Berry Best Summer Sangria

A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing and the lawn mower is broken. –James Dent

Hey! It’s summer! Be free and happy and danceful and uninhibited and now-y! –Terri Guillemets

Summer afternoon–summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. –Henry James

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My husband has referred to me as a “late adopter”. This has been true regarding certain forms of technology. I’m not the first one to run with the latest tech innovation when it is tossed into popular culture. But when I do jump in, I’m in all the way. Afterward, it’s impossible to remember life as it was before…

This summer I surprised myself with a different type of “late adaptation”. It happened to be with a beverage I had never tried, even once.

On the American Independence Day holiday weekend, July 4th, with Dietician Daughter, her husband and his Kansas family, she served me a berry and fresh fruit topped drink in a tall glass with a straw. It was deep burgundy in color. The icy glass, sweating beads of humidity, was garnished with succulent fruit. It was her version of Sangria.

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On a sultry summer afternoon, around a backyard table with good people, this drink captured my attention. There was thirst-quenching coolness. There was the lushness of summer berries in red wine. I drank a second glass.

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Sangria has been around for 2000+ years. When the Roman Empire reached the Iberian Peninsula of Spain and Portugal and began mixing wine into the water to sanitize it, the beginnings of Sangria were born. Long a common informal drink on the European continent, Sangria was not widely consumed in the U.S. until it was introduced at the New York World’s Fair in 1964.

Twice I have been to the Iberian Peninsula in western Spain hiking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, but I was not offered Sangria there. We drank delicious Galician wines every evening as an accompaniment to the regional food. It was poured straight from the bottle and never mixed with anything.

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trail marker camino de santiago

Sangria comes from the Spanish and Portuguese word “sangre” meaning blood, because of its’ dark red color. It is traditionally made with Spanish red wine, fruit, brandy, some kind of sweetener and ice. Carbonated water may or may not be added for fizz.

That’s all there is to it. This is also where Sangria becomes much more interesting. With a rudimentary knowledge of ingredients, the end result is in the hands of the maker. Dietician Daughter was imaginative in her “berry” form of creativity. Now I can’t drink it any other way.

For the rest of the summer, I began ordering Sangria in restaurants. Some were made with white wine, some with red. At the very most they might have one or two pieces of shredded, mangy looking citrus fruit in the bottom of the glass. Pizzazz and eye candy beauty were nonexistent. Not one was memorable. Not one reminded me of friends and family sharing stories and playing games on a summer afternoon. Not one begged to be repeated.

My short scientific study convinced me that the only Sangria worth the calories is the one you make yourself. With ingredients you choose. The wine must be of a quality that you would drink on its own. The fruit must be plentiful. And FRESH.

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sangria’s few ingredients: summer fruit, wine, brandy, and a jar

Here is the very best summer SANGRIA you will ever make. Or drink. It’s simple, it’s fruity, slightly dry and slightly sweet, a bit boozy, and refreshing like a lazy summer day. Pass the pitcher around a table in the mountains, by the sea, on the terrace, or in the backyard. Say “yes” to a berry sangria and then go lie in a hammock and muse.

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sangria in the mountains
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sangria on the côte d’azur, france
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sangria on a terrace in germany
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in full summer bloom
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LARA’S BERRY BEST SUMMER SANGRIA

  • fresh whole berries [or pieces of fruit] for garnish
  • ice to chill
  • 750 ml bottle of Spanish Red wine, chilled [I used Ribiera de Duero. Or Rioja.]
  • ½ C. brandy
  • ¾ C. orange juice
  • 3-4 T. brown sugar
  • any seasonal combination of blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and/or strawberries. [Or use peaches and mangoes]
  • ½ orange, rind on, sliced thinly
  • ½ apple, skin on, chopped

In a large glass jar or pitcher, place fruit and sugar and muddle with a wooden spoon or muddler.

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Add OJ and brandy and muddle again. Add red wine and stir.

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Taste and adjust flavors to your liking. [More brandy or OJ or sugar as you wish.] Stir again. Add ice to chill and serve as is in clear glasses.

Get the fruit on. Garnish with lots of fresh berries or fruit of choice. Serve with a spoon for scooping winey fruit into your mouth between sips.

