El Floridita: An Opening into the World of Cocktails and Hemingway

         When Piña de Plata or the Silver Pineapple first opened in 1817, the location in what is now La Habana Vieja, Spanish for Old Havana would have been just known as downtown Havana back then. Located at the end of Calle Obispo, across Monserrate Street from the National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana, the streets in front of the muddy pinkish-red stucco exterior with its famous neon sign bustles with cars with fins in Easter egg colors and matching interiors. It’s a sea of pinks, purples, sky blues, two tones of white and maroon and other combos. We could be in a scene from “Mad Men,” but instead of crystal clear martinis, we’re heading to El Floridita.

200 Years and Counting

The name changed from the Silver Pineapple happened in 1914 about the same time that Constantino Ribalaigua began learning to mix drinks from his father. Four years later, Ribalaigua, who later earned the nickname of “El Rey de los Coteleros” or The Cocktail King of Cuba, had earned enough money to buy the place. He was only 26 and would own it for decades, creating more than 200 cocktails and adapting dozens more.

Creating the Hemingway Daiquiri

         It was one of Ribalaigua’s adaptations that made him famous—the recipe and the person who frequently left his apartment down the street after spending the morning writing and relaxed with a couple—or maybe even more—daiquiris. A concoction of white rum, maraschino liqueur or cherries depending upon the recipe, freshly squeezed lemon juice or pineapple juice and sugar or a sugar syrup, it pleased Ernest Hemingway so much, that soon El Floridita, daiquiris, and Hemingway became an icon of the bestselling author’s days in Cuba. El Floridita soon earned a subtitle, becoming “la cuna del daiquiri” or the cradle of the daiquiri.

Historic Architecture

         At opening time, the doors open and people stream in. They’re a mixed lot. College students, older literary types, locals probably bemoaning that they can’t have a quiet drink because of all these tourists, men who looked like artists and musicians, women in exotic outfits looking like poets and writers. The shiny mahogany bar is an extravagant piece of beautiful wood where red-jacketed bartenders swiftly add ingredients and then buzz them in the blender.

Daiquiris for All

These bartenders are smooth, able to mix and pour two daiquiris at a time. They need to be, the surge of people is endless. There’s a neo-classicist style to the decor. Huge paintings back up the bar and line several large walls. Chandeliers drip from the ceiling, the tables in the large dining room have white tablecloths and louvered doors. The bar itself is rather dark though streaks of the stunning sunshine stream through the door. Musicians come up on the small stage and play Cuban music, jazz, Bolero, Timba, and their own compositions as well including music from the eastern end of the island.

         You don’t have to imagine Hemingway sitting at the bar, a bronze bust of him in his favorite corner was sculpted in 1954. And it’s easy to pause when my eye captures the lifestyle statue of him at the bar that was added almost 50 years later. Another honorific is a plaque with a Hemingway quote: “My mojito in the Bodeguita del Medio and my daiquiri in the Floridita.”

         But probably the best indication of the author’s prestige and power as a tourist attraction is the lure of the blender as it mixes another daiquiri (there are four varieties associated with Hemingway and I’ve included two of them below) and the clinking of glasses as patrons toast the author and, of course, his drink.

Recipes

Floridita Daiquiri

  • 2 oz. white rum (Floridita uses Havana club)
  • ½ oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp. maraschino liqueur
  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1½ cups crushed ice

Mix the lime juice and sugar in a blender and pulse to combine. Add the maraschino and crushed ice and blend on high speed, gradually adding rum to the mix. Pour into a chilled large cocktail glass.

Floridita Cocktail

  • 2 ounces white rum (I prefer Brugal)
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • ½ ounce fresh grapefruit juice
  • ¼ ounce maraschino liqueur
  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup

Shake with ice, and strain into coupe. Garnish with a lime wheel.

IRELAND’S ROMANTIC CASTLES: A LUXURIOUS TRIP INTO HISTORY

Frequented by showbiz royalty and actual royalty alike, Irish castles have long been famous for their ancient history and heritage, their beauty and romance, and with many also offering the ultimate in five-star luxury. What better way to explore Ireland’s past then with an ultimate road trip visiting the following wonderful castles and their gardens.

