On a warm, breezy Saturday last August, my wife, Jennifer, and I found ourselves driving through California's Sonoma wine country. But we weren't thinking about the region's stellar Pinot Noir. Instead, we had liquor on the brain—and several bottles each of rum, tequila, and vodka waiting for us at our destination.
Between my hectic work schedule (I'm constantly traveling between restaurants and TV shoots) and the hustle and bustle of our home life (we have four boys under the age of 10), Jennifer and I barely have time to think these days, let alone share a leisurely cocktail. So when I was asked to come up to Taylor Maid Farms to teach a class on infusing spirits with fruit, herbs, and spices, I couldn't wait to bring her along. The class was part of an annual one-day retreat focusing on food, which is what I'm all about, and yoga, which Jennifer and I both practice, so I knew the trip would be just what we needed to reconnect.
There's something about a great cocktail that's so indulgent—maybe because there's such a ritual to mixing one, or because a good drink makes you slow down and sink into the experience of enjoying it. And when the liquor you use has an extra jolt of flavor, the result is downright divine: Basil-infused vodka makes a Bloody Mary taste fresh from the garden, and habanero tequila adds a spicy punch to a margarita.
You can buy bottled infused spirits, but I've found that the best results come from jazzing up your liquor at home. The good news is that these vibrant spirits are easy to make. You pour your chosen liquor into a jar, drop in an ingredient you love, and let time take care of the rest. The even better news is that there are no wrong answers—just add whatever tastes good.
Which is exactly the advice I gave my class last August. We started with what I called "a meditation on taste." I passed around ingredients like raspberries, limes, chilies, and basil, and asked everyone to try each item with their eyes closed. I wanted them to really taste what they put in their mouths. Because what's true for yoga is true for tasting—to enjoy it, you have to stay in the moment. (Which is pretty good marital advice, too.)
At the end of class that day, as we tried out different combinations—and bottled our spirited creations while Jennifer snapped photos—I decided to plan more spirits-inspired moments, like serving strawberry vodka martinis on Mother's Day, or rose-hip-scented cocktails for our next anniversary. Though I'll have to keep hitting the road, and our kids are sure to keep running wild, at least we'll have our next fabulously flavorful mini cocktail party to look forward to.
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