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May be stored, covered, in refrigerator to steep and chill several hours, but then don’t add ice until serving.

Best consumed within 1-2 days.

Comfort Food for Cal

comfort food: n. food that is simply prepared, enjoyable to eat, and makes one feel better emotionally. [Collins English Dictionary]

My father was the fourth of six children, but the only boy. His oldest sister, Bess, made him an uncle, for the first time, when he was ten years old. That nephew is my oldest cousin, Cal, who turns 84 this month. He doesn’t see so well anymore, yet still spends several hours a day at his law practice, serving clients he continues to outlive. His wife of more than 60 years, Joan, is one of my favorite people. She says that Cal has never been motivated by food or by his appetites.

Shortly after my first story was published on this website, she wrote and said, “I am actually doing a bit of cooking. Going out to eat has lost some of its charm. My efforts are very basic, as Cal doesn’t like anything fancy. He enjoys canned baked beans on buttered white bread. I use the vegetarian beans, but he thinks they are ‘pork’. His favorite dish from Bess [his mother] is creamed tuna and peas on saltine crackers. I prefer my tuna and peas on toast points, thank you. As you can see, the bar is not high. We look forward to new ideas from your blog.”

I have never eaten creamed tuna and canned peas on crackers, toast points or anything. But Cal’s preferences started me thinking about the notion of “comfort food”. There is no single explanation for how our food preferences arise or change over the years. Yet the taste of certain food is tied to our experiences and emotions. Thoughts of home, family, love, hate, sickness, allergic reactions, holidays, sadness, or happiness can trigger a taste memory–of longing or loathing.

Cousin Cal is a true comfort food creature, formed by his mother’s cooking, honed by childhood likes that matured into the same adult preferences. His eating experiences are defined by U.S. Midwest geography and by the cuisine of a certain generation.

Cal is obsessed with Jell-O. Jell-O filled with crushed pineapple and nuts or Jell-O filled with strawberries, bananas and nuts. At Christmastime, something special; Jell-O with cream cheese rolled into balls and covered with nuts. Somehow, this is meant to look like studded snow balls floating in a colored pond. Just trying to visualize, I’m almost certain I couldn’t eat it.

Cal also loves sweets. Chocolate pudding, cupcakes, or butter cookies like Aunt Bess used to make. Joan wrote, “Tapioca pudding is his favorite dessert. His mother made it from scratch, separating the eggs, beating the whites stiff, and folding them in after it had cooled somewhat. I make this from scratch when I see pigs fly by the window.

In similar Midwest fashion, I was raised on meat, potatoes, and over processed canned vegetables boiled before serving. So many meals spent spitting vegetables quietly into a paper napkin, hoping not to get caught.

Thankfully, my food preferences began to cut a wider swath in adulthood when we moved overseas, to Singapore, in the 1980s. Spices and chilies in ethnic cuisine from India, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Singapore happily reformed my taste buds and palate.

Life became an eating adventure in Asia. I sweated my way through outdoor food stalls because of the heat and humidity plus the spices in whatever I was eating. It changed my definition of comfort food forever.

As Joan and I compared Cal’s food likes and dislikes, other family food lore tumbled out. My father’s second sister was Dorothy [Aunt Dot], who suffered from a “nervous condition” expressed by some strange phobias. She outlived two husbands and never had children. Nor was she much of a cook. At family potluck gatherings, she always brought her “signature” Pork and Bean dish. This was prepared by opening several cans of baked beans with cubes of pork fat.  She added raw onions, catsup and molasses. Everything was baked for an indeterminate time, then served. The onions were always “crunchy”. Children refused to eat it. Possibly adults, too.

Joan and I lost track of time, talking and laughing about family food foibles. Cal called to ask if she had forgotten about him and his lunch. She left, and later sent an email, “Cal is such a Prussian! The trains must run on time even if they have nowhere to go. However, upon seeing the glorious cupcakes you sent home to him, he was easily placated.” You have to love a man who softens when sweets are offered.

