Archive for the ‘Drinks’ Category

Lavender Infused Wine? Really?

Le Melange Noveau

Le Melange Noveau - "A New Blend"

When I learned that Olympic Cellars had created a lavender-infused wine, I was skeptical. Yes, I adore lavender and I also appreciate wine. However when it comes to using lavender in food or drink, I’ve found that a little goes a long way. Use too much and what should be a delicately flavored dessert reminds me of an over-perfumed aunt or a bar of soap.

What piqued my interest was the noble attempt to create a wine that celebrates the flavors of the Olympic Peninsula. Sequim, after all, is well-known as “the lavender capital of North America.” And grapes grown in the relatively cool temperatures of the Olympic Peninsula’s coastal climate are especially aromatic bringing citrus notes to the palate.

Around 2006, a few local vineyards began harvesting Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe grapes. According to Kathy Charlton, owner of Olympic Cellars, “the local vineyards and our lavender fields started coming together first in conversation, and later in a new local wine.”

Olympic Cellars’ winemaker then, Benoit Murat, created the wine using locally grown grapes. And Charlton, along with her business partner and tasting room manager, Molly Rivard, experimented with infusing the wine with locally grown culinary lavender. The lavender buds were wrapped in cheese cloth and added to the wine. After 4-6 hours, the lavender was removed. “We went through this process until the bouquet included the lavender and there was the barest change in taste.”  She emphasized, “We were not trying to overshadow the wine and were not aiming for the wine to taste like lavender.” Pleased with the result, Olympic Cellars named their new “baby” Le Mélange Noveau (French for “A New Blend”). The first limited vintage (2006) produced only 28 cases.

Drinking wine with food ideally enhances the dining experience. Pairing food and wine can be complicated. So experts use the expression “What grows together, goes together” as a rule of thumb. Crab, salmon, clams and oysters, organically grown fruit and vegetables and artisan creameries all contribute to the rich and diverse flavors that have become known as Olympic Peninsula cuisine. With the introduction of Le Mélange Noveau, a local wine is now available to complement the region’s food.

Last month, I bought a couple of bottles of Le Mélange Noveau 2010. Because the spring and early winter were cooler than usual grapes on the Peninsula did not ripen, the 2010 vintage was made with Mueller-Thurgau grapes grown in the Columbia Valley. This varietal was selected because the vineyard was located on a cool temperature site and the grapes mature in the same way as the ones grown on the Olympic Peninsula. The wine is sold sale at Olympic Cellars off U.S. Highway 101 between Sequim and Port Angeles. You can also buy the wine at their online store. Only 150 cases of Le Mélange Noveau (2011 Vintage), was produced, so you may want to get a bottle while it’s still available. (Cost per bottle is $14.99)

In Seattle on a hot September afternoon, my writing group sat around my dining room table. Although we don’t make a practice drinking wine at our weekly meetings, I invited members to participate in a wine-tasting session. I opened the ice-cold bottle of Le Mélange Noveau and poured a taste for everyone. The label, a picture of white grapes with a lavender bouquet, made me think of late summer.

The white wine sparkled in the afternoon sun. The room became quiet.  Each of us experienced the bouquet and then our first sip. Like a group of connoisseurs, we began describing the wine with words such as “crisp,” “dry,” “light,” “refreshing.” Then, “I can’t taste lavender,” “I like it,” “A perfect summer wine,” “I detect a citrus taste,” and “This would be great with a fruit salad.”

Although I still consider myself a purist when it comes to wine, I would proudly serve this wine for a summer brunch. My taste buds come alive as I visualize a table with fresh berries, goat cheese, muffins and crab & asparagus Quiche served with the dry and delicate, Le Mélange Noveau.

Kudos to Olympic Cellars! They got this wine exactly right. When it comes to lavender, less is always more!

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Scene from Savour

Specialty Culinary Shop, Savour

Early in October, I stopped by Savour, a specialty food shop in Ballard, a Seattle neighborhood. My friend, Debra Daniels Zeller, had suggested I explore the idea of getting my book “Discover Cooking with Lavender” here. So I dropped by and met Holly the owner and showed her my book. I was thrilled when she decided to add my books to her amazing array of specialty food items and kitchen equipment. Holly also told me about her shop’s Saturday wine-tasting event.  When Holly invited me to do an event at her shop on Saturday, November 20th, I immediately agreed. What a fantastic opportunity to spread the word about lavender.

Life unfolds in intriguing ways. Later in the month, I was talking with my friend, Tamara. She asked about my book, and I mentioned I would be at Savour in November to talk about using lavender in home-made gifts. That’s when she told me about the cocoa she got at Savour. “The cocoa is made with white chocolate, lavender and it is the best,” Tamara said.

