Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Brown Eyed Susan Elixir Recipe

I am always honored when I get to do really cool things in Kalamazoo. This past Saturday was WMU's first home football game. I had the wonderful opportunity to create and serve a signature cocktail in the Southwest Michigan First football suite. I dedicated this elixir to my great grand aunt, Josephine Wing Jackson, who was President Waldo's Administrative Assistant. She suggested the school colors to President Waldo after gazing out the window and seeing all the wild Brown Eyed Susan's growing on the hill near Heritage Hall. Her story is proudly told on the entrance wall of Heritage Hall.

I put an elixir spin on the classic Black Eyed Susan cocktail (the Preakness Horse Race signature drink) and name it the Brown Eyed Susan in her honor. It's the Elixir thing to do.

Brown Eyed Susan Elixir Recipe

1 oz. Grand Traverse Distillery Rye Vodka
1 oz. Grand Traverse Distillery Small Batch Bourbon
1 oz. fresh squeezed orange juice
1 oz. peach nectar (Looza Brand)
1 oz. Ginger Honey Lemon Sour Mix
3 dashes Black Walnut Bourbon Cherry Bitters
Splash of Seltzer Water
1 fresh peach slice
Vietnamese Saigon Cinnamon

Combine spirits, sour mix, juices and bitters in a mixing glass.  Add ice to Boston Shaker.  Shake for ten seconds then strain into an ice filled Collins glass.  Top with a splash of Seltzer and gently stir.  Add a fresh peach slice and a dusting of Vietnamese Saigon Cinnamon.

Ginger Honey Lemon Sour Mix
1 cup fresh peeled ginger root, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup locally sourced honey

Heat water over medium heat.  Add ginger and allow to simmer for 30 minutes.  Slowly stir in the honey until completely dissolved.  Remove from heat.  Allow the mixture to cool then refrigerate overnight.  Strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer into a mason jar or bottle with a tight lid.  Keep refrigerated.  Syrup will be good for up to two weeks.

Sour Mix - Combine 4 ounces of Ginger Honey Syrup with 4 ounces fresh pressed lemon juice.  Makes 8 ounces.

Black Walnut Cherry Bourbon Bitters:  I make my own signature bitters but you will find Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters and Cherry Bitters will do the trick.  Add 2 dashes of each for the Brown Eyed Susan Elixir.

Grand Traverse Distillery - The oldest and largest distillery in Michigan uses only the best locally grown corn, wheat and rye sourced from their friends and neighbors, the Send Brothers Farm in Williamsburg.  Located just 11 miles from the production facility, the farm keeps Grand Traverse Distillery's grain bins full and deliver right to their door.  A true "grain to bottle" micro-distillery operating since 2007.

Grand Traverse Rye Vodka is a Polish styled vodka with hints at notes of bread dough and pepper.

Grand Traverse Small Batch Bourbon is a traditional styled rye bourbon with tastes of spice, oak and caramel.

Peaches were grown and harvested at Big Dan's U-Pick 'Em (Hartford, MI) and the Vietnamese Saigon Cinnamon was sourced from Great Lakes Tea and Spice (Glen Arbor, MI)


Monday, September 18, 2017

Backwoods, Cast Iron and the Manistee Forest

Little Manistee River
Some of our favorite campsites we love to frequent are right off M-37 in the Manistee National Forest.  We prefer the rustic campground where you won't hear RV air conditioners but you will hear coyotes at night and if you are lucky you may hear a hooting owl.  We like no-frills and no modern technology. We can Netflix and YouTube at home.  No electricity, drinking water only, no showers or plumbing for restrooms.  The best you will get is a nice brick structure with a permanent porta pottie that is properly stocked with toilet paper and you can always take a dip in the river, lake or stream. This isn't the place for perfectly applied makeup and styled hair. But for $16.00 a night, you get to run away from civilization, your internal clock is reset and restored and a complete sense of peace and tranquility overcomes your general wellness after bonding with nature.  

We recently returned from five days and four nights in this stunningly gorgeous and vast piece of nature also known as the Manistee National Forest and we did it for under $200 for two adults and two dogs.  Yes you read that right - under $200 and we didn't hold back when it came to our cooking in cast iron meals.  Here's what we did.

Little Manistee River

First, a trip to Aldi was in order.  More bang for our buck and Aldi has definitely bumped up their go-to grocery game recently.  We picked up some frozen chicken breasts, pork chops, hot Italian Sausage, onions, carrots, broccoli, potatoes (both sweet and russet), romaine lettuce, lunch meat, bread, Brat buns, eggs, pancake mix, syrup, butter, olive oil, garlic, marinara sauce, cheese, mushrooms and of course bacon.  Bacon is a no brainer necessity when camping.  Another necessity when huddled around an evening campfire is the all American S'More.  We decided to up the ante and try a few different S'More styles that included the original with Hershey chocolate bar, a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup style and the mother of all S'Mores, the Salted Caramel S'More. We spent roughly $50.00.  

We also made a quick trip to the Dollar Tree for appropriate sweet and salty snacking items, extra batteries, paper lanterns and water jugs for drinking water.  We spent $20.  We kept things simple our first night after setting up camp and getting things situated by grilling the Italian sausage and served them with a side of chips.  It was perfect after the excitement of arriving to spend our time alone in the woods.

