In the wake of holiday revelry, the impendingness of Mardi Gras, and some really stellar gifted Port (thanks Tara!), drinks and drinking have been on my brain. More specifically, the American relationship with alcohol – how historically vexed and fascinating it has been.
From Big Beer to craft breweries, from local to well-sourced to biodynamic wines, this is definitely an area and industry always in flux. An interesting recent phenomenon is the fact that, during the recession, it was one of the few markets that stayed strong – and grew. For someone who has spent the last few years in and out of regular work, this is not hard to understand. When finances are tight, and you have to be extremely choosy about indulgences, a bottle of wine is one that you can share with a few friends any old time.
But this brings me back to the fraught relationship with alcohol we Americans have tended towards – that is, from a collective perspective, as I do know many people who have healthy relationships with what they drink. It strikes me as similar to our odd national eating disorder, wherein we’re obsessed with health and/or eating, which seems to make us unhealthier. So my question is: is this trend is a “bad” thing? Or even something to joke about being “bad”? That seems to be such a Puritanical relic sometimes, the word “bad,” but I’m curious: are we drinking more and harder during tough times, or are we truly seeking togetherness because work is lacking, and we suddenly have realized that true community is the most important thing?
Alcohol consumption gets to be so different in other countries: the standards, for one, are unique. So are the amounts consumed. And there doesn’t seem to be so much baggage. I’ve not yet got to the bottom of why (has anyone? if you have, let me know). But since, here, we’ve got to reckon with the ghosts of addiction and binges, I suppose that means that, if this is the indulgence you hang onto, perhaps it’s wise to ask yourself why. Just in case. Just like with anything.
That’s what I’ve been trying to do, still being among the jobless, and for me – as for many – it does swing back around to togetherness. And to flavor, of course.
I have never been a big drinker in terms of volume (too much of a lightweight, alas), but the taste aspect fascinates me after having worked closely with wine and food. The variations are endless; the pairings, innovative and fun. One of my favorite jobs was at a Charlottesville winery with rustically inspired energy, where I first was privy to adventurous and unique wine and food pairings.
(It was also the first place I ever had olives. A life without olives??)
So, disappointingly, I can’t offer any new information* on wine and beer, although I do love the supposed heart-health benefits. That’s something I’ll go ahead and trust.
But I’m up for achieving harmony in all things, especially when it comes to food and drink, so let’s add to the love with a recipe for port wine brownies. To be enjoyed with or without port, depending on your preference (and family history, and financial state). Salute!
Port brownies with dried cherries
adapted from Curly Girl Kitchen’s recipe
- 1/4 c dried cherries
- 3 tbsp Port
- 2 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (baking bar or chunks; regular chocolate chips are too finicky)
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1 egg
- 1/3 c sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- 1/2 c all-purpose flour
- pinch salt
(note: Curly Girl includes a ganache; I did not, but check the link if you want to try it)
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a small baking dish (5×5 or 6×6) with nonstick spray or butter.
On the stove in a small pan, heat the Port with the dried cherries mixed in. Bring to a simmer, then immediately remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes.
While the cherries are set aside, in a double boiler over medium heat, combine the chopped chocolate and butter, stirring the chocolate and butter as they melt. (Alternatively you can do this step in the microwave, combining the 2 ingredients in a bowl and stirring every 15 seconds or so.)
When finished, take the cherries-and-Port mixture, and puree in a food processor, or mash in a small bowl.
Then, in a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk or beat the Port mixture, melted chocolate and butter, cocoa powder, egg, sugar, and vanilla, until smooth and combined. Add the salt and flour, stirring in with a spoon or rubber spatula, scraping the sides all the while.
Spread your batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the center is set. (Check occasionally since every oven is different.)
Let the brownies cool for about 30 minutes before cutting into them.
Recipe yields a small batch of 8-10 brownies; easily doubles to fit a regular 9×13 pan!
*For further thoughts on this topic, I love this article from Forbes. Highly recommended read! > Are You Drinking Too Much? The Myth of Moderation