I surveyed other family members and friends for their comfort foods. Choices ran the normal gamut of American food tastes–cheese, pizza, ice cream, popcorn, chocolate, nothing unusual. Friends from other cultures, and my Latvian daughter-in-law, offered more variety in their comfort food desires.

But it was our friend, Alec, who gave the most graphic comfort food descriptor. “My comfort IS food. I love to have my mouth FULL. A bite that causes the cheeks to protrude like two small Buddha bellies is a sign of bliss. I am comforted by eating with my hands…likely linked to Neanderthal kin who subdued dinner with their bare hands. There is nothing more satisfying than having a chokehold on a stuffed burrito or pinning the buns of a burger into submission before taking an oversized bite. Wrestling with my food gives both the victor [me] and the vanquished a sense of exhausted satisfaction, after the battle.

Food and people are subjects for great stories. Because our life paths diverged, cousin Cal and I will never share similar food preferences. Nor should we. What is important is that we are linked by the way our food choices make us feel–nourished, content, and loved.

Two recipes, one sweet and bland and one very well seasoned.

CAL’S TAPIOCA PUDDING COMFORT FOOD

  • 1/3 c. granulated white sugar
  • 3 T. minute tapioca
  • 2 ¾ C. milk
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 t. vanilla extract

Mix first 4 ingredients in saucepan and let sit 5 minutes. Cook on medium heat. Stir constantly until it reaches a full boil. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Cool 20 minutes and stir. Makes 4 servings. Eat warm or cold. Top with seasonal fruit if desired.

WENDY’S SPICY EGGS-ON-RICE COMFORT FOOD

  • 1 serving rice, any flavor, placed in a bowl. Leftover rice works well. Link to easiest rice cooking: hack-1-making-perfect-rice
  • Sauté 1 minced shallot in butter until softened. Add red pepper flakes if desired.
  • Add 1 or 2 eggs sunny side up to shallots. Toward the end of cooking, turn over easy. Sprinkle with S & P.
  • Slide eggs and any remaining butter from cooking on top of rice bowl. With edge of spatula or knife, cut into eggs so yolk melts into rice.
  • Garnish copiously with chopped tomatoes.
  • Eat with a spoon.
  • Optional garnish: equal parts chopped garlic and ginger, browned in olive oil.
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ginger and garlic garnish

For the less spicy version, leave out red pepper, garlic, and ginger. Just eggs on rice. Very nice.

former location of cal and wendy’s grandfather’s feed store, kirkwood, missouri

An Egg in the Coffeepot

There is more than the communion of bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk.” These words, written long ago by M.F.K. Fisher, symbolize what occurs with the right combination of people, place, and food. There is a blending of spirits when nourishment and good conversation are shared among family or friends. Bread and wine are not necessarily the catalysts for creating a communal bond. It can happen around a pot of egg coffee, too.

Three weeks ago we reconnected with a group of people we have known for many years but not seen in a long time. It was one of those bittersweet reunions—gathering to celebrate the life of a friend who passed away. And, at the same time, seeing others with whom we had shared great moments in the past. The weekend was one of those memory jolts that occur when you re-encounter special friendships after losing touch with them. It’s easy to catch up because what you loved about them before is still there. Then you want to hold onto those feelings after you part.

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photo courtesy of marilyn larson
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For several years in early marriage, we made repeated visits to a stone farmhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was the family home of Dale and Marilyn Larson. The house was thick walled, with deep windowsills, constructed from native fieldstone. Of all the warm memories of time spent on that beautiful farm, the clearest one is standing in the kitchen around an enamel coffeepot with a broken egg inside.

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 flea market enamelware, paris

Legend has it that the recipe for egg coffee was carried on a boat from Sweden to the New World sometime during the 1800s. In Larson family lore, the story goes like this.

A young Swedish girl, named Edla, moved to southern Minnesota in the late 1880s. She was terribly homesick, often going into the fields late at night to have a little cry by herself. Then, Karl Larson proposed marriage and a new life began on his farm. It was 1890. There was no more homesickness. And there was always a pot of egg coffee on the stove. Edla’s grandson, five-year-old Dale Larson, would walk across two large farm fields in order to visit his grandparents. For his mother to give permission, he had to hold the hand of his older sister. She was six-and-a half. Upon entering the kitchen, Edla would say, “Milk is bad for you, coffee is good. Drink this.” So he did. For the next 80 years.

