Rachel Bennett

Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Lunch with Dionysus has moved!

In Food on December 19, 2015 at 10:53

Lunch with Dionysus returns! After taking a hiatus (during which I was busy making a human) I am ready for 2016 with a stew of fresh stories, recipes, and a sleek new domain.

Please visit my new website lunchwithdionysus.com for lots of scrumptious new content.

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Baby Taste Buds

In Food on January 16, 2014 at 22:57

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A few days ago I had the pleasure of cooking a meal for a beautiful brand new family. Josh and Rhonda welcomed their little boy into the world just before Christmas. Although Lucas quickly established himself as an easy-going baby, he has one small foible. He is fussy about onions and garlic. The moment his mamma partakes of any dish containing these aromatics, he becomes vociferous in his discontent.

I thought of this as I stirred pale slivers of leek into shimmering oil. How strange is is that a newborn baby can taste so much through his mother’s milk. What else could his new taste buds detect? First it must be that proverbial sweetness, warm and plump, coating the palate like crème brûlée. Then perhaps a flicker of bitterness from the hearty greens of mom’s dinner last night, a creamy soupçon of a morning avocado, and the umami-ripe depth of a lunchtime tomato soup.

Of course it was only his mama and papa who ate my risotto, but I like to think that little Lucas got a vicarious taste of smoked salmon laced with lemon and herbs. And just the faintest whisper of white vermouth.

Smoked salmon risotto with lemon and vermouth

Serves 4-6

Hot smoked salmon works beautifully in this risotto, rich and woodsy against bright lemon. White vermouth replaces the usual wine, suffusing a panoply of herbal flavors into the dish.

Ingredients:
1 large leek, white and pale green part only
olive oil to coat pan
2.5 cups risotto rice
½ cup white vermouth
5 cups vegetable or fish stock
½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 lemon, grated zest and some juice
8 oz hot smoked salmon, flaked
coarse salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan, shaved (optional)

Heat the stock in a saucepan and then keep warm over a low heat on a back burner. Wash and finely chop the leek. Heat a large skillet over a medium-low heat and coat with olive oil. Sweat the leek until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with oil. Add the vermouth and stir until liquid is absorbed. Add half the parsley, and a little stock. Stir until liquid is almost absorbed. Stir in the lemon zest and a splash more stock. Continue stirring, adding liquid as it is absorbed, until rice is almost ready but still has a bite to it, about 12-15 minutes. Stir in the salmon and a squeeze of lemon juice. Continue gently stirring until rice is tender. Season to taste with more lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Garnish with remaining parsley and shaved parmesan if desired.

Bread, honey, and a troubled heart

In Food on January 5, 2014 at 20:54

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After the excesses of Christmas, January brings a welcome return to simple food. For myself this manifests as a renewed interest in hearty soups, good whole grain bread, and mounds of winter greens dripping in olive oil and redolent of garlic. It is the sort of food that is consummately nourishing, restorative meals to bolster body against those interminable winter nights and assuage all manner of melancholy.

For myself there are many such foods that provide a kind of existential succor, but only one reigns supreme. When the day lies heavy on my heart, I reach for a loaf whole grain bread, a thick slab of butter, and a pot of golden honey.

This morning I awoke to the gravity of life pressing down relentlessly against my chest. I slumped out of bed and into the kitchen. I could think of nothing else to do so I put on an apron and pulled out the flour. Several hours later I hoisted three loaves of bread from the oven. For a moment I forgot my woes, closing my eyes and inhaling the scent of September wheat fields, listening for the crackle of crust as it cooled. I cut a slice, carved off some cold butter to cover it, and drizzled the whole with honey.

On this occasion, the honey was particularly ambrosial. Given to us by our wonderful neighbors, Don and Jane, it came from their own bee hives at Firstlight Farm. It was raw and thick with the taste of wildflowers and sun-warmed caramel, a hint of wax clinging ever so slightly to the teeth. It was, I reflected, a perfect honey for hot toddies, a cure for the cold, and a sweet, enveloping balm for the troubled heart.

For a moment I am six years old and a booming voice is heading my way. “When I was One, I had just begun. When I was Two, I was nearly new.” Mum is bustling about in the kitchen, dogs panting by her feet, ever hopeful. The rhyme is drawing nearer to me. “When I was Three I was hardly me. When I was Four, I was not much more.” My brother Willie bounds through the kitchen chasing a zooming tennis ball that narrowly misses the window.  “When I was Five, I was just alive.”  Dad is beside me now, eyebrows moving in rhythm to the words, his rumbling voice louder and victorious as he finishes the rhyme: “Now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever, So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.”

