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 sometimes referred to me as a “late adopter”. I admit this has been true of certain forms of technology. I’m not the first one sprinting out of the blocks to run with the latest tech innovation when it is hurled into popular culture. But, when I do decide to jump in, it’s with both feet. I’m consumed with learning all there is to know. Afterward, it’s impossible to remember life as it was before…

This summer I surprised myself with a totally different type of “late adaptation”. It happened to be with a beverage I had never ever 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 new drink captured, and held, my attention. First, there was the thirst-quenching coolness. Then, there was a sophisticated lushness of summer berries in red wine. I loved it immediately and drank another glass. I had to know everything about it…

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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 probably 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.

I have been to the Iberian Peninsula in western Spain twice in the past two years, hiking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, but I was not offered Sangria there. We drank delicious Galician wines in the evenings, after a day of hilly hiking, as an accompaniment to the excellent 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’ usual 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. This is not a necessity.

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. Nutritionist Daughter caught my imagination with her “berry” form of creativity. Now I find I can’t drink it any other way.

I really tried. For the rest of the summer, since that hot July weekend, I began ordering Sangria in bars and 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. Tasteful pizzazz and eye candy beauty were seriously lacking. Not one was memorable. Not one reminded me of friends and family sharing stories and playing games around an outside table on a late summer afternoon. Not one begged to be repeated.

Thus, my short scientific study convinced me that the only Sangria worth the name and 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, according to my now highly discriminating tastes, must be plentiful. And FRESH. Keeping the carbon footprint in mind stick with any fruit in season.

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the basic best: summer fruit, wine, brandy, and a jar

So, here is the very, 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 very refreshing–like a lazy summer day. Pass the pitcher around a table in the mountains, by the sea, on the deck or patio or in the middle of the backyard. Heap more berries on top and serve with a spoon on the side!

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drink sangria in the mountains of colorado

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drink sangria on the côte d’azur, villefranche-sur-mer, france

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or on a patio in oberursel, germany

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in full summer bloom

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maybe even drink sangria on the amalfi coast, italy, overlooking capri

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Sit back and say “yes” to a berry good summer. Then, if possible, lie down and muse for awhile in a hammock strung between two leafy trees.

“Summer is the time when one sheds one’s tensions with one’s clothes, and the right kind of day is jewelled balm for the battered spirit. A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all’s right with the world.” –Ada Louise Huxtable

LARA’S VERY BERRY SUMMER SANGRIA

  • fresh whole berries [or pieces of other fruit] for garnish
  • ice to chill
  • 750 ml bottle of Spanish Red wine, chilled [I used Ribiera de Duero. Rioja works well too.]
  • 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. [I love the concept of muddling as in messing things up.]

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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 drunk within 1-2 days.

Santé!

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 these 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. By adding only a minimum of ingredients its’ innately creamy deliciousness is enhanced. Enjoy 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 dipping as separate 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 outdoor patio with the Big Thompson River rolling by.
  • Second best is having it alongside the veggie burrito–filled with fresh squash salsa, rice, black beans and Mexican cheese.
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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.