Author: jenshinto

Alcomaniacs: An Evening on Gin

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So the chicken liver mousse I made was my contribution to an educational session on gin. It was a long evening and my learning spiked and faded as the night wore on and the cocktails made me swoon and eventually settled into a metronomic head pounding. I started off with a perfect Negroni (gin, vermouth, campari) courtesy of Gobie, lecturer and mixologist extraordinaire. The Negroni should be the national drink of Italy: bittersweet, beautiful, but refreshingly so.

Photo by Alva Lim | Gobie's distiller from Portugal

Photo by Alva Lim | Gobie’s distiller from Portugal

Gobie took us through the history of gin starting with the despised insipid vodka (gin with no clothes) to the mechanics of distilling and re-distilling alcohol with botanicals to give us a variety of London gins (Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Plymouth). London gin is obtained from the ethanol of a grain with a certain maximum methanol content (gaps in knowledge attributed to level of drunkenness). The spices and botanicals often used include firstly and predominantly juniper, then coriander, licorice root, cassia bark, orange and/or lemon peel, cardamom, fennel, nutmeg angelica root. These flavors became more pronounced as the heat of the alcohol subsided through the progression of gins. Plymouth isn’t something I see that often back in the States but is by far my new favorite London gin.

Photo by Alva Lim

Photo by Alva Lim

Photo by Alva Lim

Photo by Alva Lim

Then we moved on to more beautifully complex gins (Kangaroo Island Spirit (KIS) Wild Gin, Hendrick’s, Monkey 47) that had a softer mouthfeel. I hate that word, by the way. We were asked to chart out on pentagonal matrices the levels of juniper, floral, citrus, spice/earthiness, and heat (I promptly abandoned this exercise after the Plymouth and reached for the food instead). The Kangaroo Island is an Australian gin that our host Tamara brought back from her last trip there. And Monkey 47 is a gin from the German Black Forest distilled with cranberries! Very complex interweaving of all the varying pentagonal points ending with a woody finish, almost like a whiskey. Then there was a dropdead gorgeous gin that Gobie had aged himself in an American cask he somehow procured that was almost like a scotch. A cube of ice was all it needed, but at this point in the evening, I was pretty down for the count. What saved me was the best food I’ve eaten in Timor-Leste.

Photo by Alva Lim

Photo by Alva Lim

Oh my! Alva has a playful palate, inspired mind, and passion for local ingredients. Also an amazing photographer! These were local yam blinis with sheep’s milk feta mousse, and crispy amaranth on top. Think of it as a latke dancing between just barely sweet and perfectly salty slathered in an airy cloud and a touch of crisp that tasted reminiscent of crackling chestnuts on a pinewood campfire. It was LOCO. But then she killed it dead with these:

Photo by Alva Lim

Photo by Alva Lim

Tea smoked local mackerel sliders on breadfruit mini-buns with ginger pickled carrot and radish. If this isn’t genius, I don’t know what is. I’m hoping she’ll let me in on the recipe, and then maybe I can let you in on the recipe. These umami buns (sounds so pornographic) were like King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls but had a touch of yeastiness to them and they’re made with breadfruit! The tea smoked mackerel was reminiscent of a smoked trout but better, especially since it was slathered in a martini aioli that was cut through by the gingery tang of the pickles. I’m helplessly salivating as I write this.

I was grateful to be included in this session of the Alcomaniac/Almaniac series. Here’s to new friends in farflung places, especially those so generous and talented, who like to imbibe and feast as much as I do, and teach me a few things on the way.

L’Américain: Chicken Liver Mousse and Too Much Gin

Dili is a small town and at some point, you will know everyone and their uncle who works at this international organization or is related to some minister of something. I thought I had met nearly everyone in town until I got a Facebook message from Alva, a lovely lady who is championing the slow food movement in Timor-Leste and was interested in a TEDxDili collaboration. Then I run into her and her partner a week later, and we end up having a beautiful lunch of iscas (beef liver) fried in onion and white wine at Boca Doce, waxing poetic about all things food and the politics of food production. Then—she invites me to a gin tasting—with food pairings—in Dili!

My mother taught me to never show up empty handed so I asked if I could make a chicken liver mousse to pair with a gin. I threw on some Charles Trenet, broke out the Bible, and got to work. I scoured the pantry for herbs typically found in gin and unearthed some green cardamom pods, nutmeg, fennel, and coriander. Must have left the juniper back home but with a little lemon zest, I hoped the mimicry would still play on the tongue.

If you’re ever in the mood for bread slathered in tasty fat with some cornichon (when are you not?), this is the easiest thing to literally whip up and it keeps in the fridge for a couple of weeks. Just find yourself some chicken livers, arm yourself with an unconscionable amount of butter, saute, and blitz. (Hypocrisy disclosure: Brazil is the largest exporter of chicken meat in the world, and can even be found in a small Timorese supermarket. I’m also arming myself with New Zealand butter so there goes my local food cred and righteous railing against industrialized food production.)