I am no longer six and there are pains not even bread and honey can dissolve. But I must eat, and they are at least a blanket against the bleakness.

Labor of love

In Food on January 1, 2014 at 20:08

I made my own wedding cake. And it rocked.

(It’s better to get the boasting over with right away, don’t you agree.)

As mentioned in this post, I have dreamed of baking ‘The Cake’ for years. Second only to marrying Mr Darcy, it was the most important feature of my girlhood bridal fantasies, more significant than the dress, the venue, or anything else for that matter.

A week before the wedding I baked the four layers of almond sponge. Rich and moist with a generous amount of almond paste, they came out of the oven in beautiful golden rounds, fragrant with sweet almonds and a whisper of vanilla. The morning of our big day I woke at 6 am and stumbled bleary eyed into the kitchen to finish my work. I sliced  the layers and filled each with a generous measure of chunky black cherry preserves. Next, I whipped up a bitter mocha icing and slathered it over each layer, smoothing over the rough bits with a hot wet knife. Then, as the clock ticked down I decorated each layer with edible pearls, securing each tiny orb into the icing with the aid of tweezers, breathing hard and trying valiantly to keep my hand from trembling.

I placed the final round on the cake and blinked. Somewhat to my surprise it had worked.  All that midnight baking and eleventh hour decorating had worked. I was staring at a beautiful wedding cake. 

Photos by Hannah Wahl

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Moroccan roast chicken with prunes & almonds

In Food on November 12, 2013 at 22:50

moroccan chook

Returning from vacation is never easy, your pleasant idyll abruptly replaced by the frenetic repetition of daily life. Yet for myself there is one consolation. I have my kitchen again. The first Sunday after returning from Australia I spent ensconced in this room, cooking and baking with renewed vigor, quietly content once again to be amongst bubbling pots and the perfume of a gently blooming sourdough.

The change from balmy Australian skies to leaden Seattle rain was jarring; the Texan and I found ourselves shivering beneath layers of clothing and huddling by the radiator whenever possible. We needed a hearty meal, something to wake up the senses, warm our bones, and recall us both to warmer climes. I decided to go Moroccan.

This recipe is a riff off a chicken tagine from Paula Wolfert, an authority on Moroccan cuisine. Instead of chopping the chicken up and laboriously cooking it in the tradition manner, I simply rubbed it with a mixture of Moroccan spices, let it sit for while, and then roasted it whole, with sliced onions and a lavish coat of olive oil. During the last 15 minutes I added prunes that had been simmered with cinnamon.

Later I drew the chicken from the oven, haloed by the scent of cumin and ginger, its skin burnished orange the color of autumn leaves. The sauce was rich and sweet with cinnamon and prunes. Cradled by couscous and garnished with crispy fried almonds, it makes a supremely satisfying meal for a weather-beaten day.

Moroccan roast chicken with prunes & almonds

Ingredients:
1 chicken, left whole
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground cinnamon, preferably Ceylon
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more
2 yellow onions, halved and sliced lengthwise
12 oz pitted prunes
1 cinnamon stick, preferably Ceylon
⅔ cup blanched almonds, fried until golden in olive oil

Note: it is even better with fried, salted Spanish Marcona almonds!

Method:
Clean chicken and pat dry. Combine all spices with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small bowl and mix to form a paste. Rub this all over chicken, inside and out; let stand at room temperature for an hour.

Meanwhile, place prunes and cinnamon stick in a small sauce pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and then lower to a simmer for 15 minutes. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425F. Tie chicken’s legs loosely together and place in a large roasting pan. Scatter onion slices around, drizzling them with a little olive oil. Roast for 20 minutes, lower oven to 375F, and continue cooking for 45 minutes, basting with the juices every 15 minutes. Drain prunes, discarding cinnamon stick, and add to roasting pan with the onions. Roast for another 15 minutes or so until chicken is done and juices run clear when pierced with a knife between leg and thigh. Cover and allow to rest while you make the couscous. Sprinkle with the fried almonds and serve with bitter greens or carrots.

Wedding cake – test no. 1

In Food on November 10, 2013 at 16:23
test 1 cake, before it was iced

test 1 cake, before it was iced

I fantasize about the cake the way most girls fantasize about the dress.