Dunluce Castle, County Antrim

North Coast Sept 2011

The sprawling ruins of the medieval castle sitting at a cliff edge are all that is left of the fortress that was once the seat of the earls of Antrim. Dunluce Castle was home to rebellion and intrigue over centuries and is said to have inspired CS Lewis to create Cair Paravel, capital of Narnia. Here you might have to share the space with banshees (fairy ghosts) that are said to haunt the ruins.

Glenarm Castle, County Antrim

Since 1636 Glenarm Castle has been an important centre along the spectacular Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland. Here you could relax in the sumptuously decorated lounge while viewing portraits that date from the early 17th century. Imagine strolling through the walled garden and then ending the day with a restful sleep in a four poster bed dating from 1754.

Tullynally Castle, County Westmeath

Tullynully

Overlooking the lake where the legendary Children of Lir were said to swim when they were turned into swans, Tullynally is a beautiful gothic-style castle. With over 120 rooms including the magnificent Great Hall, you would have plenty of space to roam. Outdoors the grounds include a grotto, a walled flower garden, two ornamental lakes and a llama paddock.

Birr Castle, County Offaly

Birr Castle, County Offaly

Indoors and outdoors you’d be surrounded by splendour at Birr Castle. The opulent interior rooms include a Victorian dining room and octagonal Gothic saloon. The gardens are some of the most stunning in Ireland with exotic flowers, waterfalls and lakes and in the grounds sits the fascinating Leviathan telescope, once the largest in existence.

Blackrock Castle, County Cork

Originally built to protect Cork Harbour, imposing Blackrock Castle with its towers and turrets is today home to the astronomical research centre of the Cork Institute of Technology. The castle offers splendid views over the water and you could amuse yourself by spending time at the award-winning interactive astronomy exhibition, Cosmos at the Castle.

Ballynahinch Castle, County Galway

This fairytale castle set against the gorgeous backdrop of Connemara’s Twelve Bens mountain range has been home to some of the most infamous figures of Irish history, among them the pirate queen and chieftain, Grace O’Malley, and the ‘Ferocious O’Flaherty Clan’. The extensive grounds provide an ideal walking area and the evening could be spent curled up in front of an open fire.

www.ireland.com

A Golden Lamb Thanksgiving: A Treat Since 1870

            I’ve spent a lot of time lately traversing Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio following, so to speak, in Abraham Lincoln’s footsteps . And while it’s not recorded that Lincoln stayed at the Golden Lamb in Lebanon, Ohio, it’s certainly possible ashe traveled throughout the area. The connection seems apt because the GoldenLamb has been in continuous operation since it first opened in 1803 when Jonas Seaman spent four dollars on a license to open a log-cabin tavern under the sign of a golden lamb (because literacy wasn’t common, signs with images were used instead).

Sister Lizzie’s Shaker Sugar Pie
Photo courtesy of the Golden Lamb

            A host of other famous people have stayed there including, according to General Manager Bill Kilimnik, 12 presidents, Mark Twain and Charles Dickins. Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and an avid abolitionist was also a guest and I slept in the room she occupied and no (to the people who have asked) it’s not haunted though another room is said to be and there’s also a ghost cat that some have seen. But that’s a different holiday and the tie-in with Lincoln is that in 1870, he proclaimed the fourth Thursday of November a national holiday and the inn’s restaurant has served Thanksgiving dinner since then–which has got to be some type of record. 

            The restaurant is famed for many of their menu items including fried chicken, sauerkraut balls,Sister Lizzie’s Sugar Shaker Pie (White Water Shaker Village was once a large settlement of Shakers about three miles from Lebanon)–named by USA Today as the Best Pie in Ohio–and their yeast rolls made from a recipe first used by Robert and Virginia Jones in the early 1930s whose family still owns the inn. Their turkey dinners at Thanksgiving are very popular but if you can’t make it this coming Thursday,roast turkey is on the menu year round.

