A Day Late

January 6, 2010

It’s actually 4 or 5 days late but let’s face it, having just started this blog, our readers are well, limited.  The untimely subject of this blog is hangover cures and the role of spices and herbs therein.  We have discovered what we believe is the Holy Grail of hangover cures.  We all know that the best remedy for the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is…more alcohol.  (Otherwise known as The Hair of the Dog.)  But, there’s more to it than that and a way to fix it that wont have you spending yet another day stumbling around and making unwise decisions.  It’s called Fernet Branca.

According to Wikipedia: Fernet is made from a number of herbs and spices but may include myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and saffron, with a base of grape distilled spirits, and colored with caramel coloring.
The Branca family conceived the original formula in 1845. “It was born as a medicine,” (great-great-grandson) Branca says, and for decades Fernet was touted for its healthful effects. As recently as 1962, Suburbia Today recommended it for “overeating, flatulence, hangovers, gas pains, [and] lifting yourself off the floor when you’ve mixed oysters and bananas.”

Back in the day — like all the good stuff — Fernet Branca was made with opiates (why do we always miss the good ol’ days?)  and it was said that a shot would make you feel like rearranging the furniture.  We tried it on New Years Day and while no furniture was rearranged, we went from feeling like hell to breezily doing some light dusting.

The key is in the combination of herbs and spices, the recipe for which remains a secret to this day.  Assuming that, like us, you will have other days throughout the year where a hangover remedy is required, do this:  Pour a shot of Fernet into a glass of Coke with ice and drink it down.  (Or into some iced coffee if you prefer but we believe the sugar is also key.)  The Argentinians do it with Cola, the Italians do it with coffee and the Germans do it with Red Bull.  You will not believe what happens.  Not only is your head clear and your spirit fresh but it is instantaneous!

Strangely, Fernet Branca has a cult following in San Francisco which accounts for about 25 percent of U.S. sales. R Bar, in the Tenderloin area, goes through some 100 bottles a month, and co-owner Tod Alsman says that about 95 percent is consumed as shots, often with a ginger-ale chaser. Why so popular in San Francisco but not in other cities that historically have had large Italian-American populations? “Nothing really seems to explain it,” Alsman admits. Might we suggest that all that liberal angst and fighting for gay rights is giving everyone agita?

We should warn you about one thing which you may have already guessed…the taste.  The Atlantic Monthly says:  Your first sip of Fernet Branca, an Italian liqueur, will be akin to waking up in a foreign country and finding a crowd of people arguing in agitated, thorny voices outside your hotel window. It’s an event that’s at once alarming and slightly thrilling, and leaves you wanting to know more. Other than that, it’s hard to describe what Fernet Branca tastes like; it mostly tastes like Fernet Branca. But to give you an idea: in 1960, Betsy von Furstenberg was suspended from Actors’ Equity for spiking Tony Randall’s onstage drink with it. Randall believed he had been poisoned with iodine.

You may want to channel the lead character in Fellini’s Nights of Carbiria who consumes the stuff throughout the film.  Salute!


Dashing Through the Spice Drawer

December 27, 2009

Did you buy Winter spices for holiday baking, eggnog, mulling, ciders et al and now you’re wondering what shall become of those jars that are 9/10ths full?  Spice Station to the rescue!  Nutmeg likes anything with cream so Potato Au Gratin anyone?  We will eat anything with potatoes, heavy cream and cheese but throw a layer of dried porcini mushrooms into this dish and we’ll be at your door before you can shake a lamb shank. (Which, does nicely with onion and garlic sauteed with a dash of nutmeg and garam masala.)  Combined with butter, flour and a bay leaf, you’ll have a classic bechamel for a baked pasta dish.  Really, anything with cream can usually do with a bit of nutmeg.

Allspice also goes great with lamb and Caribbean Jerk dishes.  As you know, Cinnamon is very friendly with the apple and apple is great with pork dishes.  Try roasting a pork loin in some apple juice and halved red apples sprinkled with cinnamon.  (If you wrap that puppy in bacon you’ll really be rolling.)  As far as Cloves go, they are a must-have in a glazed ham (with brown sugar, honey and a dash of dry mustard) but those decorative pomanders (clove-studded oranges) aren’t just for the holidays — they make great sachets for drawers and cupboards all year round.  Be careful around clothing though as clove is derived from the Latin word  ‘Clavus’ which means ‘nail’.’ If you find people sniffing at you, well, take it as a compliment.  If they look like they might take a bite out of you consider making a run for it.