In high school, during my first uninhibited flush of baking ambition I envisioned a gargantuan edifice off cake consisting, somewhat bewilderingly in retrospect, of crisply starched meringue layered with raspberries and a delicate sponge drenched in Frangelico, or Sherry, or possibly both. This was my excessive phase.

In college, I fell in love with the idea of a traditional English wedding cake. A hearty ordeal of brandy soaked fruit, it is blanketed in marzipan and frosted with a fine white royal icing. More than a festive centerpiece, this wedding cake is so durable that British couples traditionally saved the top layer for the christening of their first born child. This was my romantic phase.

Since then I have entertained various fantasies, fluctuating with the mood of the hour. From Italian tiramisu to a ‘cake’ formed entirely by layers of truffles filled with single-malt Whisky (you may notice a theme by now), these visions have ranged from modest to outlandish.

Now that I am engaged, I have become more circumspect. Visions of grandeur have surrendered to the greater appeal of a happy, stress-free wedding.

So I began the recipe search with a critical eye and daunting list of expectations:

  • The cake must be delicious, without compromising flavor or texture for glamour.
  • It must be easy to make. I know myself too well and attempting anything remotely complex will inevitably result in a meltdown, the bride buried under the rubble of a failed cake, drowning in tears and butter-cream.
  • It must be gluten and dairy free. Tragically, several of my nearest and dearest friends cannot enjoy these foods.

Perused the web in growing desperation, I stumbled across a blog post by David Lebovitz, a food blogger living in Paris. The recipe is for simple yet versatile almond cake, adapted from one served a the famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley. I was intrigued. After some thought I gave it a go, substituting almond four for the white flour and Earth Balance shortening for the butter. I iced it with a dairy-free chocolate frosting and then served it forth.

The result was better than I’d dared hope. The crumb was moist and delicate, fragrant with sharp, sweet almond and blanketed by rich dark chocolate. Not yet perfect, it was nonetheless an encouraging step in the development of a lovely wedding cake. The recipe below is shamelessly stolen, almost verbatim, from the one by David Lebovitz. You can find the original along with helpful commentary and advice here.

Test 1: dense almond cake with coconut-chocolate frosting

for the cake: 1 1/3 cups sugar 8 ounces almond paste 3/4, plus 1/4 cup all-purpose flour or almond flour 1 cup unsalted butter or Earth Balance shortening, at room temperature, cubed 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 3/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 teaspoon almond extract 6 large eggs, at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Grease a 9- or 10-inch cake or spring form pan with butter, dust it with flour and tap out any excess. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper. 2. In the bowl of a food processor, grind the sugar, almond paste, and 1/4 cup of flour until the almond paste is finely ground and the mixture resembles sand. 3. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup of flour, baking powder, and salt. 4. Once the almond paste is completely broken up, add the cubes of butter and the vanilla and almond extracts, then process until the batter is very smooth and fluffy. 5. Add the eggs one at a time, processing a bit before the next addition. (You may wish to open the machine and scrape the sides down to make sure the eggs are getting fully incorporated.) After you add all the eggs, the mixture may look curdled. Don’t worry; it’ll come back together after the next step. 6. Add half the flour mixture and pulse the machine a few times, then add the rest, pulsing the machine until the drying ingredients are just incorporated, but do not overmix. (You can also transfer the batter to a bowl and mix the dry ingredients in, which ensures the dry ingredients get incorporated evenly and you don’t overbeat it.) 7. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake the cake for 65 minutes, or until the top is deep brown and feels set when you press in the center. 8. Remove the cake from the oven and run a sharp or serrated knife around the perimeter, loosing the cake from the sides of the pan. Let the cake cool completely in the pan. Once cool, tap the cake out of the pan, remove the parchment paper, and set on a cake plate until ready to serve. (Tip: Warm the bottom of the cake pan directly on the stovetop for just a few seconds, which will help the cake release.)

for the frosting: 1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips 1/2 cup refined coconut oil 1 tbsp vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate and coconut oil together in a saucepan over a low heat. Whisk until lumps have dissolved, then remove from heat a whisk in the vanilla. Leave to cool in fridge for 20-30 mins. Whisk until thick and fluffy. Ice the cake immediately as the mixture hardens quickly.

In the next test I will experiment with different fillings and  discover how the cake holds up when layered. Note: I did consult my fiance (The Texan) on his preferences but he didn’t seem the slightest bit interested, bless him.