Cast Iron Roasted Vegetables with pan seared Ribeyes

Our second night we pan seared some incredible ribeye steaks we found on our way at a local grocery store.  We roasted our vegetables in our cast iron dutch oven that were lightly tossed with salt, pepper and olive oil.  We also drizzled olive oil and salt and pepper over two heads of romaine lettuce and pan seared them after the steaks cooked for the perfect addition to our dinner.  A serious game changer of delight when it came to the flavors from the meats absorbing into the romain lettuce head as it cooked.  We baked a few potatoes that we planned on cutting up in the morning for breakfast.

Cast Iron seared Romaine Lettuce

Our meal was superb.  The smoke from the fire added such an incredible flavor addition to the romain lettuce and steaks.  The vegetables were roasted to perfection and the potatoes were ready to be chilled in the cooler and sliced the next morning for breakfast.  When we were finished, we saved the roasted vegetables for we still had some serious big plans for them for our woods tradition, Indian cuisine while camping.

Tikka Masala Sauce and Saffron Rice

Tikka Masala Chicken with saffron rice?  Yes, you did read that correctly.  Tikka Masala Chicken. A taste of India deep in the woods of the Manistee National Forest cooked in a cast iron skillet over a campfire. We discovered two great items during our grocery shopping trips prior to our trip.  The Tikka Masala sauce from Aldi is incredible deliciousness for about $2.00.  Remember our trip to the Dollar Tree?  Who would think they would have something as delectable as saffron rice for $1.00.  We thought we'd give it a try and it certainly didn't disappoint.  

Tikka Masala Chicken and Vegetables with Saffron Rice

A sensory explosion of flavors in this inexpensive dish that actually tastes very expensive. It was very easy to create this tantalizing dinner that will make your tummy dance with delight after a nice interactive trail hike. This recipe is perfect for the "car" camper who runs to the woods to relax, hike, nap and enjoy themselves around the fire. We wouldn't necessarily recommend this to those who hike several miles into a camp with everything neatly packed in their backpack. This delectable dish is for the outdoorsy foodie who would rather drive 10 miles to the nearest local dive for the Friday Night "All You Can Eat" Fish Fry than live on granola or trail mix for three days.

Banana Nut Pancakes and Thick Cut Bacon

We bumped up our breakfast game by spending a few extra bucks for thick cut bacon and a jar of mixed nuts, a perfect score for a quick snack and transforming the ordinary pancake into a pure earthly delight of sweet and salty deliciousness, the banana nut pancake. We chopped up the nuts, added them to the pancake batter and added a smidgen of vanilla extract for good measure. Go BIG for the breakfast win with this combo.

Grilled Brined Pork Chops

We brined some great looking thick cut pork chops  in a brown sugar/sea salt blend the night before we left.  The chops bathed a good 48 hours in this mixture before we grilled them up.  Trying to think outside of the flavor box, we bravely threw a whole pineapple on top of the campfire grate with a few potatoes, both russet and sweet.  If you haven't tasted and savored the flavor of roasted a pineapple before, put it on your list of culinary "To-Do's". Wow...that is all.  Talk about a perfect pairing with the brined pork chops.  A major score as the leftover pineapple chilled in the cooler became a perfect side addition to breakfast.

Bacon, Brined Pork and Fried Potatoes

Our love affair with bacon was taken to a new level on this trip.  Remember we had leftover bacon we fried up the day before for breakfast?  We reheated it in our cast iron skillet over the fire by placing each piece on top of the leftover brined pork chop slices from dinner the night before.  The seasoning from the chops elevated the bacon flavors to pure pork heaven.  Pork on pork just became a legendary epicurean experience in the woods we won't ever forget.  Our leftover baked potatoes were seasoned, sliced and fried to perfection.  The scrambled eggs with onion, tarragon and topped with cheese gets a huge double star shout-out for our savory and salty breakfast plan.  We were ready to hit the trails for some wooded expedition fun.

This was such a wonderful, relaxing and inexpensive getaway filled with great food, fun, and flora.  We refueled our bodies, our minds, our spirits and souls from the energy of the untouched natural beauty of the Manistee National Forest.  We chose this particular weekend because of the possibility of catching one of nature's night moves - a meteor shower that was at peak time and definitely didn't disappoint.  Our nightly campfires not only provided warmth and mosquito repellent, they added an untapped dimension of newly discovered flavors for our cast iron culinary creations. The daily hikes led us down mystical paths filled with bracket ferns, magical white pine and birch trees and the Little Manistee River.  Afternoon naps and quiet time in our hammocks strung between the hemlock trees were pure Michigan heaven.  It was breathtaking and we cannot wait to return for more magical and mystical memories of the Manistee National Forest.

Here is a short video of the rest of the story and fun at Eat, Drink and BE Michigan

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Smokestacks and Heritage Guitars - 100 Years of Celebration

I'm seriously mortified and ashamed of myself right now. Here I am - a 20 year guitar player  and a Kalamazoo native that has had the honor of playing many vintage Gibson's over the years, but I have never visited where they were conceived and born out of pure unadulterated luthier love. One of my most proud and successful beverage menus was inspired by these iconic axes and were appropriately named after many of these legendary music makers.