            According to several newspaper articles, back in the 1800s, the inn’s Thanksgiving menu included several oyster dishes including just plain oysters, consommé oysters as well as turkey stuffed with oysters. Other dishes were  whitefish, roast beef, chicken croquettes, wild duck, broiled quail, celery and lettuce—you could order it plain or with mayonnaise), plum pudding, mince pie, pineapple with “De Brie cheese”  and Charlotte Russe. I couldn’t find a description of the cheese, but plenty of advertisements for it in the late 1800s and early 1900s so my guess is it’s a type of creamy brie. Charlotte Russe a dessert of sweet cream and sponge cake popular during both the Victorian and Edwardian eras. 

Golden Lamb’s Mushroom Cobbler
Photo courtesy of the Golden Lamb

            The Golden Lamb may be one of the few long-time restaurants that doesn’t have a cookbook and their recipes are hard to come by, but Paige Drees who works at the inn shared their Mushroom Cobbler which she said (and I agree) would make a great Thanksgiving side dish. I also found an original handwritten recipe for Sister Lizzie’s Sugar Shaker Pie on the website of the Vintage Recipe Project, an online site founded in order to document and preserve historic recipes from the past. I’m not sure if it’s the same as what the inn serves but I tried the recipe and it seems very similar to what I had at the restaurant.  

Yeast Rolls
Photo courtesy of the Golden Lamb

Golden Lamb’s Mushroom Cobbler

1 cup Shitake mushrooms sliced

1 cup button mushrooms quartered

1 cups oyster mushrooms sliced

1 cups cremini mushrooms sliced

2 each shallot sliced

1 packet fresh poultry blend herbs

1 cup heavy cream

8 ounces goat cheese

2 ounces dry sherry

4 cooked crumbled biscuits

1 packet fresh poultry blend herbs, cleaned and chopped reserve ½ for Biscuit topping

1 cup heavy cream

 8 ounces goat cheese reserve ½ for Biscuit topping

2 ounces dry sherry

Heat a medium sized skillet add one tablespoon of vegetable oil and sauté your shallots until tender, add all mushrooms and a pinch of salt and pepper. once the mushrooms are fork tender add sherry to deglaze pan. add your cream and reduce by half, fold in your goat cheese and fresh herbs, turn off and set aside.

One of the private dining rooms at the Golden Lamb

Biscuit topping

4 cooked crumbled biscuits

2 tablespoons melted butter

Remaining goat cheese

Remaining fresh herbs

Place all ingredients into medium sized bowl mix until it resembles a crumb topping.

1 bunch chopped asparagus

2 ounces sliced sun-dried tomatoes

2 ounces pearl onions

½ cup baby spinach

Prepared mushroom mix

In a medium skillet sauté your pearl onion until caramelized, add your asparagus and sundried tomatoes and sauté for two minutes add the mushroom mix from earlier. add spinach, check seasoning and put mix into casserole dish sprinkle on biscuit topping and bake at 350 for eight minutes until bubbly and golden brown

Golden Lamb Yeast Dinner Rolls

1 ½ cup milk

4 teaspoons dry yeast

4 cups bread flour

2 teaspoons salt

½ cup sugar

5 tablespoons vegetable shortening

1 egg

Heat milk until warm, 100 degrees. Put yeast in a small bowl, add about ½ teaspoon sugar, then stir in milk. Let sit until foamy. Combine flour, salt, sugar and shortening in a mixer bowl, and mix to combine. Add the milk mixture and egg. Mix on mixer until combined, then beat for about 13 minutes.  Or, by hand, mix until combined, then turn out onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.

Oil the dough ball lightly, cover the bowl with a towel and let rise for an hour, when it should be doubled in size. Punch down. Divide the dough into about 24 balls of dough. One way to do this is to divide the dough into two, then all each half of the dough into a long rope on a flour-covered counter. Cut each rope into 12 equal portions, and roll each into a ball.

