March 5 is National Absinthe Day

[This post is not sponsored.]

Happy National Absinthe Day!

National Absinthe Day is celebrated on March 5 each year to commemorate the date the absinthe ban was lifted in the United States in 2007.

StGeorge_AbsintheFrappe_ElliottClarkAbsinthe Frappé photo credit: Elliott Clark/Apartment Bartender

What is absinthe?

Absinthe is a potent distilled spirit made with green anise, fennel, and wormwood. It’s also called the Green Fairy, or la fée verte, due to its emerald hue that is derived from the chlorophyll of the aromatic herbs that are added after the distillation process.

It is believed to have originated in the late 18th century when a French doctor in Switzerland created it as an elixir and cure for malaria.

Due to the toxic chemical compound called thujone found in wormwood, many people believed that drinking large quantities of the spirit caused hallucinations! Absinthe was considered to be such a dangerous psychoactive drug that it was eventually banned in many countries, including the United States in 1912.

During the ban, an anise-flavored liqueur called pastis gained popularity as a substitute for absinthe. The difference between pastis and absinthe? Pastis is produced without wormwood and sugar is added to it, making pastis a liqueur, not a spirit.

“This one time, at workcamp…”

I had my first taste of pastis in France during some free time at my workcamp (the commonly used term for international volunteer projects like the one I participated in.)

After watching a marionette show, my group and I went out for drinks. I can still recall the strong licorice flavor of the pastis. Not sure I loved it, but I must admit, I did enjoy how it made me feel: sans souci (carefree)!

Over the years, I’ve often wondered: Would I have a similar experience with absinthe?*

What better time for me to find out than on the occasion of National Absinthe Day!

American-made Absinthe

When pandemic-related travel restrictions are lifted, I’d love the chance to sip absinthe in France or Switzerland! But until then, I’m happy to stay put and get some American-made absinthe that happens to be locally produced (but widely available!)

St. George Spirits master distiller Lance Winters and head distiller/blender Dave Smith
photo credit: Andria Lo

St. George Spirits, located in Alameda, California (about 10 miles/ 16 km east of San Francisco) has been making single malt whiskey, gin, rum, brandy, vodka, and liqueurs since the distillery was founded in 1982 by Jörg Rupf, who retired in 2010.

Fun Fact: Their St. George Absinthe Verte was the first legal American absinthe released after the U.S. ban was lifted in 2007!

St. George Absinthe Verte (200ml)
photo credit: Jason Tinacci

Due to its high alcohol content, absinthe is usually sweetened and diluted with ice cold water before it’s served. But according to St. George Spirits, their St. George Absinthe Verte is one you can “savor over ice — no sugar needed.”

St. George Spirits master distiller Lance Winters
photo credit: Laurel Dailey

St. George Spirits master distiller, Lance Winters joined Sarah of Chateau Sonoma for cocktail hour on Instagram Live on March 5, 2021. ICYMI, check it out: Instagram Live @chateausonoma

St. George Spirits stills
photo credit: Ben Krantz

Thanks to Ellie Winters, St. George Spirits communications director, for permission to use the photos shown in this post.

*Updated March 8, 2021

I finally tried absinthe! I diluted one ounce of absinthe with about a half-ounce of ice water. It developed a nice cloudy louche, indicating a strong presence of star anise, which I could smell as I gently swirled my glass. I can confirm: no hallucinations (not that I was expecting any), but I did get a cool numbing sensation on my tongue with each sip.🥃

Have you had absinthe? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!

Holiday Lights: A Drive Along Christmas Tree Lane in Alameda

Christmas Tree Lane – December 12, 2020

Every December, thousands of visitors from around the Bay Area come to Thompson Avenue in Alameda, California (10 miles/16 km east of San Francisco) to walk and admire the festive decorations and twinkling lights. It’s not the largest holiday lights display, but it’s a favorite among locals who’ve been coming to “Christmas Tree Lane” since 1938!

Of course, due to the pandemic, it’s different this year. Visitors are advised to forgo the stroll around and encouraged to drive by instead.

Unlike previous years, there are no sidewalk vendors selling hot chocolate to warm your hands and tummy. But one advantage to driving by is that you get to stay warm inside your vehicle!

Christmas Tree Lane – December 12, 2020

In addition to Christmas tree displays, there are parols (Filipino star-shaped lanterns) and farolito/luminaria (paper bag lantern commonly used in Hispanic culture and the southwestern United States). There’s a menorah for Hanukkah, too.

Also spotted: signs for social distancing, Black Lives Matter, and Biden-Harris on a few front lawns. Sign(s) of the times, indeed.

Menorah for Hanukkah

Parol

Farolito/Luminaria

Participation in the winter tradition is optional for residents who live on Christmas Tree Lane.

Seeing that most homes have some sort of decoration, even as simple as a string of lights on their windows or front steps, I get the impression that no one wants to be the Grinch on the block!

The local electric company chips in, too. They sponsor the cost of the lights in the median (where there’s a mailbox for letters to Santa!)

Christmas Tree Lane – December 12, 2020

The holiday lights will be on each day until New Year’s Eve from 5:30 pm until 10:00 pm, which is also the county’s curfew, per the Limited Stay at Home Order.

Christmas Tree Lane – December 12, 2020

Donut Petit in Alameda, California

I learned about Donut Petit a few years ago when I spotted their float in Alameda’s 4th of July Parade in 2017 (see above). This weekend, I finally got the chance to visit the cute little bakery.

A little word about petit

Recalling the handy acronym BAGS (beauty, age, goodness, size) that I learned in my French classes, I know the word petit (meaning small or little) should go before the noun.

So while I’m tempted to call the charming little donut shop Le Petit Donut, I just tell myself, “Do not (be) petty!” (Donut Petit!)