A little pork and a lot of beans

In Food on September 22, 2013 at 09:25
Willow Wood Farms, barn floor bean mix

Willow Wood Farms, barn floor bean mix

The frenetic exuberance of summer has passed to be replaced by cool and blustery mornings with a scent of burnished leaves in the air. Once again Seattleites are succumbing to sweaters and rain boots as the nights draw in, flanked on either side by an eiderdown of clouds trailing mist and drizzle in their wake. After a long summer of salads, it is time again for the slow simmered pot dishes of fall.

Nothing evokes fall like a fragrant cauldron of beans, simmered in an aromatic swath onions, garlic, herbs and, most importantly, a well chosen morsel of meat. In fact, it never ceases to amaze me how a small piece of cured pork can transform a monotonous pot of beans into a succulent and satisfying meal. The Italians have known it for centuries, as have the Spanish, the Mexicans and countless other cultures. Using meat as a hidden seasoning or condiment, rather than as the star of a dish, is the at the heart of peasant cuisine—the conjuring of vast, delicious meals out of scant means.

Last weekend I made one such dish, a bean soup rich with delicata squash, rosemary, and pancetta. I used a mere half pound of pancetta to a pound of locally grown dried beans from Willow Wood Farms on Whidbey Island.  The result was fantastic; accompanied by a hearty loaf of bread it serves six for a deliciously comforting one-pot meal. Welcome to autumn.

Autumn bean, squash & pancetta soup

Ingredients:
1 lb dry cannellini or other soup beans
olive oil, to coat pan
⅓ – ½ lb pancetta, cut into ½ inch dice
1-2 tbsp butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp rosemary, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 medium delicata squash, seeded and diced
1 tbsp honey
a squeeze of lemon
sea salt and pepper, to taste

Put beans in a pot, cover with water, and leave at least 8 hours or overnight. Drain, place in a large saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until tender, about an hour. Drain.

Heat a large, heavy-based saucepan over medium low.  Coat the bottom with olive oil and butter then sweat the onion and garlic for 10 minutes or until golden and soft. Add the pancetta and cook for a few minutes. Add the rosemary and tomato paste (along with a splash of white wine if you have any to hand) and cook for a few minutes longer. Add the squash, stir, and let flavors simmer together for a few minutes. Pour in the beans, add water to just cover, and bring to the boil. Reduce to simmer and cook until squash is tender, 10-15 minutes.

The soup is delicious as is, but for a creamier version blitz half the mixture in a food processor and then return to the pot. You can also use a handheld immersion blender for a few seconds for the same result.

The gardener & the cook

In Food on September 9, 2013 at 21:04

20130909_082306My window herb garden was a complete failure. The bench that I built, wobbly from the start, warped within weeks so that the pots of herbs it supported spewed earth all over our living room. By August, with little more than a forlorn sprig of pygmy thyme to show for my efforts, I surrendered, carrying the flowerpots to the compost heap and disassembling the bench. It was not a promising start to my gardening career.

On the bright side, life has moved at warp speed over the last year: In May the Texan and I bought a house, in July we got engaged, and yesterday, we harvested our first tomatillos from the front garden.

The house: a single story green house with a south facing front garden, a white trash back yard, and a bathroom that looks like a 1950s hair salon. We adore it and have endless plans for its improvement, the way one might feel towards a lovable yet unruly child.

The engagement: The Texan (Josh) proposed in a little cabin in the woods on Whidbey Island. I said yes.

The harvest: So far our little plot has yielded padron peppers, tomatoes, beans, tomatillos, and a smattering of herbs.

We hadn’t intended to plant anything this year, given the lateness of the season and the all consuming nature of settling into a new home. And then we met the neighbors, Don and Jane. Consummate gardeners with their own farm in Carnation, they happily loaded us up with plants. “These need to go in the ground now”, Jane urged handing us a tray full of gangly tomato plants. And so we dug up the grass and the hideous shrubs and tucked in a bed of veggies. A little to my surprise, they grew.

I say that ‘we’ planted the garden, but I must confess that as soon as we moved into the house, territories were drawn. Josh is the gardener and I am the cook. We may help each other out, peer into the other’s domain, but it is quite clear who commends each realm. I for one am perfectly content with the arrangement.

Roasted tomatillo salsa

Roasting the fruit beforehand adds sweetness and depth of flavor.  Try it with a goat cheese quesadilla, huevos rancheros, or your favorite burrito—riquísimo.