Every time we visited the stone farmhouse we drank it, too. It was a morning ritual perfected over generations, fascinating to watch, delicious to drink. But it became the symbol for something else—time spent with people we admired and loved. And who loved us back. Important life lessons were quietly absorbed over cups of egg coffee in those years.

During the memorial weekend for our mutual friend, subliminal messages from the Larson kitchen returned so clearly. It’s simply this; spend your time with people who bring out the best parts of you. The better version of you. Then remember to go back and get refreshed.

I tried making egg coffee each time we returned from those Ann Arbor visits. But it was never quite right. I was probably too impatient or more easily lured by push button coffee making. Eventually the attempts stopped. The enamel pot became merely decorative. But I know I was trying to recreate the feelings I had in that stone farmhouse kitchen.

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These days I’m more patient about the sweet spot of slow preparation before enjoying the end result. With an enamel coffee pot from the flea market and renewed step-by-step guidance, a breakfast routine emerged. Gazing at the courtyard colors from our apartment window in Paris, sipping a cup of Dale Larson’s Swedish egg coffee, I’m reminded of Kahlil Gibran’s essay “On Friendship”:

“…And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit

And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things, the heart finds it morning and is refreshed.

Egg coffee is about as good as it gets for those who love a strong, smooth, mellow brew. What happens is this: The egg congeals coarse coffee grounds into a clump and neutralizes acidity that sometimes makes coffee bitter. It also acts as a filter, because essential oils from the beans are in the finished beverage, rather than on a paper filter. More oils make better tasting coffee. If you throw the whole egg with shell in the pot, you probably get some calcium carbonate benefits, too.

With or without the shell, I find no difference in taste. Edla Larson kept adding water to the same pot all day long. She was probably frugal with both eggs and coffee. I tried a second round of boiling water and the coffee still tasted fine, but don’t go beyond that. Just start over. You can afford the eggs.

basic ingredients: one egg, one coffeepot, coarse ground coffee, boiling water, and a chopstick

LARSON FAMILY EGG COFFEE

  1. Determine how many cups [8oz] of coffee your pot makes. Break one egg into bottom of pot, with or without the shell.
  2. Measure in coffee–one heaping scoop for each cup plus one for the pot.

3. Stir mixture with chopstick to combine egg and coffee grounds. Pour boiling water over egg/coffee mix. Stir together with chopstick.

4. Place enamel pot over heat. When it starts to foam up and boil, turn off heat immediately. Watch closely so it doesn’t boil over.

5. Cover and let steep for 5 minutes. Then pour and enjoy. You can use a sieve to strain, but if you pour slowly it is not necessary.

Sipping Avocado Margs in Summer

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Our United States home is in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. We live, seasonally, in a cabin built on a hillside outside the town of Estes Park. The backside faces the lofty Front Range—mountains towering 10-14,000 feet above sea level. Our cabin sits at a “lowly” 8500 feet under formidable peaks. We gaze upon them from a deck in the summer, or through windows by a wood-burning fireplace in the winter.

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There are no streetlights and roads are unpaved because this hillside community is outside the city limits. It comes landscaped with native pines, tall grasses, sage shrubs, and wildflowers. The only maintenance is digging up an occasional noxious weed or harvesting fallen pinecones and branches for kindling. IMG_1888We built a sacred fire ring with rocks from the land. Campfires are enjoyed around its’ circular border, with stories and laughter or simply the silence of a starry night. Framed by tall ponderosas, this has been our home-away-from-overseas-home since 1991.

The annual summer return to the cabin commences with the first morning wake up call. It’s early, due to a pre-6:00 AM sunrise. Coffee is made before we pull the rocking chairs onto the deck. Mountains and clouds to the south and west are pink-tinged at first light. As the sun makes its’ way gradually upward, colors shift to yellowish gold. When it finally peeks over the eastern ridge line, the sky turns robin’s egg and then lapis blue. The rest of the scenery follows with true colors. Second cup of coffee, still in bathrobes, day begins.