Chicken Liver Mousse, adapted for gin night from Mastering the Art of French Cooking and the adorable Jamie Oliver

2 cups chicken livers
2 tbsp. minced shallots
2 tbsp. butter
1/3 c. vermouth
1/4 c. whipping cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. cardamom
1/8 tsp. fennel
1/8 tsp. coriander
Double pinch of thyme
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 c. softened butter
Kosher salt and pepper
1/2 c. clarified butter, melted
Bay or sage leaf or two or three
Sprinkling of peppercorns

  • Toast your spices in a dry pan to release its magic oils and aroma starts to ascend.
  • Remove any unsavory looking spots from the livers and cut away any sinew.
  • Melt the initial knobs of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until foam has dissipated and sauté livers, shallots, and herb cocktail for 2 to 3 minutes until they’ve firmed up but still a bit pinkish on the inside. Overcooking these guys can lead to a granular texture that can prohibit the utmost silkiness of your mousse.
  • Pour vermouth (or cognac, brandy, or any other type of fortified wine) into pan and add lemon zest, and let reduce down for a hot minute. Or you can add some drama with fire and light it up to burn the alcohol off. Sweep these little guys and any remaining liquid into a blender or food processor and let it whirl on high until you get a smooth, silky paste.
  • Add the softened butter and cream and blitz again. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking (I think I’ll add more spice, maybe more coriander or even rosemary next time because I like things bolder than your average joe).
  • Heap into a jar, bowl, terrine, tea cup, or whatever you can find on hand. Eat straight away! Or…
  • Set a pretty bay or sage leaf on top and spoon over clarified butter and sprinkle a few peppercorns. Let set in the fridge for at least an hour. The longer it sets, the more time it has for all the flavors to really sink and settle. The clarified butter seal will keep the mousse for 1-2 two weeks as long as it’s not disturbed.

I think the mousse was well received on gin night but the true stunners were the cocktails and the food. I’ll have to share in another post.

P.S. What is it about padding around in my kitchen and whipping things up that makes me think of all of the French movies I watched back in the nineties? I was listening to Boum by Charles Trenet and then remembered one of my favorites, Toto the Hero.

a blog of one’s own.

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Dili, Timor-Leste at low tide, Cristo Rei in the background.

 

I decided to start this baby up again. Forgive the sputter of my writing but it’s been some time that I’ve written something other than a policy brief or someone else’s terms of reference. My brain’s been battered black and blue by bureaucratic life and thought maybe this could help save me. Did I think I could save the world by getting a master’s degree in bureaucracy and going to work for a giant bank? Delusions. Perhaps my emancipation can be found in this blog of my own. What do you say, Virginia Woolf?

A re-introduction: I’ve moved around with fair frequency since falling for a man in uniform and am often asked if I love the adventure or not. Yes, there’s an undeniable romanticism of living in remote tropical locations, drinking coconuts whilst gossiping about government scandals, blah blah blah. It’s all very Graham Greene. If you ask my brother, he’ll tell you he suspects we work for the CIA, tracking down Kim Jong-un as he makes unsavory deals with shadowy Vietnamese officials. The dismal truth is we both work for large bureaucracies on a tiny half island nation (one of the newest countries in the world) and spend most days under the constant hum of AC set at 20 degrees Celsius staring at the blue glow of our computer screens more than we stare at the turquoise blue sea (warning: if you didn’t yet realize, this is the self-pity kick-off post).

Unlike my previous posts from a few years back, I will chronicle both the beauty and the tragedy, the excitement and the frustration, the glamorous and impossibly mundane. Not just all the pretty places we go to and all the tropical fruit we consume in every form possible, but the frustrations of living and working in a developing country (e.g. rain = no electricity = no internet = washed out roads = flooded homes = sick employees with sick families). And all this whining will be mollified by posts of beautiful landscapes, delicious meals I’ve slaved over, and confections I’ve baked to soothe my soul.

p.s. I promise my next post won’t be so dramatic.

Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer

What thin places have you traveled to?

 – It’s nice to be home but I do miss the Thin places, where the distance between heaven and earth collapses, can relax us and transform us — or, more accurately, unmask us.

Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer

Tropical Popsicles

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Meet the most delicious pineapple basil pops you’ll never eat. Unless you come over on a hot day and I feel like breaking out the zoku. I picked up a zoku popsicle maker right before we left for Indonesia since I figured I’d be melting under the equatorial sun and always in want of a popsicle. But being engrossed in work and other things, I completely forgot I had the damn thing until I was rummaging through my cupboards for something else.

The zoku is simple and immediately gratifying. I keep it in my freezer at all times and when the urge for a popsicle hits, I blend some fruit together, pour it in the zoku, and in nine minutes flat, I’m poppin.

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One of my favorite things about living out here (no, it’s not the pollution and lack of infrastructure) is the abounding bounty of tropical fruit. And I believe it’s done wonders for my skin. There is not a day that I am without a mango, pineapple, papaya, banana, or kiwi in a salad, smoothie, straight up, or now in frozen perfection. I may have severe withdrawal symptoms and a yellowing pallor when I move to Ithaca in the dead of winter only to find squash and potatoes.

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These are the mango honey pops with chunks of kiwi. I also made a gorgeous papaya yogurt mint pop kissed with raw honey but those went too fast to photograph. The possibilities are endless. In this eternal summer, every day is a good day for a popsicle. What would be your perfect popsicle creation?