Farewell, old friend. I go with Champagne now.

Drunk in Love with ChampagneThere comes a time in every woman’s life when she realizes that everything that’s good ain’t good for her. For me, that time came not so long ago. On a cold Thursday night, I met my girlfriend at our local watering hole as I often do. I ordered and consumed my two vodka neat cocktails. That’s it. I had only two cocktails. I woke up Friday morning so sick that I almost thought of missing my 9 a.m. conference call. I didn’t miss my call (because I’m a straight G and G’s don’t participate in that weak shit) and suffered through the day convinced that this was some sort of aberration. Maybe I was just coming down with something anyway. Maybe I didn’t eat enough. I’ll do better next time.

Next time came a week or two later and I had exactly two cocktails at a different, snazzier spot. This time I rolled with one of my absolute faves, the Sazerac. I could tell by a few sips into the second one that I was in trouble. How could I have possibly gotten this drunk from two drinks without being roofied? I woke up at 2 a.m. unable to open my eyes and once I could, my eyes wouldn’t focus. I was down for three days this time. THREE DAYS. I have entirely too much going on to waste three whole days popping Advil and hanging near my toilet.

But, as you can imagine, what I was coming to realize was very difficult for me to accept. I tried one last time, but this time I couldn’t even bear to try liquor again. I just stuck with champagne and guess what? I woke up the next day as fresh as a freakin’ flower. I tried again a few days later with just wine. Again, I felt great the next day.

Champagne Line UpHallelujah! All was not lost.  It’s not all alcoholic beverages; it’s just the hard stuff. I love champagne anyway! I always make an effort to try different bottles. I even buy it by the case just for everyday consumption sometimes. (Note to self: Time to make a Binny’s run to re-up.) Right now, I’m really digging Bollinger La Grande Annee to keep around the house.

So instead of mournfully humming Lisa Fischer’s “How Can I Ease the Pain,”  I will focus on all of the good things and look back on my boozier cocktails with love. Besides, I can always switch it up sometimes by building my repertoire of champagne cocktails. Naturally, I’ve already perfected a few.

Some tips:

When I go all mixologist on my champagne, I tend to stick to inexpensive to mid-range champagne. Why waste the really expensive stuff? Also most recipes are at least 75% champagne. With the lowered alcohol content, there’s no way I’m mixing any more than that.

The Good Life

This is by far my go-to champagne cocktail. Something about it makes me want to celebrate.

Ingredients:

  • Champagne
  • Peach bitters (I prefer Fee Brothers)
  • Peach liqueur
  • Lemon peel garnish

This is a quick and easy one. Just shake a few drops of peach bitters into your champagne, splash in a little liqeur and garnish with lemon peel. P.S. I used to add a touch of vodka to this one. I can’t now, but by all means.

South of France

South of France

I got this one from Mastro’s (best bone marrow ever, but I digress). I make this one a LOT. Using liqeurs to bring the flavor actually ups the alcohol content (but not so much that I get all loopy) giving more bang for the buck without watering it down like juices would.

Ingredients:

  • Champagne
  • Esprit de June Liquer
  • Combier Créme de Pamplemousse
  • Lemon twist

Fill your glass with champagne and splashes of both liqeurs. Drop in a lemon twist for garnish. I try to curl the peel to the best of my ability when I’m feeling extra.

 

Kir Impérial

We go waaaay back. I’ve been fancy for a long time.

Ingredients:

  • Champagne
  • Chambord
  • Lemon bitters

Add a couple of drops of the bitters to your champagne flute. Fill the flute with your favorite champagne and top off with Chambord.

 

D’Sizzle

I love this one when I have time to prepare my sugar cubes and I’m feeling extra sweet, but spicy.

Ingredients:

  • Champagne
  • Sugar cubes soaked with a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Fresh jalapeno ring

Dash each sugar cube with a couple of drops of bitters, drop in the glass and fill ‘er up with champagne. Add the jalapeno ring. Yeah.