The Gibson Les Paul in Cinnamon Maple finish is still requested on a regular basis as well as Kalamazoo's first smokin' cocktail, The Gibson Smokestack. It was not unusual on a Friday night in 2013 to find the back bar of Old Dog Tavern filled with a haze of smoke generated from the mini Smokestack I built out of an old Absolut Vodka cobbler styled cocktail shaker. They were, and still are, damn good cocktails. All of this tribute to a Northside Kalamazoo history staple and I really didn't know exactly where the Smokestack sat.

Today I changed this horrific oversight on my part. I headed down to 225 Parsons Street for a birthday celebration. A 100 year birthday party to be exact.  The Gibson Guitar factory that is now the home to the Heritage Guitar Company invited us all.  It is an unwritten rule that you should always go where you are invited - and I was sure glad I went.  

There are some big plans in the works for this Kalamazoo historical Northside guitar factory - and these plans are really big. MLive reported this week that Rolling Stone LLC is partnering with the building owners, Plaza Corp., to put some serious life back in this good old brick building. (MLive article link).

According to the redevelopment plan, it is looking like this will be a stunning addition to Kalamazoo's already thriving downtown.  A one stop spot for an evening of dining, drinks and entertainment as well as a tremendous cultural tourist stop for those visiting Kalamazoo.  


I'm grabbing the microphone and sending a shout out to all the volunteers today who made this birthday bash happen.  ENCORE! to their hard work, diligence and dedicated efforts to "Save the Stack" from being demolished and a STANDING OVATION for their time and energy they gave to make this Saturday shindig happen for the lover of the guitar and Kalamazoo history.  Here is a big BE MICHIGAN hug  from us to you for all you do.  Cheers!

Here is a short video of my tour today.  Public tours are offered Wednesday and Fridays.  Contact the Heritage Guitar Company for further information.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Sunday Day Trippin' to Big Dan's U-Pick 'Em & Fruit Farm

Sundays are great for day trippin' down country roads in SW Michigan's wine country.  You never know what you might uncover. During our recent Sunday afternoon drive, we uncovered Big Dan's U-Pick 'Em & Farm Market (Apples, Peaches and Pumpkins) in Hartford, owned by Dan and Margo Klug.  We decided to stop after seeing gorgeous peaches hanging from the tree branches on the farm.  

Although late August is usually the tail end of the peach season, Big Dan's peaches certainly didn't disappoint!  They were perfectly round and firm with the skin virtually unblemished - the kind you find at Whole Foods Market. Most importantly, the inside was just as beautiful as the outside.  They were sweet, juicy and and just plain delicious.  

We decided to create one of Margo's free recipes she shares with visitors to the farm, the Peach Upside-Down Cake.  It was so delicious, we decided to share and hope you will visit their farm when in the area.  You won't be disappointed by the stunning views, as the Klug Farm sits at one of the highest elevation points in the area.  On a clear day you will have an unbelievable panoramic view of how beautiful the area really is.  This is an added bonus to their already delicious fruit and vegetable offerings.  Take a drive; bring a lunch; jump on board a free hayride (weekends September and October only) and enjoy Margo's educational tour of their farm.  

Peach Upside-Down Cake
Recipe by Margo Klug 
Baked by:  Sarah E. MacLean

Topping:  1/2 cup melted margarine, 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 2 cups sliced peaches.  In a 9" round baking pan, mix brown sugar and melted margarine together. Spread in pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon.  Arrange peaches over the mixture.

1 1/4 cups flower
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup margarine (not melted)
1 egg
1/2 cup milk

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.  In a large bowl with mixer at medium speed, beat together sugar and margarine for 2 minutes.  Add egg and vanilla.  Beat well.  Reduce speed to low. Add dry ingredients alternately with the milk.  Spread batter over peaches in the pan.  Bake 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool on rack 5 minutes. Invert onto serving plate.  Remove pan. Serve warm or cold.

Here's a short video of our fun on the farm - Cheers and Enjoy!

Photos by:  Sarah E. MacLean
Video by:  Angie Jackson, The Traveling Elixir Fixer

Monday, July 9, 2012

Funky "SoulFuel" Food and Motown - Needle In a Haystack

Needle in a Haystack

2 oz. Incentive Vodka (Big Cedar Distilling Inc.., Sturgis, MI)
3/4 oz. Simple Syrup
1/4 oz. locally-sourced maple syrup
3/4 oz. Fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 drops of Cherry Bitters
2 drops of Chokecherry tincture** (provided by Eric Lester, Professional Forager)
1 small sprig of spruce tree tips (see photo)

Combine all ingredients and shake with ice for 10 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with spruce tip.

**Cherry juice concentrate can be substituted for chokecherry tincture

Photo courtesy of Angie Jackson, The Traveling Elixir Fixer

"Cause findin' a good man, girls, is like findin' a needle in a haystack"
The Velvelettes

On a recent trek to Fernwood Botanic Garden in Niles, Michigan for a "Woods to Glass" Cocktail Workshop, sponsored by Edible Michiana, the Traveling Elixir Fixer created a PURE MICHIGAN cocktail honoring her elementary school music teacher, Bertha Barbee McNeal, a member of Kalamazoo's hometown Motown girl group, The Velvelettes.  Feeling the funky "soulfuel" sensation of pure sensory analysis, the vegan and vegetarian restaurant, Fuel -Unpredictably Vegetarian, was used as the backdrop for the cocktail photo, Needle in a Haystack, named after one of The Velvelettes hit songs.  