Ingredients:
3 ½ lbs tomatillos
4 large green chilies
2 medium jalapeños
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled
1 cups loosely packed cilantro
¼ cup loosely packed mint
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp salt
1 cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice

Preheat oven to 500F. Place the tomatillos, green chilies, jalapeños, and garlic cloves in a large roasting pan and roast for 20 minutes or until the peppers are charred and tomatillos are swimming in their own juices.

Peel, stem, and seed green chilies; stem and seed jalapeños. Using a slotted spoon, scoop all veggies into a food processor along with the herbs and spices. Pulse until mixture reaches desired consistency (I like fairly smooth green salsa).

Pour mixture into a large saucepan along with vinegar, lime juice, and juices from roasting pan. Bring to boil and then lower to simmer; cover and cook for 15 minutes. Enjoy as fresh salsa or go to final step to preserve:

Bring your water bath to a boil; meanwhile, sterilize four pint sized canning jars and lids. Pour salsa into jars with ½ inch of head space. Wipe rims with a clean, damp towel; then place lid and screw band on each jar. Place jars in water bath canner and process for 15 minutes. Let cool. This salsa taste quite vinegary at first but mellows out in a few days.

The Hesitant Gardener

In Food on June 6, 2012 at 15:49

I am a cook, not a gardener. I am a sucker for the relatively instant gratification of whipping up a souffle, tossing together a salad, or baking a pie. Even making a loaf of sourdough bread requires a mere 48 hours from wistful thought to butter-slathered slice. Gardening, on the other hand, is an endeavor for those of a patient disposition. It is one thing to hanker after a patch of peas, beans, and berries, but the fulfillment of this desire can take up to a year: you must prepare the ground, plant at the correct moment, and then wait months and hungry months for your harvest, which can in turn be summarily destroyed by pests, weather, or any other contrivance of a cranky mother nature.

That is not to suggest I am actively opposed to gardening; this would be impossible for anyone obsessed with food, cooking, and eating. After all, my apple pie is absolutely dependent on those who plant the seeds and tend the fruit. Indeed, I feel a searing pang of jealously on passing even the smallest kitchen garden or community pea-patch. The fundamental problem is that I have rarely stood still long enough to cultivate  anything more elaborate than a pot of geraniums. Once, a couple of years ago, I lived in a small studio apartment behind which there were tiny plots of earth available to tenants. Enthused by the thought of peas—tiny orbs bursting with sweetness—I bought seeds and started them on my windowsill. Within weeks green shoots appeared and I planted them in the carefully prepared earth. Then I waited and watered and waited some more. Much to my surprise the plants thrived and I anticipated the harvest, salivating over recipes for succulent salads and ethereal tarts. Then I graduated university and had to move house. I packed my belongings into the car and returned to my garden to say goodbye. The first few peas were just ripe so I picked a plump specimen and popped it into my mouth. It was better than I had imagined. Turning reluctantly away with a puny fistful of peas, I hopped in the car and left.

That tender harvest, minuscule though it may have been, gave me an enduring desire to garden again. The problem has been that, like many other twenty-somethings, my life has been nomadic, characterized by constant packing and unpacking. College, move, job, move, grad school, move. I walk by pea-patches and neighbors gardens and sigh; one day, one day I too will have a little garden of raised beds, fruit trees, and chickens in one corner….perhaps even a goat and some bees. Alas, that day has not come yet. And so I have contented myself with a distant appreciation of gardeners and their craft. Much like a gentleman farmer, I stroll about, admiring this labor from afar, my hands unsoiled.

Today, my life has become less nomadic and my hankering for a kitchen garden grows stronger daily. Alas, my boyfriend and I live in a small one bedroom apartment and it is not the ideal place for horticultural endeavors. About a week ago, however, I was sitting on the sofa, surveying our little home, and noticing what a large and sunny living room window we have. I sat up, of course! We may not room for poultry (to my disappointment they were not on the list of acceptable pets) or vegetables, but we have plenty of space for herbs. And since it costs upwards of $3 for each miniscule packet of these essential aromatics, we would be saving money too. The next evening I built a bench, one foot by ten feet, running the length of our window. Then I took a trip to the nursery, bought at large bag of potting soil and some seed packets. I chose sweet basil and Italian parsley, woodsy thyme, sharp chives, fragrant marjoram, and sultry cilantro. Digging through the recycling, I found a few egg cartons, planted my seeds, and set them proudly on the window bench.

And now there is nothing to do but wait, watch the sunshine pour through the glass, and dream of homemade fettuccine flecked with basil, of thyme-scented stews, and fragrant salsa verde. My garden bench is certainly no urban farm, but it’s a start. It is at least something to tend.

