Monday, September 24, 2012
Tiki has become something special to me over the years.
It is not just a kitschy party theme, type of cloyingly sweet drank, or dive bar category. Bizarrely enough it's filed alongside heavyweights like Christmas and New Year's as an important family tradition. Yes, my parents, sister and I do Tiki. And if I do say so myself, we do it damn well.
Initially, the end of summer Tiki Party at my parents' home in Tucson was a heavily-anticipated annual celebration. A break from large family gatherings brimming with kids ("we love your keikis, but this one is for adults"), and the rare party to really have a focus on drinking. Since I was college-aged when the Tiki Party debuted, I was not only surprised by this, but fully on board! Each year seemed to one-up the prior, adding a pit-roasted whole pig, ukelele orchestra, and even tradition hula dancers in full garb. It was a fantastic tradition.
Then one year the invite never went out. Then another year. The masses were restless, when would there be another Tiki Party? I tried to sate myself in California with regular visits to Tiki Ti, Tonga Room, Trader Sam's and with a big fat Tiki episode on my podcast The Table Set, but it wasn't enough. Once I found out my sister Megan missed it as much as me we conspired to convince my parents by any means necessary to bring it back.
Then this year... we finally succeeded.
It's always a whirlwind driving home to Arizona and jumping in to the preparations. It's also always startling opening the fridge in the garage to see Laura Palmer as a pig, awaiting the sacrificial pyre.
Day of, first thing's first - Get that pig going. It takes all afternoon to get a proper tender slow-cooked Kalua-style pig.
The photo opp murals Megan painted are always a hit.
And while the tables are set, I have my hands full with another task.
Shocking, I know - I manage the bar. With the addition of the bamboo tiki hut-style bar this year, things got serious.
Selecting a menu is hardly an easy task. Each year we debate, recounting drink popularity from the previous parties. The true Mai Tai is our collective favorite, but seems to be too boozy for our guests, as we always have the most leftover of it. The Blue Hawaiian is garish, but always a winner. We pre-mix everything in large batches as well, so the recipe has to work in that format - and some ingredients, such as bitters, intensify over time. This year I decided to select all new drinks; Classics that cover very different flavor profiles as well as liquor variety. No need to be rum snobs - It's just not for everybody.
In lieu of the signature Mai Tai I went out on a limb with South Pacific Punch, a potent blend of dark and light rums, fresh orange and lime juices, Falernum and passion fruit syrup. Not for the faint of heart, I think the profile of the spicy Falernum is what set this drink apart.
To satisfy the sweet drink lovers, instead of a neon blue concoction (I just can't get down with Blue Curaçao) I opted for the popular Chi Chi, a vodka-based riff on the Piña Colada with coconut cream, pineapple juice and a dust of nutmeg. Sometimes simplicity is best.
For the first time we introduced a bourbon-based tiki drink, which turned out to be the crowd favorite, the ominous-sounding Polynesian Paralysis. Akin to a Hawaiian-style Mai Tai, this one blends pineapple and citrus juices with orgeat, which marry nicely with the bourbon for a dangerously smooth sipper.
We always try to think of creative ways to keep designated drivers and non-drinkers in on the fun, and this year hibiscus lemonade and tropical iced tea just wasn't going to cut it, so I whipped up a non-alcoholic tiki classic Rainbow Punch. Here pineapple, orange, and lime juices are blended with grenadine, soda, and bitters for a well-disguised virgin.
It was an exhausting night of shaking drinks, so I was happy to have some relief long enough to get in on the Kalua pig and Polynesian potluck before it was all gone.
Perlana, one of the "best dressed" winners enjoys a Chi Chi.
Yes, no matter how much math and careful planning goes into our batch drink making, we always over-do it and have SO much leftover. Not a huge complaint, but it suffices to say that Tiki Party turns into Tucson Tiki WEEK. Aw well, maybe we'll get it right next year... Oh yes, there will be a next year.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Foodbuzz Blogger Fest 2011 left lasting impressions in several forms, but Tyler Florence's "#T-Flo" Twitter trending during his cooking demo at the gala dinner may be the favorite of many attendees. While we waited, hungry for our first course, bloggers giggled at T-Flo's casual chatty demeanor, sensual relationship with his ingredients, and appreciation of steam. He whipped up cider-marinated pork chops, red cabbage, handmade spaetzle and mustard sauce before our eyes in minutes. We could smell it. We couldn't wait. We wanted it. We needed it.
Suffice to say we were not served T-Flo's mouth-watering Eastern European-inspired supper. (We got wedding steak). But that didn't stop Sabrina The Tomato Tart, Andy Windattack and I from trying our hand at his menu the evening Foodbuzz Fest came to a close. And dare I say largely improving it?!
Sabrina is one mad host. She even had enough frilly vintage aprons for everyone!
After our trip to Bi-Rite for all the goods, Mark of [No Recipes] came over to help. He didn't put on his apron though...
First thing's first, we got our Heritage Foods pork chops marinating in a bath of Samuel Smith's organic cider, brown sugar, salt, allspice berries and whole long pepper.
Red cabbage: Check.
Beer break! Sabrina produced a chilled bottle of honey ale from her cellar - perfect with the Bi-Rite pretzel I nabbed for a starter.
Not surprisingly, Andy had a vision for a delicious salad to start the meal of right.
Gorgeous persimmon, pomegranate, and paper-thin radishes bejeweled his citrus-kissed winter salad.
An Alsatian 2010 Domiane Roland Schmitt Sylvaner Grand A Petit Leon was a crisp and supple wine pairing with the salad (and might have been into the entree course, had we not finished the spritely bottle while cooking!)
Handmade spaetzle? Yawn. We decided stinging nettles might amp up this dish. Nettle spaetzle? What sounds cooler than that? Mark volunteered for the dangerous task and helped whip up a killer dough.
Many kitchen tools were tested for spaetzle-making ability, but a simple dough scraper and utility knife won. The technique is what took the most time...
We rendered pancetta fat to lightly fry the fluffy boiled spaetzle in for added crispness and flavor.
We couldn't leave dessert out of our Germanic feast. As the cool autumn air was settling into the bay, warm apple pie was the clear solution. Sabrina was all over it.
Would T-Flo approve of basic apple pie? Perhaps... But we wouldn't. I suggested adding some dimension with crumbles of pork sausage, and naturally cheese came up next. Aged white cheddar, pile it on!
Andy plates while bloggers document. Just another day...
Behold: Our cider-marinated pork chop, pickled red cabbage and fennel kraut, parsnip & sunchoke mashers, fried nettle spaetzle, and creamy yogurt mustard sauce.
We enjoyed the meal with a 2009 Van Volxem Saar Riesling, a delightfully dry fruity German wine, and perfect blind date.
The pie was a delicious brunch-for-dessert disguised treat, gussied up with a scoop of Bi-Rite Maple Walnut ice cream. The table was split in favor of the sausage, but in the end everyone's plate was clean.
Groggy from the long Foodbuzz weekend, hours of cooking, glasses of wine, and hermitage from the cold outside beyond the steamy window, we sat, admiring our tablescape with gratuitous irony sharing laughs. You're right T-Flo, spaetzle is the new black. But what's the new nettle?