Fuel is an outpost hot spot, chill spot, and a home to healthy living.   A home of culinary wellness and creatively hatched by Executive Chef Denise Miller.  Head-bobbing hip with honest food, local food and comfort food. Foods of the world, robust and imaginative, deeply flavorful with textures and colors that go pop to the eye and tantalize the tastebuds. Beautiful plates but more - Plant-based, grain-based, eco-responsible and nutritious all wrapped up in a socially-conscious and aesthetically inspiring environment sprinkled with a dash of local art, artists, poets and musicians, guest chefs and djs. Fuel is filled with tables of understanding - and they have a chair with your name on it.  I've described Fuel as a combination platter of Chicago's Wishbone meeting Karen's Raw. 

Fuel is a funky 18-seat completely vegetarian eatery set inside a vintage filling station at the busy corner of South Burdick and East Alcott Streets in the southside neighborhood of Kalamazoo, Michigan and is open Thursday - Saturday, 5pm - 9pm and Sunday, 10am - 2pm. Reservations are accepted and highly recommended. eat@fuelvegetarian.com.

From Wikipedia:  "The Velvelettes got their break chartwise in the spring of 1964 thanks to young producer Norman Whitfield, who produced "Needle In A Haystack" as a single for the group, on Motown's VIP Records imprint. "Needle In A Haystack" peaked at number 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in mid 1964." 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Ginful Apple Featuring Bilberry Blackhearts Gin and Thatcher's Blood Orange Liqueur

The Ginful Apple

3/4 oz. Thatcher's Blood Orange Liqueur 
1 oz. Indian Summer Apple Juice 
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup (2:1 ratio)
3/4 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
2" cinnamon stick

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass.  Add ice to Boston Shaker, shake ingredients for 10 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

A perfect "Orchard-to-Glass" representation of all things PURE in Michigan, the Ginful Apple cocktail not only uses Michigan distilled spirits, they are also organic.    This is our contribution to great Lenten cocktails for those who chose to give up something other than spirits for those forty days.

Cocktail recipe adapted and inspired by one of my Kendall College HOS 123 - Mixology student's final exam.  CHEERS and ENJOY!

A clean, crisp and bright organic gin with a more forward fruit flavor profile of fig, black licorice that follows with hints of spice and juniper.   

Tasting Notes: "With every sip you'll enjoy the juicy flavor of an orange freshly picked from the grove, noticing just a hint of fresh raspberry."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Delilah's Slap 'n Tickle using W.R. White Rye Whiskey

Delilah's Slap and Tickle

2 oz. W. R. White Rye Whiskey
1 oz. Orange/Honey/Sage Simple Syrup
3/4 oz. Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
2 Dashes Orange Bitters
Ginger Ale
Sprig of fresh sage (garnish)

Combine whiskey, syrup, lemon juice, and orange bitters in a mixing glass. Add ice to Boston Shaker and shake ingredients for 10 seconds.  Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass and add a generous splash of ginger ale.  Gently stir, and garnish with a fresh sprig of sage and a swizzle stick. Release the essential aroma of the herb by placing the sage sprig in one palm of your hands and "slapping" it with the other hand before garnishing the cocktail.  

Orange/Honey/Sage Simple Syrup
4 oz. locally-sourced honey
4 oz. water
8 oz. Orange Marmalade
1/2 cup fine granulated sugar
Juice of two oranges
1/4 cup fresh sage leaves

Heat water in a non-reactive pan over medium heat. Add honey, stirring until completely dissolved. Add orange marmalade and continue stirring until dissolved.  Add sugar and the juice of one orange, and continue stirring until dissolved. Remove from heat and add sage leaves. Steep in syrup for 15-20 minutes or until flavor profile is achieved.  Remove sage, fine strain into a bottle and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Delilah DeWylde & The Lost Boys
This cocktail creation is inspired by Delilah DeDwylde & The Lost Boys' most  recent performance at Old Dog Tavern in Kalamazoo, MI.   The name was inspired by Delilah's upright bass/lead vocal performance.  She has been described as, "Her outsized stage presence is the centerpiece of the show — one minute singing sweetly, the next standing on her bass and slapping it into submission." The trio describe themselves as "a succession of no-good punks and ill-mannered teenagers that took the best of American roots music — hard-partying honky tonk country, searing gutbucket blues and lonesome hillbilly twang — and distilled it into a potent moonshine known as rockabilly. This combustible formula, passed down through the generations, forms the heart of the revved-up stylings of Delilah DeWylde and the Lost Boys."  I recently described the band after a live stage performance, "if Buddy Holly, Chet Atkins and Patsy Cline had a three-way at Pulp Fiction's "Jack Rabbit Slim's," the triplets of Delilah and her Lost Boys would have been conceived."