I knew then, I would be making another visit to Savour. When I saw Holly, I asked her about the cocoa. Did they still have it? She led me to a shelf with a basket where there were only two packages of the cocoa. “Ah, yes. This is delicious. It is made by Vosges,” Holly said.

Naga Bar

The Beginning of the End

I’d never heard of Vosges. Holly went on to tell me it was made by a company started by a French woman in Chicago. “You know she is the one who created the Naga Bar, Mo’s Bacon Bar and other exotic chocolate creations with goji berries, salt, curry, chilies and wasabi to name a few.”

Who could resist? I left the shop with the cocoa, a Naga bar and Mo’s Bacon Bar.

 This afternoon when I began to write about this chocolate, I read the back of the package around the Naga Bar on “How to enjoy an exotic candy bar” as if I needed lessons. However as I read the steps: breathe deeply, engage my senses, smell, snap, taste and sense, I suddenly found myself eating chocolate instead of writing. The Naga bar seduced me with its coconut flakes, sweet Indian curry and silky milk chocolate. Soon, in the line of duty, I opened Mo’s Bacon Bar. Breathing in the bacon aroma, I was not sure if I would like this. However, the combination of the Applewood smoked bacon, the smoky salt and the deep milk chocolate overthrew me. Soon I was singing Halleluiah! 

Couture Cocoa

What about the Couture Cocoa with the pure white chocolate shavings, Australian lemon myrtle, fragrant lavender and Madagascar vanilla bean? I’m looking for words to describe this drink. These don’t give it justice, however here we go – rich, sweet, creamy, velvety, sinful, fragrant….and more.

See what I mean about how one thing leads to another? How did I end up spending my afternoon sipping Couture Cocoa and inhaling the unique fragrance of bacon chocolate bars?

I’d love to hear from you about the times in your life when one thing led to something unexpected or surprising. Please leave a comment. I’ll be selecting one of you who comments by 11/3 end of day to receive a lavender surprise. Hmm, maybe a special chocolate bar? or ?


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Lavender-Infused Lattes

A strong storm hit Seattle yesterday and today. I sat at my dining room table this morning and watched the wind push around the hanging pots on my deck. A large cedar tree near the rear of our house bent over about 45 degrees, but withstood the wind gusts.

Rain came down in sheets. Water streamed down the street like a river. Dark clouds filled the sky. I needed a strong, hot and steamy drink to warm me up and remind me of summer. So I brewed up some lattes infused with the flavor of lavender. After steaming milk, I added a 1/4 teaspoon of the Lavender Extract that I got from Lavender Wind Farm. This extract adds just a hint of flavor, a small reminder of summer on this dark, stormy day.

Calico Cat

Curious Cat

Sipping my latte,  I felt my spirits lift. My neighbor’s cat came up on the deck to check out our Halloween pumpkins. Cats love lavender (catnip’s cousin), however I was surprised to see this calico beauty braving the wind and rain to get a close look at our soon-to-be Jack O’Lanterns.

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“Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.”

                                           Okakura Kakuzo, the Book of Tea

Adding the flavor of lavender to tea and everyday drinks is easy and exotic. Easy and exotic don’t always go together, but when they do,  the moon and the stars line up, delivering  magic in the form of a delightful treat. Sipping a cup of lavender tea tops my list of favorite ways to savor this evocative herb.

I became acquainted with lavender tea in an unlikely place, Maui.  A trip to the upcountry  led me to a garden paradise called Ali’i Kula Lavender where I attended a tea seminar. 

Maui's Upcountry Countryside

Maui's Upcountry Countryside

As I pulled away from the sunny, sandy beaches stretched along the Kanapali coast and drove up into the interior of Hawaii’s second largest island, the landscape changed. Fields of lettuce, herbs, carrots and cabbages spread like a colorful carpet on either side of the highway. The bright blue skies gradually became gray and somewhat misty as I followed the highway into the mountains, right into the cloud cover.

Ali’i Kula Lavender perches on a hillside high above the Pacific Ocean with a panoramic view of Maui.  The property looks down over the isthmus connecting West Maui with the rest of the island.  Mount Haleakala, the highest peak on Mau, towers above from the east at 10,023 feet above sea level. With well-drained, rocky soil and a western exposure to the Hawaiian sun, lavender flourishes here, enjoying optimal conditions.

Ali'i Kula Lavender

Lavender Growing on Maui in October

More than 12,000 plants flow along the contours of the hillside like purple streams. Protea shrubs and bottle brush trees are scattered among the clumps of lavender plants. Birds of paradise, ginger, scented geraniums and plumeria accent the garden, adding color, size, texture and fragrance. Their scarlet, pink and pastel petals contrast with the cool blues and purples of the lavender. The scent, reminding me of expensive perfume, blends tropical, floral and  pine-like notes. Evergreen cypress trees and deep glossy green-leafed avocado trees stand by like proud guardians. Playful white butterflies and delicate iridescent bluish-green dragonflies (called Pinau in Hawaii) dance among the blossoms. A bronze statue of the seated Kaun Yin, goddess of mercy, adorns the garden. The park-like grounds, home to 45 varieties of lavender, look like a Monet painting.

