Tuesday, July 21, 2015

top ten Tuesday: ten drinks.

Remember when I told you about the ten foods I dream about?

Now it’s time for the ten drinks I dream about!

(Forgive me for ending those sentences in a preposition. “The ten drinks about which I dream” just doesn’t have the same flow.)

I find that beverages are an integral part of your dining experience. Some people can eat their meals without anything to wash it down. I am not one of those people.

And that could be why I’ve imbibed some truly great beverages in my time.  Here I present my ten favorite beverages from a few of my very favorite locations.

frozen hot chocolate at the Summer Arts Festival
See the straws? There's frozen hot chocolate nearby.
You’ve heard plenty from me about the Brookings Summer Arts Festival, so I’ll keep it quick. I go there as much for the people watching and the food as I do for the actual art, and I can’t leave without having had (at least one) frozen hot chocolate. The place that makes them also specializes in kuchen, but I only have eyes for frozen hot chocolate. They blend it all up with ice and milk, and it’s everything you could hope for. And it pairs perfectly with cheese curds.

iced chai at the Common Cup
During my final year at UMM, I worked at the local coffee shop: the Common Cup. It was a great job for a number of reasons, not least of which is that we were allowed a free meal and drink while we were working. My shift was usually 6am – 10 am, so my meal of choice was breakfast. I was due in class by 1020, so I’d make myself a breakfast sandwich (egg, bacon, and cheese on a croissant) and an iced chai. While working at the Common Cup, I had not yet learned to enjoy espresso drinks, so chai it was. I don’t know how I started on the iced chai, but the Common Cup used Oregon Chai. You can find it in some grocery stores: it’s a purple and yellow carton, and it’s fantastic.

hurricanes at Pat O’Briens

It should come as no surprise to you that New Orleans boasts three of my favorite beverages. All three are iconic, but only two are potent potables. The hurricane is a deep red drink that comes in a gigantic plastic cup. It’s got some cherries and oranges floating about, and it’s so tasty that you don’t realize that it’s pretty much all alcohol. James and I have made hurricanes for two years’ worth of Mardi Gras dinner parties, and they’ve been just delicious. One year, we ran out of ice, so we simply ran outside and scooped some fresh snow into our glasses. Thus the Minnesota Hurricane was born.

hand grenades at Tropical Isle
Don't worry. I didn't drink both of them.
Hand grenades are a lot like Hurricanes in that they taste so good and are almost entirely alcohol. Hand grenades even come in a gimmicky plastic glass that is shaped like a hand grenade at the bottom. Hand grenades come in two options: with or without ice. Without ice is twice the price.

café au lait at Café du Monde
My absolute favorite New Orleans beverage does indeed come from the French Quarter, but unlike the others, you don’t need to show your ID to get it. While I am not much of a coffee drinker, I love the café au lait at Café du Monde. It’s one part coffee to one part steamed milk, plus a dash of chicory. You can order café au lait up north, but it’s missing that essential chicory flavor. James and I got café au lait every morning when we were on our New Orleans honeymoon, and nothing starts your day off better than piping hot café au lait and a fresh batch of beignets.

mojitos on the beach at El Cid
Or mojitos at a swim-up bar in Mexico.
My family took a vacation to Cancun in January 2013, and let me tell you, that place is heaven on earth. White sandy beaches, shimmery blue water, gorgeous blooming flowers, the whole shebang. Plus, it helped that it was the absolute dead of winter back home, and a tropical vacation was just the cure. This was also six months before James’s and my wedding, and it was the sweet spot right before wedding stress and accompanying drama began to hit. Cancun was the calm before the storm, and I remember it so fondly. Cancun was the first place I’d ever had a mojito, and if heaven exists, I think it’s a Mexican beach where I have a mojito in hand. Or a swim-up bar. I’ve ordered mojitos since then, but none of them are ever as delicious as the mojitos in Mexico. James makes mojitos with mint from our garden, and they come close – but our lawn in Luverne is somehow less scenic than a white sandy beach in Cancun. Plus, we don’t have a swim-up bar.