The medicine of monks

In Food on May 15, 2012 at 15:57

Wine gives man nothing…
it only puts into motion what has been locked up in frost. 

~ Samuel Johnson

I was disillusioned. It does not matter why; that blackened void is familiar to anyone who has ever sweated and hoped and desired, and then spat out the fouled fruit of disappointment.

Etymologically, the verb ‘to disappoint’ comes from the 14th century French word disappointer meaning ‘to undo the appointment’ or ‘remove from office.’ And it was in such a state of frustrated expectation that I found myself the other day. I had made a appointment with Victory and she had stood me up. At the eleventh hour she had blithely skipped from the office, leaving me hopeless and bereft.

The Texan came home and found me curled up, nursing my wounds on the bright blue upholstery of our new sofa. He took my hand and pulled me up. ‘No no no,” he shook his head. He led me determinedly out the door and through the neighborhood. ‘We’re going out,’ he said.

Weary and numb, I walked with him through streets lined with bright houses and apple blossoms and arrived in the heart of downtown Ballard. It was Friday and the evening streets bustled with bodies released from offices, the air suffused with that unmistakable ebullience that marks the end of every working week. The rhythm of walking was soothing and the sense of bonhomie contagious, so that by the time we turned down Ballard Avenue, the earthbound pull on my heart had slackened ever so slightly.

We turned right and ducked into The Sexton. With an abundance of bare wood, faded photos, and jars of house-made bitters displayed above the bar, this place exuded a trendy aesthetic, a carefully constructed evocation of an early 20th century watering hole. Wondering get again why our generation is so enamored of this era, the Texan and I perched at the bar and settled into a couple of Maritime IPAs. I sipped the hefty beer, served in the requisite mason jars, and felt another increment of weight drop from my heart. Life was not so bad; not when your fingers were slipped around a honey-colored brew and your bar stool snuggled up next to the Texan.

Our first drinks drained, we perused the menu again. “Look at this,” the Texan pointed to an item below the list of cocktails. “Bet on Your Bartender,” the text read, and invited guests to state there preferences and let the professionals take control. We were sold.

Our bartender was a diminutive woman who looked as though she might be toppled by a single drink—more familiar with tofu than tequila. I was skeptical. Too bad we didn’t get the bartender with tattoos and sinuous arms, the one who was tossing bottles and shakers about with a breezy panache suggestive of a true master. Stifling this uncharitable thought towards one of my own sex, I told her what I wanted: “tequila, spice, not much sweetness.”

The spinner of our fate nodded and without pause dove into the spirits, pouring measures so fast I couldn’t keep track. She slid the drinks over to us, smiled, and flickered away to attend to the crowd.

I felt rather than tasted the tequila reposado—the sweet air and baked clay of old dry land. But it was swathed in a tapestry of spice, faint oranges, and bitter herbs. I took another sip. The lead in my heart all but disintegrated under its potency leaving me giddy and fragile, as if recovering from a vicious flu. This was not a cocktail; it was a tonic.

Questioning the man with the sinuous arms, we discovered that our bartender, Marley, is an esteemed maven of cocktails and walking encyclopedia on the history of any distillery you care to mention. “She’s insane, knows it all.” He spoke reverently.

When Marley returned I asked her about my drink. What did this healing balm, this soothing elixir, contain? She reeled off a few names but I stopped her at Benedictine. Really? Who would have thought to put that with tequila.

“Benedictine is one of the oldest liqueurs” Marley began, getting into professorial mode. “It was created by the order of Benedictine monks at the Abby of Fécamp in Normandy, using 27 different herbs and spices. Even today, only a few people have the recipe. It’s a very closely guarded secret.”

Holding the bottle, Marley pointed to three large letters, D.O.M., on the label and told us that they stand for deo optimo maximo, the motto of the Benedictine monks. “For our best, greatest God.”  Sitting in The Sexton, watching the crowd grow warm and vociferous as the evening deepened, I thought about these monks and their liqueur. In my state of mind, it was comforting to think of these men; to know that one day long ago there were a bunch of serious, scientifically inclined monks, who, in the course of their experimentations, stumbled upon something so enduring and lovely. I sat back, contemplating my drink. Perhaps the alcohol was going to my head,  but in that moment I felt sure it was a divine restorative. I looked around. At the other side of the room Dionysus stood; he grinned back at me and raised his glass. Be happy, he said, deo optimo maximo. Then he inclined his head and was gone.