I decided to use W. R. White Rye Whiskey from Journeyman Distillery (Three Oaks, MI) as the backbone of this creation. Rye Whiskey has a clean, crisp and slightly spicy flavor profile, very reminiscent of the trio's Friday evening performance, as opposed to the bitter/sweet flavor profile of corn-based moonshine. The orange/honey/sage simple syrup flavors represent each member of the trio. Honey represents Delilah DeWylde (Upright Bass/Lead Vocal) with its sweet and astringent heating components, just like Delilah heats up the crowd with her onstage performance and her sweet, pure and earthy vocals. Orange represents Lee Harvey (Guitar), who happens to play an orange Gretsch Guitar.  Orange gets brighter with the flavor of lemon, and Lee Harvey's relationship with his guitar is a bright and vibrant one that heats up as the evening progresses. Sage represents drummer D. J. McCoy.  Sage is a moderate-heavy weight herb and speaks in loud volumes as the driving flavor force in the syrup.  D. J. brings everything together with the backbone beat just like Sage adds the perfect element to this flavored simple syrup.  
Delilah's Slap 'n Tickle Cocktail
Pictured with The Carter Family
Be sure to catch this fabulous honky-tonkin' rockabilly trio next time they grace the stage in your area.  In the meantime, enjoy this little one minute video I captured at their recent show at Old Dog Tavern in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  CHEERS!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Day Trippin' on a Liquid Mission to Harbor Country

There comes a time when everyone needs to get away for an afternoon.  This time was well overdue for two Chicago Mixologists.  We were ready to get away and experience SW Michigan's Harbor Country in all liquid forms.  Yes, we were on a liquid mission.  My most amazing friend, traveling companion and co-pilot, Ms. Lynn House, Chief Mixologist at Blackbird Restaurant, and I decided to go day trippin' on a liquid mission to SW Michigan one day in late December 2011 (no, not '63, Frankie Valli Fans).  We were armed with a Jeep full of gas, a bottle of Pineapple/Brown Sugar/Habanero Syrup, a Christmas tree ornament shaped like a margarita (compliments of The Cocktail Cottage), and a pre-bottled cocktail for Jill Sites at Greenbush Brewing Co. using Journeyman Distillery's W.R. Welter White Whiskey as a belated birthday cocktail. 

The first stop on our liquid adventure took us to David's Delicatessen in New Buffalo, Michigan where Joe treated us to one of their tantalizing iced tea creations using Intelligentsia's Pomegranate Tea, and a fine roasted cup of java to get the day sippin' started.

We felt it only fitting to stop at Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks.  After all, we were on a liquid mission and we had heard through the Michigan grapevine that the newly released Bilberry Black Hearts Gin was available and ready for tasting.  A New World style gin, Bilberry Black Hearts Gin introduces a new flavor to gin lovers. Bilberries are closely related to North American blueberries and huckleberries. Bilberries produce single or paired berries on the bush instead of clusters, as the blueberry does. The fruit is smaller than that of the blueberry, but with a fuller taste. Bilberries are darker in color, and usually appear near black with a slight shade of purple.  We were both impressed with this gin interpretation that has a more fruit-forward expression with a gentler juniper  flavor profile.  We found that this would be an exceptional gin in the classic Gin and Tonic, Tom Collins, Gin Rickey and the French 75.  This would also make an exceptional gin style for lighter food pairings and brunch gatherings.  We also brought good tidings of cheer to our friends at Journeyman in the form of spiced orange honey syrup.  We mixed the syrup with Bilberry Black Hearts Gin and a little fresh squeezed lemon juice.  This syrup danced beautifully with the Bilberry Blackheart Gin and with a light dusting of Great Lakes Tea and Spice Co's Vietnamese Saigon Cinnamon, this would be a fantastic and simple cocktail to ring in the holiday cheer with family and friends. 

Greenbush Brewing Company, Sawyer, MI
Our liquid journey down Pure Michigan's Life Highway (a.k.a. Red Arrow Highway) took us to Greenbush Brewing Company in Sawyer, Michigan.  We both were excited to sample their beer offerings.  Lynn's beer flavor palate falls under the bitter and scorned IPA family side of the beer style spectrum, where my flavors fall under the lighter and less serious wheat side of the family. With our two completely differing palate preferences, we were ready for Greenbush Brewing Co.  Jennifer Piotter, reigning Beer Ambassador and Goddess of Charm, greeted us like we were family, so we decided to leave our tasting decisions up to our most awesome hostess who promptly chose the following for our sample flight.

My three favorites revolved around Apathy Oatmeal Stout, Distorter Porter and my winning, "I'll pick up a six-pack anytime I get the chance" vote, the Red Bud Wheat Ale.  What can I say?  I have a tendency to favor and prefer my German/Austrian ancestry roots when it comes to beer.  I return to my true blooded American roots with Bourbon.  I can handle an IPA every now and then and Triple IPAs just scare me.  They remind me of Triple Dog Dares, I run away every time with my tail between my legs from that prominent bitter, hopped-up flavor profile.  Even the "Quadruple-IPA Explorer of Hops," Lynn House, enjoyed the Red Bud Wheat Ale.  Described as a "directionally-challenged ale," we both found Red Bud to be a fun and unique expression of an American Wheat ale with just enough body to keep intermediate and advanced craft brew sippers happy and light enough to enjoy throughout the day.