“Aloha. Welcome to Ali’i Kula. Please try a cup of our lavender-chamomile tea,” a young woman greeted me as I arrived for the herbal tea seminar. The steaming cup infused the air with a floral fragrance. I felt calm and serene, up in the clouds, a million miles away from traffic, news and routine problems. Could this be heaven? I wondered, as others slowly gathered to hear the Hawaiian healer, Kahu Lyons Kapi’oho Noane talk about herbal tea.

Tasting Tea at Maui Lavender Farm

Tea Tasting at Maui Ali'i Kula Lavender

“As a young boy, I lived in a very remote part of Maui,” Kahu Naone explained. “My grandmother told me drinking herbal tea promotes health and feeling good.” Kahu is an informal title meaning guardian or caretaker. Beginning at the age of six, he learned ancient Hawaiian healing practices from his elders. Now as a middle-aged man, Naone shares his knowledge of herbal tea with the tourists at Ali’i Kula.

Dressed in a blue floral Hawaiian shirt, dark blue beads and denim jeans, Naone has a full beard, dark with a touch of gray. His bushy eyebrows add balance to his face. His long black hair is pulled back and tied at the nape of his neck in a thick pony tail. His brown – nearly black – eyes glowed as he talked about the healing attributes of herbal tea. 

“The roots of the plant reach down into the soil to find life-sustaining nutrients, while the leaves face up to the sky, absorbing energy from the sun,” Naone’s soothing voice informed us. Next he instructed us to experiment with three ways of drinking our tea. “First, take a sip and allow the tea to sit in your mouth for a moment before swallowing.  Now take a drink and move the tea over your entire tongue, the tip and the sides. Finally, slurp the tea; don’t be afraid to make a loud noise. Can you taste the difference? When you bring air into the tasting process, the flavor is amplified.” The herbal tea tasted light and refreshing, imparting a garden-like flavor.

Hawaiians traditionally view the mind, body and spirit as one. Could anything be more natural or carefree than to take buds and leaves from lavender plants and steep them in boiling water, creating a light and aromatic drink?

Next time you desire a divine moment in your life, do what I do. Make yourself a cup of lavender tea and imagine the beauty of Ali’i Kula. When I sip the tea I remember the words on a framed poster in the Ali’i Kula gift shop, “Be grateful, you are in the right place at the right time.”

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Lilla's Lavender Water in Blue Bottle

Early August is when I met Cece. I was visiting the St. Johns Farmers Market on a Saturday afternoon. When I spotted the booth with the banner “Lilla Lavender”, I went right over to see what they were selling.

Cece and her husband Ray were busy talking with customers. During a lull in the steady stream of customers occurred, I took the opportunity to introduce myself.

“Our farm is located only a few miles away,” Cece said. “It’s a small organic lavender farm situated on a gentle southwest slope with a view of the coastal mountain range.”

Cece asked me about my interest in lavender. “I wrote a cookbook called “Discover Cooking with Lavender” and I’m here today to sign books at the St. John’s Booksellers,” I explained.

As we continued our conversation about cooking with lavender, Cece asked me how I make Lavender Syrup. “I take a cup of water, a cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of dried lavender buds, blend them in a small sauce pan and…..,” I went on.

Cece reached for a blue bottle, labeled Lavender Water. She handed it to me. “Here I want you to have this,” she said. “I use it to make lavender syrup. I find when I use this lavender water to make syrup, the flavor is consistent. Never too strong or too weak, just right. Try it and let me know what you think.”

I knew lavender water was a byproduct of the distillation process. Lavender plant material including both leaves and flowers are harvested and cooked in a large container. The heat and steam cause the plant’s glands to erupt and release their essential oils. Because the oil is lighter than water, when the steam condenses, the oil rises to the top and separates from the water. The remaining water is known as Lavender Water or hydrosol.

Hydrosol is frequently used to spray on sunburns, to add to your bathwater or to soothe an itch.  This was the first I heard of using it to cook with. I was intrigued.

I added 2 ounces to a cup of water and poured it over ice. The drink was too strong, it tasted bitter. I guess I overdid it with the lavender. The next drink I made I used 1 tablespoon with 1 cup of water, poured it over ice. This time it was just right. When I do make syrup, I will use with these proportions: 1 cup water, 1 tablespoon lavender water and 1 cup of sugar.

Thank you, Cece! Discover cooking with lavender has taken on a new meaning since I met you.

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