-media savvy forward lead time.

BOOM.

After bookings for the originally-conceived 18 seat tasting filled within hours of the High West Distillery pairing dinner announcement, Finca owner Scott Evans realized he could easily fill his joint for an exclusive event.  The draw?  Oh, let’s just look at the line-up, shall we?  The talented palate and vision of Pago-founder Scott Evans.  Finca’s locally-sourced Spanish-inspired tapas created by executive chef Phelix Gardner.  Four varieties of High West Distillery booze, presented by the distillery’s passionate proprietor, David Perkins.   And mixing it all together, the man behind Finca’s bar, Scott Gardner.  Who also just happens to be named Salt Lake Magazine’s “Best Mixologist” for 2013.  Done, and done, my friends.  [Don’t worry – if you didn’t get in to this dinner, more food/beverage pairing menus are planned through the next few months, including a Spanish wine tasting menu for March].

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Locally-sourced mushroom Spanish-style flatbread, paired with High West Campfire whiskey. Sorry, the potatoes were all gone before I could take a photo.

The folks from High West brought four whiskeys to the dinner:  their American Prairie Reserve Bourbon, Son of Bourye (a bourbon-rye blend), Campfire Whiskey (a rye-bourbon-scotch – yes, I know, SCOTCH) blend, and the award-winning Rendezvous Rye.  Scott Gardener introduced guests to the Prairie Reserve in the form of an old-fashioned whiskey punch (recipe, below), which the chef paired with a cheese and charcuterie plate.  The remaining whiskeys were all served neat in scant 1 oz. pours, with plates intended to complement the layered flavors of whiskey –sweet, savory, mellow, smoky – in the form of roasted carrots, mushroom-topped flatbreads, and local beef sliders with house made pickles.  All exquisite.

I’m not going to lie, I expected to be underwhelmed by the Frankensteinian hybrid Campfire Whiskey, one of the few High West products I’d not yet tried. “Dubious” understates my apprehensions about adding scotch to a rye-bourbon blend.  Married to a long-time scotch purist, I was prepared for both of us to be disappointed by the pour.   I couldn’t have been more wrong:  in the midst of all of this food and whiskey fabulousness, we both moaned over an unassuming-looking plate of fried paprika-dusted potatoes with a tangy garlic aioli paired perfectly with the complexity of the smoky blended Campfire whiskey. This combo stole the show.  It also introduced us to our new favorite hunting-camp compromise whiskey.  We no longer need to bring a bottle each of bourbon and scotch:  now, we’ll be bringing a bottle of High West Campfire.

High West Prairie Punch:

Finca’s bar man Scott Gardner resurrects the concept of an artisanal punch in this recipe, harkening back to the time when every bar or local watering hole worth its salt had a proprietary and exclusive house punch.   The traditional oleo saccharum (“oil sugar”) preparation takes some lead-time to assemble, but is worth the effort to create a well-blended traditional punch.  Here’s his recipe, which makes A LOT (good for a party of 20 or more guests):

1)      At least two hours, or up to one day ahead, prepare oleo saccarum by gently muddling 8 oz. granulated sugar and the peels of 6 lemons.

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Finca’s Scott Gardner (second from left) supervising the carefully-metered pouring of a lot of whiskey.

2)      After the sugar has turned to a syrup/paste consistency, add 6 oz. lemon juice, stir to combine, and let sit for an additional 30 minutes.

3)      Strain out the lemon peels from the mixture and discard

4)      In a large punch bowl (or two pitchers), combine:

–          lemon sugar

–          1 bottle (apprx 25 oz.) High West American Prairie Reserve bourbon

–          40 oz. cold water  

–          ½ oz. angostura bitters

5)      Just before serving, add ice to chill your punch

6)      Float 8 oz. brut cava on top of the punch

7)      Garnish with lemon wheels and a generous grating of fresh nutmeg

8)      Note from A Bourbon Gal:  Lovely served in shallow ‘coupe’ stemmed glasses