Greenbush Tasting Flight

I mentioned that Lynn House is a worldly explorer of hops. She searches the world hoping to find the lost ark containing the most bitter of the bittered hops. She dreams of the day when someone creates a Quadruple IPA for her, and every year she adds this to the top of her Christmas list in hopes that this year will be the year her wish and dreams are fulfilled. Lynn's dreams were answered at Greenbush in the form of Anger Black IPA, described as "a haughty black India Pale Ale with a bit of pent-up attitude for those "special" days.  An addicting little cascadian black IPA using Belgian dark malts and dry-hopped for intense aroma. Release some bottled-up Anger and learn to enjoy life a little." Lynn didn't get angry; in fact, it made her very happy. She smiled, laughed and said, "oh yes, I am HOME." Another winning contestant for Lynn came in the form of Greenbush's Closure Pale Ale. Closure doesn't stick around long as a new and different hop variety is introduced every time they brew a batch. This is what Lynn calls a great "session" beer, in other words, something that can be sipped on throughout the day and enjoyed the entire experience. We both agreed there is a beer for everyone at Greenbush. Their beer stylings spoke true to the categories and came with great balance.

We decided to have some lunch while sampling our tasting flight, and Greenbush was a great place to grab a snack and a sandwich. Greenbush doesn't sport a large food menu. They don't need to - they focus on serving what they have for the day and we both agreed, they do it quite well. We each ordered the turkey cheddar melt with bacon and remoulade as well as the pub cheese and pretzels. The turkey cheddar melt was the kind of sandwich you want to make at home but never have the time. All paired exceptionally well with our tasting flight. It was heaven in liquid and solid form and all served at a bar stool in Sawyer, Michigan.

The next leg of our day trippin' journey took us to Hickory Creek Winery in Buchanan, MI. Mother Nature played some serious tricks with the Midwest winter weather.  We honestly felt like it was early November and not late December, with virtually no snow and temperatures in the 40's.  Driving down the back country roads leading to these fabulous SW Michigan wineries was half the fun.  These are the winter vines at Hickory Creek Winery as we entered the driveway of the tasting room.  

We sampled the 2009 Pinot Gris. This Pinot Gris is reminiscent of Alto Adige. Rich aromas of dried hay and floral notes. Fresh herbs on the palate with good acid structure. WONDERFUL - produced to huge smiles from our tasters.  Pictured with our Solstice Celebration mascot - the holiday ornament shaped like a margarita from The Cocktail Cottage.

Lynn's favorite tasting at Hickory Creek Winery was the 2009 Zero Oak Chardonnay with it's gooseberry and fruit forward flavorings, Lynn found the acidity to be perfect and very reminiscent of unoaked Australian chardonnays, and by far one of the best chardonnays she has tasted recently with its rich, ripe, and full-bodied flavor on the palate with a lengthy finish.

2006 Melange tasting pictured with our version of a roaving gnome - a margarita-shaped holiday ornament compliments of The Cocktail Cottage. This Melange, a cooler vintage, gives a bright ruby color. Slightly closed, but well-developed red fruit. This blend of Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon and Merlot has aromas of cherry, raspberry and currant. Toasty cocoa balances minerals and fruit on the palate. This has a lengthy finish with soft tannins. Drink now or cellar - - we chose to drink now...WONDERFUL.

Liquid mission accomplished.  Cheers to you, Michigan.  The world will soon find out just how cool you really are.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Something's Brewing with the Blues in the 'Zoo Inspired by a Dance with KoKo the Queen

Here is a Michigan-inspired cocktail recipe using locally-owned Something’s Brewing (Kalamazoo, MI) hot chocolate, Grand Traverse Distillery's Chocolate Vodka (Traverse City) and appropriately named, The Kazoo KoKo Taylor.

The Kazoo KoKo Taylor

1 ½ oz. Grand Traverse Distillery Chocolate Vodka (Traverse City, MI) or substitute
1 ½ oz. W. R. Welter White Rye Whiskey (Three Oaks, MI)
4-5 oz. Something’s Brewing Hot Cocoa (Kalamazoo, MI)
4 chilled egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
3 oz. simple syrup (2:1 ratio)
Fresh grated nutmeg (garnish)
Great Lakes Tea and Spice Co's Vietnamese Saigon Cinnamon (Glenn Arbor, MI)

Combine spirit and hot cocoa in an Irish coffee mug.  Stir well.  

BEAT egg whites and cream of tartar in mixer bowl with whisk attachment on high speed until foamy. Beating constantly, ADD simple syrup 1 Tbsp. at a time, beating after each addition until sugar is dissolved before adding the next. Continue beating until whites are glossy and stand in soft peaks. Spread meringue over drink using a small spatula.  Lightly toast meringue with a creme brulee torch.  Sprinkle with a dusting of fresh grated nutmeg and cinnamon.  We are very fond of using Great Lakes Tea and Spice Co's Vietnamese Saigon Cinnamon in our cocktail creations.  Vietnamese 'Saigon' Cinnamon is considered the finest quality and most flavorful cinnamon in the world due to its high oil contents and rich, dark, distinctly sweet flavor and complex aroma. Use in baking, meat dishes, soups, and add a pinch to hot drinks and cereals.