Place on a flat baking sheet and cover with a towel, Preheat oven to 350. After the rolls have risen about half an hour,  bake them  until golden brown and fragrant, about 10-15 minutes. Check frequently. Serve as soon as possible after they come out of the oven. 

Yields 8-10 servings.

Sister Lizzie’s Sugar Shaker Pie

     1/4  pound butter

    1 cup brown sugar

    1 3/4  cups light cream

    1/3  cup flour

    1/2 teaspoon vanilla

    Grated nutmeg

    1  9-inch pie shell, unbaked

Thoroughly mix the flour and brown sugar and spread evenly in the bottom of the unbaked pie shell.  Pour the cream and vanilla over this.  Slice the butter into 12-16 pieces and add.  Sprinkle with nutmeg.  Bake in a 350°F oven for 40-45 minutes or until firm.

For more information, 513-932-5065; goldenlamb.com

Making Maultaschen at Maulbronn Monastery

In a room where flickering flames highlight low beamed ceilings blackened with centuries of smoke and glass windows wavy from almost a millennium of time give views onto a cobblestone courtyard bordered by half-timbered buildings. I am at Maulbronn Monastery learning to make maultaschen, a centuries old dish that originated  here.  If I succeed, I’ll earn a coveted but very little known diploma in maultaschen making.P1010274

Built in 1147 and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the monastery was founded by Cistercians, a religious order of the Benedictines retreating from the world to establish a simpler life and find a balance between manual labor and prayers. Located in the village of Maulbronn in the Black Forest region of southwestern Germany, the monastery was a self-sufficient, fortified city within the boundaries of what was once the Duchy of Swabia.  It’s all very charmingly Germanic, a storybook type place that has survived tumultuous times. Now Maulbronn Monastery, the best preserved medieval monastic complex north of the Alps, functions as a Protestant primary boarding school for both boys and girls. It’s most famous pupil is probably the author Hermann Hesse whose book Beneath the Wheel tells the story of a boy sent to a seminary in the village of Maulbronn.P1010313 (1)

The gates, once locking out the world, are open to visitors, the Romanesque cathedral offers services and tours and historic buildings house a restaurant, visitor center and shops. Frequent events include concerts, fairs, a farmer’s markets during warm weather and those famous Christmas markets they have in Germany. Besides that, this being Germany after all, there’s also Maulbronner Klosterbräu, a beer brewed according to an ancient recipe. Back then water wasn’t safe, so drinking beer, ale and wine started in the a.m. and continued on to night. Which may be one reason why the monks, who were given little food and often prayed for 16 hours straight in the Cathedral were able to do so.P1010302

Back in the day, all was lit by fire and in twilight I can almost sense the friendly ghosts of years past. This feel of what life was like a millennium or more ago includes making maultaschen, sometimes described as a German ravioli but so much more than that. Also, as an aside, if you think maultaschen is hard to pronounce, consider that in Swabian the term is Herrgotts-Bescheißerle, meaning “small God-cheaters.”P1010318

“It’s a dish created when two poor brothers were sent to the monastery because their father couldn’t afford to feed them,” our monastery guide, Barbara Gittinger, tells us as we roll out thin sheets of a shiny dough (note to those who don’t want to totally follow the ancient recipe—if you’re in Southwest Germany you can buy maultaschen dough at many of the markets; in the U.S., substitute egg roll wrappers instead) into perfect squares.

Seems one of the brothers took a delivery of meat during Lent. Not wanting it to go to waste, he chopped up the meat with vegetables and wrapped the mixture in dough. The idea was that God wouldn’t see the meat because of all the veggies and dough. Since that was centuries ago  and they’ve been eating maultaschen ever since the subterfuge obviously worked.P1010261

But there are other stories about the dish’s origins as well including the one about the scandalous Countess of Tyrol who earned the nickname Maultasch, meaning vicious woman (they said worse too but we won’t go there) because of her political machinations and marriage to one man before divorcing her current husband. But you know, these things happen. Anyway, said to be amazingly beautiful, the Countess was also a culinary traveler and she supposedly brought the maultaschen recipe to Maulbronn from Tyrol in the Austrian Alps.P1010342