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early morning pink

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pink to gold

There is a different way of “being” in the mountains from our life overseas. Time is simpler, less hurried, less structured. It’s not necessary to “do” much of anything, at least for the first transitional days. We live casually in a uniform of blue jeans, moccasins or hiking boots, cotton or flannel shirts, depending on the temperature. I have been known to wear a fringed leather jacket, but only in that environment.

We eat differently too. The thinner air and long days tempt us with food and drink that somehow “belong” in the high country. Hearty breakfasts of bacon and egg sandwiches, layered with jalapeño jack cheese, tomatoes, and leafy greens are often consumed on the sun warmed front porch. Along with strong black coffee it seems to fuel the day for stacking firewood, trimming dead tree limbs, or hiking into the National Park.

Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 8.35.49 PMWhen it’s time for a break, there is one place we always return. Ed’s Cantina is a 30-year locally owned and operated Mexican restaurant on the main street of town. The sign on the side door simply states: “Get in Here”. Equally direct is the logo: “Live Forever. Eat at Ed’s.” It’s hard to resist a slogan like that. Eventually you just have to see what is going on there. Avocado Margaritas are what we found.

Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 8.36.28 PMDietitian Daughter, notably savvy in combining nutrition with good taste and pleasure, showed us the way. We fell in love, one by one. It’s a great reason to drop in at Ed’s on a warm summer afternoon.

For the nutritionally minded, avocados are one of the healthiest food choices around. They are a terrific source of mono-unsaturated fat. For the uninitiated, this kind of fat is desirable for it’s ability to lower LDL [bad] cholesterol while raising HDL [good] cholesterol. The fats and vitamins [E and C among them] are good for skin tone and texture. There are documented gains for the avocado’s anti-inflammatory properties, including reducing the pain of inflammatory disorders such as arthritis. There you have it. Avocados, even in liquid form, provide a nice range of health benefits!

This summer, we ate a lot of avocados in the form of the simplest, lime-iest, homemade guacamole. Store bought jars, tubs or tubes cannot compare with the flavor of your own effort. It actually takes very little effort because “less is more” with guacamole. Allow the avocado to shine with subtlety and a light touch. With only a minimum of ingredients its’ creamy deliciousness is enhanced. Use guacamole as a sandwich spread [breakfast egg sandwich, yes!] or, more traditionally, as a dip with tortilla chips. Better to keep your avo margs and guacamole as separate dining ventures, though.

Spread out the good times and the good nutrition.

GUACAMOLE à la Colorado

  • 2 [or more] ripe avocados
  • diced red onion
  • diced or pressed clove of garlic
  • salt
  • pepper
  • juice of fresh lime
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    basic ingredients

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mash avocados

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add onion, garlic, S & P

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add squeezed lime juice

Cut around outside of avocado and separate the halves. Scoop the meat out of the rind with a spoon and discard the pit. Mash avocado in a bowl with a fork or potato masher. Add onion, garlic, S&P. Stir together. Squeeze in as much fresh lime juice as you like, to taste. Adjust seasonings.

Best when served with Esmeralda’s homemade tortilla chips purchased at weekly Farmer’s Market. Thin and not too salty. Delicious with any dip or alone. Will keep in refrigerator without discoloration by covering with plastic wrap pressed down on top of guacamole, allowing no air space.

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guacamole dip with esmeralda’s chips

ED’S AVOCADO MARGARITA  [AVO MARG by order]

  • ½ ripe avocado
  • Jose Cuervo Silver Tequila
  • Agave syrup
  • Limeade [they say theirs is homemade, but frozen concentrate is fine]
  • Ice
  • Lime garnish

In blender, scoop one half avocado, a shot [or so] of tequila, a generous squirt of agave syrup, an even more generous pour of limeade and lots of ice. Blend together on high setting. Serve in tall, salt rimmed beer glass, garnished with a slice of lime.

  • Best when sipped with a good friend on Ed’s outdoor patio with the Big Thompson River rolling by.

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in blender: 1/2 avocado

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add tequila, agave syrup, ice, limeade

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almost ready

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the pour

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pouring…

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Voilá! Perfection in a glass

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Live Forever at Ed’s.