According to Wikipedia, the definition of “The Blues” is:

“Blues is the name given to both a musical form and a music genre that originated in African-American communities of primarily the "Deep South" of the United States at the end of the 19th century from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll is characterized by specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues chord progression is the most common. The blue notes that, for expressive purposes, are sung or played flattened or gradually bent (minor 3rd to major 3rd) in relation to the pitch of the major scale, are also an important part of the sound.” 

Sounds pretty difficult and complicated; but, if you presented this definition to any blues aficionado/player/singer, they would look at you with a blank stare.  Most would probably correct you by saying, “honey, you thinkin’ too much.  Blues gotta come from within, from the soul. You gotta FEEL it and you gotta LIVE it.  That’s all I know.”

Kalamazoo has a nice little thing going with KalamazooValley Blues Association (KVBA).  KVBA was originally founded in 1994 with the sole purpose of organizing the first annual Kalamazoo Blues Festival. The resulting success gave birth to the ideals in which the organization embraces and utilizes today. Their goal is to keep the blues alive in Southwest Michigan, and they do a great job doing so.  I’ve always been impressed with SW Michigan’s musical talents.  I’m sure these talented musicians study, and one cannot possibly study music without crossing paths with the 12-bar blues. KVBA keeps the opportunity alive for these aspiring musicians by bringing in national performers and supporting the local blues music scene.  I began my love of the blues with this organization and had the pleasure of experiencing these events before moving across the pond to Chicago, where I knew I was going to experience the blues firsthand.

Many years ago, I worked at one of the best blues clubs in Chicago.  Originally, this masterpiece of a music venue was Famous Dave’s Rhythm, Blues and BBQ, located on Clark Street just south of Chicago Avenue, across the street from Blue Chicago.  After two years, the club merged with the original “Chef” himself, Isaac Hayes, to become Isaac Hayes’ Music, Food, Passion with Famous Dave’s BBQ.  The club was an enormous 2-story structure with a stage to house at least 12 musicians.  The seating area was decorated and set to resemble being below Chicago’s famous EL train tracks.  An enormous square bar with a tin roof meant to resemble a Delta-Blues juke-joint was at the other end facing the stage.  Oh yes, I was home in Sweet Home Chicago and I was ready to hang my bartending hat here for quite some time.

I crossed paths with many of the great blues players, Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater, Lonnie Brooks, Buddy Guy, you name them, I probably poured their beers, mixed their drinks, ordered their food, chased after them to pay their tabs, listened to their sets and wished them well when they left, even if they stiffed me.  Although each one of these artists gave me great memories, two encounters with two legendary performers gave me two unforgettable experiences that I will never forget.  I smile fondly when I think of these memories.   

One night the club was getting pretty busy and the bar was filling up.  I noticed what looked like a homeless man had entered the club and sat down at a nearby high-top table next to the bar.  He sat there, didn’t make immediate eye contact with me, and was getting into the groove of the evening’s blues entertainment.  This man looked like he had been on the streets for weeks.  He was smoking what looked like a cigarette he picked up off the street and his clothes were disheveled and dirty.  He looked like he was truly living the blues. (Side note: smoking was still allowed in the bars in Chicago when this occurred. It is not anymore.) I was betting he didn’t have any money and just wanted to warm up a bit and check out the entertainment so I decided to buy him a drink.  When we made eye contact, I smiled and asked, “Hey there, I would like to buy you a drink.  What’ll you have?”  He nodded and replied without a smile, “I’ll have a Crown Royal straight.”  I handed him the drink, which he graciously accepted, and continued to enjoy the entertainment.  He promptly gulped the drink down and demanded another.  I was slightly startled as I was pretty sure this man had no money and he downed the drink in record time.  I replied, “Sweetheart, the first one was on me, you will have to buy the next one.”  He reached into his pocket and pulled out a few wadded up dollar bills and a bunch of change.  I made him the drink, charged him appropriately, and he paid with exact change.  I thought to myself, “Okay, I’m done with this guy” and continued servicing the rest of the customers at the bar.  He promptly swilled back the next round of Crown Royal, jumped off the high-top chair, came to the bar top, slammed the glass down and stated, “Woman!  Bring me another Crown Royal.”  Those who know me know that I do not take kindly to these kinds of words, and I have a knack of ensuring that this never happens again.  I looked at the current bar guest I was serving, smiled and said, “Would you please excuse me for a brief moment?”  I turned and slammed my beer bottle opener down on the bar and announced, “EXCUSE ME?  My name is Angie, not WOMAN.  In fact, YOU will now address me as Ms. Jackson. Now, I’m going to give you a few minutes to think about how you disrespected me and when you have chosen an appropriate apology, I will be back.”  The rest of the bar guests applauded and shouted, “You get ‘em, Ms. Jackson!”  I promptly continued servicing my bar guests and after a few minutes he called me over and said, “Ms. Jackson. I am very sorry for the way I disrespected you.  May I please have another Crown Royal?”  I replied with a smile, “Of course you may.  Now you know my name, what is yours?”  He answered, “I’m Little Eddie King and I’m the next performer for the evening.”  From this day forward, he called me Ms. Jackson. 