La Crescent at Four Daughters Winery
I realized that going to wineries for fun is a typical late-twenties married couple thing to do, but you know what? I’m fine with it, because wineries are awesome. Four Daughters was the first truly good winery that James and I visited, and we almost skipped it entirely. Four Daughters is in southeastern Minnesota, and James and I just happened to drive by it on our way to an ill-fated camping trip in Lanesboro. If you remember that story, it rained the entire time while we were trying to tent camp, and everything sucked. We didn’t go to Four Daughters on the way to camping because we wanted to hurry up and get to our site so we could go river tubing: but river tubing was canceled because of high waters, so never mind. On the way home from Lanesboro, we drove by Four Daughters again. We were tired and wet and crabby, so we briefly discussed going and decided we’d rather just go home. We actually drove right past it… but then turned around. After all, how often were we going to be on this side of the state? Turns out? We absolutely made the right choice. Four Daughters is breathtakingly gorgeous, and we ordered the white wine sampler. There wasn’t a single wine that I didn’t like, and we went home with a bottle of white wine called La Crescent. It’s been more than a year since we’ve been to that winery, and we still haven’t opened our bottle. It’s that delicious, and you can’t get it around here. We’re saving it for a special occasion, though I’m not sure what that special occasion is. Our two-year anniversary, maybe? Yeah, let’s go with that.

Lawrence Elk at Prairie Berry Winery
This is a sampler, but there's Lawrence Elk in there for sure.
Four Daughters opened our eyes to the possibility of local wineries producing truly good wines. (The two wineries we’d been to before Four Daughters boasted syrupy-sweet wines that we choked down and lied about how good they were.) We took a trip to the Black Hills for our first anniversary, and the Prairie Berry Winery was on our itinerary. I had heard that their Lawrence Elk wine was more or less ambrosia, so I got that in my sampler. Ambrosia indeed. It’s a chokecherry wine, and I think everybody I know who has tried it has liked it. Even the non-wine drinkers. Prairie Berry has tons of other fantastic wines: Blue Suede Shoes (blueberry and raspberry) is a favorite, and I really like Gold Digger (pear) and Calamity Jane (red grape). But Lawrence Elk clocks in as my all-time favorite wine. Plus, it’s called Lawrence Elk, and that is awesome.

(A brief mention of another wonderful winery that didn’t quite make the list: Carlos Creek in Alexandria. I loved their wine, namely Wobegon White: a Riesling and my third favorite wine of all time. It’s part of their Minnesota Nice series of wines, which also includes Hot Dish Red and You Betcha Blush. You have to love a winery with a sense of humor.)

Tanqueray and tonic at the Sterling Café
You know how everyone has a default drink that they order at a bar when they’re not sure what to order? Mine is a gin and tonic. It’s a universal drink that bars are more or less guaranteed to have, and you don’t have to try and explain it to anyone. And it’s hard to screw  up. However, not all gin and tonics are created equal. I learned this after years of just ordering a gin and tonic and not specifying my gin brand. Let me tell you: it makes a HUGE difference. When the Sterling Café opened in Luverne, James and I went there right away for drinks. I was going to order a gin and tonic, and James suggested I order it with Tanqueray gin. I did just that, and I was rewarded with the best gin and tonic I’ve ever had. I’ve ordered Tanqueray and tonic at other bars, but so far, the Sterling Café makes the best one.

cardamom latte at River Rock Coffee
James and I drive to Minneapolis a LOT. His family lives near the cities, and there’s so much to see and do there that we can neither see nor do in Sioux Falls. We love Minneapolis, but we loathe the drive. One day, we were driving through St Peter (roughly halfway there) when we decided that we needed a break. We got out, stretched our legs, and walked into a coffee shop for a much-needed pick-me-up. I saw that there was a cardamom latte on the menu, and I was sold. I had learned to appreciate the wonders of cardamom thanks to James’s mom Maria. She uses cardamom in her cinnamon rolls and in this totally magical Finnish bread called nissoua. So was cardamom just as good in coffee? You bet. Now, River Rock Coffee is a regular stop on our way to Minneapolis, and that cardamom coffee makes our journey that much better.


And here we are: ten beverages to go with the ten foods from last time. I don’t know about you, but I’m parched.

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