 

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First Class Plate: Moroccan Harissa Chicken and Chickpeas

I want to go everywhere and I like to eat, so it only stands to reason that I am fascinated by cuisine du monde. A good way of getting there without traveling is by visiting a restaurant that featuresPlated Harissa food from whatever locale piques your interest. Thankfully I live in Chicago where its rich restaurant tradition makes it the perfect place to experiment with just about anything. If you can eat it, you’ll probably find it here. I try new places often and I keep a running list in my head of all the new restos I want to try. It’s hard too because there’s a handful or more of new places opening every damned week! And I love it.

But if you’re adventurous like I am, you can try to recreate an international dish at home. You’ll not only gain the experience, but you’ll be able to personalize the dish to your liking which is what all home cooks do the world over.

As the Queen of Impulse Buyers, my pantry is more likely to be stocked with smoked paprika and garam masala than ketchup or milk. Whipping up an impromptu international meal is no biggie for me. If you have more self control than I do, you’ll probably need to run to your nearest market to pick up a few things because today we will journey to Morocco!

Morocco is at the top of my places to visit, so naturally I had some of the ingredients to create my take on a Moroccan Harissa recipe. Harissa is Tunisian in origin, but is now a part of Moroccan cuisine. This condiment combines some of my favorite things – peppers, mo’ peppers, cumin and garlic.

Prep HarissaThis was my first foray into Moroccan cooking so I decided to go with a store-bought version, Mina Harissa. I found it at Mecca aka Whole Foods. Here we go…

Ingredients

  • Three boneless, skinless and organic chicken thighs
  • Fage yogurt. About a half cup (I use 2%)
  • Salt (To taste. I used smoked salt. It gives e’rythang such a lovely flavor.)
  • Black Pepper (to taste)
  • Garlic powder, 1 tsp.
  • Onion powder, 1 tsp.
  • Cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. ( I brings the heat.)
  • A couple tablespoons of Mina Harissa (Spicy, of course.)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, season the chicken with the salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic powder and onion powder. Place the yogurt, Harissa and seasoned chicken in a large Ziploc bag. Make sure the chicken thighs are completely covered by yogurt. Remove the air from the bag as much as possible. Seal the bag and place it in the fridge for at least 15 minutes. I left mine in for around an hour and a half.

Chicken Harissa

Mo’ Ingredients

  • Cumin, 1 tsp.
  • One 16 oz. can of organic chickpeas (Next time I will use two cans. Not enough peas for me. You be the judge.)
  • Five garlic cloves (I obviously have a thing with garlic.)
  • One lemon
  • Two large shallots
  • Olive oil, 1tbsp
  • Coconut oil, 1 tbsp
  • One tomato
  • A half cup of the Mina Harissa

Harissa sans ChickenWhile the chicken is marinating, thinly slice the garlic and coarsely chop the shallots. Seed the tomato and then throw it in your Vitamix or food processor until it’s a slightly chunky puree. Cut lemon into wedges. Set it all aside.After oven Harissa

In a large, dry frying pan (I prefer cast iron) on medium heat, sprinkle in the cumin and sauté for two or three minutes to release the flavor. Add coconut and olive oils. While the coconut oil is melting, remove the chicken thighs from the fridge, brown on both sides and then remove from the pan.

Sauté the garlic slices in the same pan. Cook for three minutes and then add shallots. When the shallots begin to soften, add the tomato, Harissa, chickpeas and chicken broth. Add a little more salt and pepper to taste and then nestle the chicken into the pan. Cook on top of the stove for three to five minutes, squeeze half of the lemon over the top and then pop the entire skillet into the oven for 20 – 25 minutes.
Voila! First class ticket to Morocco! This dish was absodelish. Try it yourself and let me know what you think.

 

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I drink because I’m a sensitive and highly strung person.