 

As I listen to the origins of maultaschen, I’m busy mincing Black Forest ham, one of several “forbidden” meats typically used to make the filling, mixing it with leeks, onions and dried bread soaked in water and then squeezed dry. Gittinger says that her family makes theirs with a type of beef mixture that sounds a lot like suet, blood sausage and vegetables such as spinach.  Of course, maultaschen has gone modern and Gittinger says some substitute salmon for the meat.P1010310

I drop a tablespoonful of the mixture on the square of dough, fold it and pinch the seams tightly together (“so it doesn’t open up when cooking,” Gittinger tells me).

Originally, maultaschen would have simmered in a kettle of broth hanging over the open fire. Now, we use a gas stovetop hidden from sight.

Tasting maultaschen and schwäbischer kartoffelsalat (German potato salad), its traditional accompaniment, along with a glass of a dry red German wine) I reflect that the flavors must be different—the wheat milled for the flour to make the dough would be different from the wheat varieties we grow today. The same with the vegetables. But that’s not the case with the Black Forest ham, a variety of dry-cured smoked ham produced in this region since at least Renaissance times. Making and eating maultaschen at Maulbronn Monastery is a historic connection between past and present.

P1010345

Oh, and I received my diploma. I’m officially a maultaschen maker now.

P1010329

 

Swabian Maultaschen

2 2/3 cups flour (all-purpose)

1/2 teaspoons salt

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon oil

3 tablespoons water

½ pound Black Forest Ham, American ham or bacon (or a combination of all—you can also use hamburger meat), cooked and chopped

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1 clove garlic (chopped)

2 ounces day-old bread or rolls, soaked in water and then torn into small pieces

1 leek including the green stalk, chopped

2 ounces spinach, cooked and squeezed dry

1 large egg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 pinch ​pepper (fresh, ground)

1 to 2 quarts broth (beef or other)

For the dough:

Mix flour with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 eggs, oil and just enough of the 3 tablespoons water to make a smooth dough.

Knead for 5 to 10 minutes, until satiny. Form dough into a ball, oil surface, wrap in plastic and let rest for at least 1 hour.

For the Filling:

Cook bacon and remove from pan. Sauté onions, garlic and leeks in bacon drippings, butter or a little vegetable oil until translucent.

Mix remaining filling ingredients together until well mixed.

For the Dumplings:

Roll out half of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness or thinner. You should have a sheet about 12 inches by 18 inches. (You also can use a noodle roller to make flat sheets with 1/5 of dough at a time.)

Score the dough with a knife, one time through lengthwise and five perpendicular cuts to make 1 dozen rectangles.

Place 1 tablespoon dough on each rectangle.

Fold rectangle over and pinch sides to close.

Repeat with the other half of dough.

Bring broth to a simmer and place 1/3 of the maultaschen in the broth. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove and drain. Keep warm if not serving immediately. Repeat with the rest of the maultaschen.

Serve in a bowl with some broth. Serve with Schwäbischer Kartoffelsalat (recipe below).

Schwäbischer Kartoffelsalat

(Swabian Potato Salad)

3 pounds small Yukon gold potatoes of similar size, skins scrubbed and peels left on

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1½ cups beef stock or bouillon

½ cup white vinegar

¾ tablespoon salt

¾ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons mild German mustard (can use regular mustard)

⅓ cup vegetable oil

Fresh chopped chives for garnish

Boil the potatoes in their skins in lightly salted water until tender. Allow the potatoes to cool until you can handle them. Peel the potatoes and slice them into ¼ inch slices. Put the sliced potatoes in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Add onions, beef broth, vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar, and mustard in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. As soon as it boils, remove from heat and pour the mixture over the potatoes. Cover the bowl of potatoes and let sit for at least one hour.

After at least one hour, gently stir in the vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. If too much liquid remains, use a slotted spoon to serve. Serve garnished with fresh chopped chives. Serve warm.

For more information, visit kloster-maulbronn.de