“Little Eddie King (born Edward Lewis Davis Milton, April 21, 1938) is a Chicago blues guitarist, singer and songwriter.  His parents were both musical, with his father playing guitar and his mother a gospel singer. King learned basic guitar riffs from watching from outside the window of local blues clubs, and was inspired by the playing of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Little Walter.  He relocated to Chicago in 1954.  Given a break by Little Mack Simmons, he first recorded under the tutelage of Willie Dixon and, in 1960, played on several tracks recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson II.  He then became the guitarist backing Koko Taylor, a role he undertook for two decades.” - Wikipedia

I passed a bit of this historical encounter on to my friends at Journeyman Distillery.  Remember the beer bottle opener I slammed down on the bar after being addressed as “WOMAN”?  The opener became bent at the end after this altercation.  Stop by the Tasting Room in Three Oaks to check it out.  It is alive and well, kept under the supervision of Matt (J-Man) Janotta, the Bar Manager.

The other encounter didn’t begin on the wrong foot; in fact, it was the right foot.  The club was hosting one of the pioneers of the Chicago blues scene, the Queen of the Blues herself, Koko Taylor.  We had a back stairway area where artists entered and exited the Green Room.  The back stairwell area was a space allotted for artists and employees to smoke. I was back in this area taking a break when I heard the band begin playing one of Koko’s most signature songs, “Wang Dang Doodle.”  I love this song and didn’t want to miss one of my idols perform this live at the venue I happened to be working.  I came running out of the back stairway area which led to the kitchen area entrance where artists entered the stage.  I was grooving along, dancing to the music when I looked up and saw Koko Taylor standing in front of me smiling.  She said to me with a sly grin on her face, “Girl, you got some smooth moves!” and began dancing with me.  What a thrill!  I was happy just to be able to see her and now I was dancing with her in the kitchen area of the club I worked at to her most famous song.  We briefly danced together, both smiling and laughing when I said, “sweetheart, you probably should go out there and get on stage.  I think the band is waiting for you.”  She replied again with a little smirk, “They can wait.  I’m busy.”  What a thrill to continue dancing for another minute or so with the Queen of the Blues herself, KoKo Taylor!  The time came when the Queen needed to be on stage.  I promptly kissed her hand and said, “You are fabulous! Thank you for spending a few minutes with a fan.”  She smiled, continued dancing through the doorway, turned to me and blew me a kiss as she grabbed her microphone and began singing and heading towards the stage. 

“Koko Taylor (September 28, 1928 – June 3, 2009) was a Chicago blues musician, popularly known as the "Queen of the Blues." She was known primarily for her rough, powerful vocals and traditional blues stylings.  Born Cora Walton in Shelby County, Tennessee, Taylor was the daughter of a sharecropper. She left Memphis for Chicago, Illinois in 1952 with her husband, truck driver Robert "Pops" Taylor. In the late 1950s she began singing in Chicago blues clubs. She was spotted by Willie Dixon in 1962, and this led to wider performances and her first recording contract. In 1965, Taylor was signed by Chess Records where she recorded "Wang Dang Doodle," a song written by Dixon and recorded by Howlin' Wolf five years earlier. The song became a hit, reaching number four on the R&B charts in 1966, and selling a million copies.” - Wikipedia

I want to honor this great woman who gave her soul to her fans and the blues. I also want to give a little kudos to the man who gained more respect for me after I yelled at him.  I also want to give a shout out to the folks who began an amazing organization that continues to keep this genre alive in my home town, the Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association (KVBA).  A little piece of Chicago Blues still lives in Kalamazoo.  I recently gave my work shirt from the club to a dear friend who's father is one of Isaac Hayes biggest fans.  She grew up listening to "Shaft" and has amazing childhood memories of her family listening to one of the greatest songwriters of all time.

True North Chocolate Vodka is a wheat-based vodka that has been naturally infused with organic cocoa. Fresh navel oranges are infused secondary and impart a natural sweetness and deeply satisfying citrus twist.  Created in small batches, this product is only available at the distillery.  Be sure to pick up a bottle when visiting the area.  For those of you who want to keep the blues alive in their souls, substitute Journeyman’s W.R. Welter White Rye Whiskey in place of the vodka.  Be sure to pour and serve the bottle from a paper bag for realistic purposes.

Tile designed by artist Nancy DeYoung.  A contribution to Hospital Hospitality House of Southwest Michigan was made by purchasing this limited edition tile (#370/500).  The House provides a home-away-from-home for families and/or patients at Borgess Medical Center, Bronson Methodist Hospital and the West Michigan Cancer Center.  Over 1,000 guests are served here each year.  This tile is proudly displayed in my kitchen to remind me of my "Home Sweet Home" Kalamazoo.

Along with free lodging, guests are provided with emotional support through round-the-clock staffing, laundry facilities, a well-stocked kitchen, donated personal items, bathrobes, slippers and, if needed, clothing.  Hospital Hospitality House is supported entirely by donations like this.

Do a little Wang Dang Doodle dance for the Queen of the Blues today.  CHEERS!