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IMG_7051Sorrel Juice with OverproofIMG_6842IMG_4106

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Twelve Random Tips for Planning a Luxury Vacation

Greetings! It’s been a long while and a lot has happened, so instead of explaining, I’ll just jump right in.

Last year I took the first real vacation (no laptop, no phone calls) that I’ve had in years.  Because I’m Daphne, I know no other way than to go big, so I splurged on a whirlwind  ten days in Asia. My trip began in Bangkok, marinated in Phuket and then ended in Hong Kong.  To sum up the experience in a word or two: fairy tale.

Welcome to Hong Kong!

Welcome to Hong Kong!

Some deets: In Bangkok, my sister and I took a private boat tour down the Chao Phraya, toured Chinatown by night and sampled a little street food (not nearly as much as we would’ve liked). Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on perspective, our time in Bangkok was packed with sightseeing so the best dining experience we had ended up being at our hotel, The Peninsula. I’m dying to go back soon, be able to take my time and get all Anthony Bourdain with it.

In Phuket, we lodged at the Trisara aka Heaven on Earth, rented a mini yacht for the day for some island hopping and partied at the newly opened Nikki Beach. We didn’t have to go far for excellent food (Poo Nim Phad Phong Ka-ri, Trisara’s curried crab was unbelievably good!), but we did manage to tear ourselves away. One of the best dining experiences was at the Siam Supper Club – good food, good wine list, hot Aussies.

Hong Kong was pure fancy schmancy. From the overwhelmingly beautiful view from the suite at the Four Seasons to Michelin-starred French truffle overload and Chinese decadence,  I was just blown away. Man Mo Temple, Victoria Peak and shopping occupied us for the remainder of our time.

Cruising along the Chao Phraya with our guide, Tim, and my sis.

Cruising along the Chao Phraya with our guide, Tim, and my sis.

Planning a trip of this magnitude was labor intensive. When I decided to expand to include Hong Kong, I knew that I needed to call in reinforcements.

BONUS TIP: I know it may sound old school, but I worked with a travel agent who specialized in luxury travel.

Our agent was also a member of the Virtuoso network which afforded us complimentary amenities at some of the world’s most exclusive resorts and hotels.  In addition, working with an agent gave me representation I could use to press for even more free goodies. However, even though I worked with an agent, I checked and re-checked every detail. I was able to negotiate rates and receive several free upgrades because I was armed with so much information.

High atop Hong Kong's Victoria Peak with my sis. We also decided to bring a lil Rachel, Tracy, Kate, Tory, Gucci and Givenchy.

High atop Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak with my sis. We also decided to bring a lil Rachel, Tracy, Kate, Tory, Gucci and Givenchy.

Only one is necessary and this clear Tory Burch number was perfect for keeping up with everything I needed for a day of sightseeing.

Only one is necessary and this clear Tory Burch number was perfect for keeping up with everything I needed for a day of sightseeing.

I learned a lot planning this trip that will help me in the future and will hopefully help you as you plan your next sojourn.

12.  Like I said, research, research, research and then research again.  Leave nothing to chance.  Make lists, whether written or mental, of things you’d like to do or attractions you’d like to visit.  Sure, it’s your vacay and you don’t want a detailed agenda like you’re still at work.  BUT, mark my words, lack of planning will only lead to possible missed opportunities and not being able to take full advantage of everything that is available. Trip Advisor is good for many things, but when you’re planning a true extravaganza, Luxe City Guides and Louis Vuitton are great resources.

11.  Get help.  I am aware that some people love a challenge, even during their down time.  When it comes to my vacation, I am not one of those people.   I am not interested in seeing if I’ll throw my back out while schlepping heavy luggage to and fro.  If you’re like me, you’d rather have a lovely gentleman meet you as you step off the plane,  grab your carry on, expedite you through customs, collect your checked bags, load them into a luxury vehicle, open the car door and then hand you a warm towel and a bottle of water, as he whisks you off to your destination.  Firms like Abercrombie & Kent can arrange for private tour guides, valets and chauffeured cars. An agent who knows her shit, should be able to hook you up. Leave the stress at home. Just pay for the help. It’s worth every damned cent.

10.  I flew Cathay for this trip and was very impressed. Business and first class are very comfortable due to a pod-like quality and fully flat seat that make you almost feel like they’re no passengers on your plane.  The food was tastier than I expected and the wine list was good.  The flight attendants were very attentive and only had to be told once to keep the champers a’coming. I give them a pass because they were probably unaware that one person could drink that much.

Six hands rubbing all over my baaaaaaaawwwdddy. Yeah, this happened to me. No, that's not me. :/

Six hands rubbing all over my baaaaaaaawwwdddy. Yeah, this happened to me. No, that’s not me. :/ No pics valuable of me in this state of ecstasy.

9.  Leave the workout gear at home.  Unless you’re one of those people who lives to shred, why fat shame yourself on your own vacation? Pack fly, but loose-fitting ‘fits. Refer to #7.

8.  Mo’ massages, mo’ betta. I love a good massage and nothing says vacation more. Despite the fact that I almost missed my flight back home because I was in such a massage-induced, limp state of delirium,  I am so happy that I managed to book the Jade Stone Therapy massage at The Spa at Four Seasons Hong Kong. It should be a requirement before any long haul flight. I could go on and on about it because it was one of the best NORMAL massages I’ve experienced. However, I was spoiled by something I had experienced only two days before.  I say something because I’m not even sure it can be called something as limiting as a massage – Trisara’s Six Hand Massage. Yeah, that happened to me and I’m not really sure humans are equipped to receive that kind of pleasure.

Mrs. Roper ain't got shit on me.

Mrs. Roper ain’t got shit on me. A Debauchee original, a beautiful silk kaftan I bought in Bangkok’s Jim Thompson House, Roopa Pemmaraju, Missoni.

7.  Pack more kaftans.  There really isn’t much more to say about that.  Just do it.

6.  Take advantage of every opportunity to do anything you would normally never do.  Hong Kong is such a glamorous city and because of my research I knew that I could go all out as far as fashion. In other words, I had the perfect excuse to wear my see through tee with a sequined skirt with train. No biggie.

5.  There is no such thing as too many swimsuits. Bring ALL of them.  Even though you will likely settle on two go-tos that you’ll mix, match and wear daily, it’s still good to have options. My sister learned the hard way that it isn’t so easy for an American body to find a suit in Thailand.

4.  Stay at the Trisara as long as your wallet and free time can afford.  If you don’t know Trisara, google it, make reservations and thank me later. This is where you go when you want to truly get away and be pampered. I only saw other guests when I went to the Sunday Jazz Brunch (best brunch I’ve ever experienced and I’m a brunch connoisseur) and a beach barbecue.

Boats and heaux. Sorry I couldn't resist.

Boats and heaux. Sorry I couldn’t resist.

3.  Yacht like your life depends on it. But seriously, in this part of the world, sightseeing by boat is a necessity with its floating markets and secluded beaches. If it comes down to a budget choice between a boat and something else, choose the boat. You won’t regret it. We took the Phetmanee out for the day and enjoyed a lovely breakfast, snack and lunch on board as we island hopped around the Andaman Sea.

2.  Always, ALWAYS sleep with Aussie Daniel Craig lookalike who asked you to sit with him at the bar of the swanky and delish Siam Supper Club. I know. I know.

1.  Use the lounge. Why sit amongst the teaming masses and their unsupervised children in hard seats? There’s a very nice room with waaaay fewer children, comfy seats and “free” liquor.

This vacation was what some would call a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list trip, but I refuse to limit myself and I don’t plan on dying any time soon. I’d much rather have more of these experiences and I will allot my money accordingly. However, as a debauchee, it’s so hard to set limits. I just can’t get enough. but I’m itching to get somewhere new. Where should I go? Got any tips for me?

I’ll holla. Peace. dd.


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