Just a guess, but perhaps the name is supposed to sound like “bon appétit”…?

The pale blue paint, gold accents, and wicker bistro chairs give the shop an elegant, French-inspired appearance, as well as an inviting atmosphere. However, due to physical distancing protocols, there’s currently no dine-in, only take-out.

Behind the glass, I could tell they had creative flavors, such as lavender, lilikoi (passionfruit), and Mauisadas (Hawaiian sugar donuts filled with pineapple).

They looked appetizing, but I wasn’t in an adventurous mood. Instead, I ordered pastries that looked familiar: a brownie croissant, a chocolate twist, and a pair of French crullers – one glazed and the other with chocolate icing sprinkled with rainbow nonpareils. As a lagniappe, they gave me a blueberry cake donut.

I’d never seen a brownie inside a croissant before. It tasted OK, but it felt a bit strange to bite into a baked good inside another baked good. Sadly, the glazed French cruller was disappointing. I was expecting it to be light and airy, not greasy and dense.

Maybe next time, I’ll get out of my comfort zone and give their matcha or guava donuts a try! 🍩

Do you like donuts? I love maple bars. 🍁 Tell me your favorite flavor in the comments below!

Flashback Friday: Alameda’s 4th of July Parade 2017

The 4th of July Parade in Alameda, California (10 miles/16 km east of San Francisco) is one of the largest Independence Day parades in the United States, with over 170 floats and 2,500 participants.

A little over 3 miles/5 km long, the parade route is also the longest route in the United States, drawing over 60,000 spectators from around the Bay Area.

Unfortunately, there won’t be any floats, horses, marching bands, dancers, or vintage cars this year. The 4th of July Parade for 2020 was cancelled due to the pandemic.

In honor of the holiday, I’d like to share 4 of my favorites from the 2017 parade:

Alameda’s 4th of July Parade 2017 – I love the beignets at Café Jolie!

Alameda’s 4th of July Parade 2017 – honoring all the brave people serving in the Armed Forces

Alameda’s 4th of July Parade 2017

Alameda’s 4th of July Parade 2017 – a mini BART train!

What do we celebrate on the 4th of July?

The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 2, 1776, but it wasn’t approved by the Second Continental Congress until July 4, 1776. We celebrate the day that the thirteen colonies gained independence from Great Britain.

The famous passage says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Since there won’t be parades, carnivals, large family reunions, and fireworks this year, it’ll be a good opportunity to reflect and think about those words.

An unalienable (or inalienable) right is something that can’t be given away or denied, like freedom.

But recent events have shown that we’re not quite living up to the Founding Fathers’ ideals.

Ask any person of color, woman, or member of the LGBTQIA community in America!

It just goes to show that even on its 244th birthday, the United States is still a relatively young nation and we’ve still got lots of work to do!

Happy Independence Day! 🇺🇸

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” at Altarena Playhouse

When I heard the local theatre was putting on a play set in Montmartre in Paris, my Francophile ears perked up like a nimble little bunny’s ears!

According to the playbill, Steve Martin wrote “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” in 1993, but this production would incorporate updates from his 2017 revival version.

Set in 1904, the play imagines the famous Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso and German-born theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein having a lively debate about what they think the 20th century will bring. Of course, each man thinks he will change the world with his art and science, respectively.

The pre-show announcer said over the PA system that the play would be performed in English and “without accents” like the French one he was affecting.

I’m not sure if Monsieur Martin wrote it that way or if creative license was used by the Altarena Playhouse in Alameda, California, a cozy theatre-in-the-round. Regardless, it worked for me – it was hilarious.

history of Lapin Agile Cabaret in Paris

Crispian Bakery, a small-batch bakery that produces French-inspired American breads and pastries in Alameda, provided refreshments with a suggested donation of $2 per item. I got a chocolate chip cookie with coffee and my daughter opted for a ginger cookie. She said it tasted like Christmas!

As we settled in, they played Pink Martini’s song, “Sympathique,” as well as accordion music. The sweet melody helped set the mood — it made me feel like I was in Paris!

The character, Sagot, snaps a photograph of his fellow bar patrons

Along with the leads, Asher Krohn (Picasso) and Peter Marietta (Einstein), my favorite performances were by Jean Cary, who played three roles (Suzanne; The Countess; Female Admirer).

Without spoiling the ending, I want to mention that I didn’t particularly enjoy the part toward the end when, after brief smoke and light effects, The Visitor, appears.

It was a bit cheesy visually, but I could grasp the social commentary being made: It was suggested that The Visitor, doing something less profound, would experience greater fame than either of the geniuses, Picasso and Einstein, despite their world-changing contributions!

The playwright promoting his play

Without a doubt, Steve Martin is a genius himself, with comedic acting roles, like one of the obnoxious Wild & Crazy Guys from Saturday Night Live and the likable Dad in the “Father of the Bride” and “Cheaper By the Dozen” movies.

He’s also a talented dramatic actor. In the 2001 dark comedy called “Novocaine,” Steve Martin portrays a dentist who leads an ordinary life until he is seduced by a patient. It’s one of my favorite films and not only because a couple of characters in the film move to France. I promise!

Although it doesn’t hurt having a French setting, like in “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”!

I visited Montmartre in May 2018. Can you spot the actual “Cabaret Au Lapin Agile”?

Have you seen any good plays lately? Do you like Steve Martin movies and plays? Tell me in the comments below!

Watching Apollo 11 on the Moon Landing’s 50th Anniversary

Today, July 20, 2019, is the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. Many celebratory events are happening this weekend, including special screenings of the 2019 documentary, Apollo 11. I’m not sure why, but coincidentally, the three theaters near me had the same showtime of 3 in the afternoon. Could it represent the three astronauts: Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins?

My family and I went to The New Parkway Theater in Oakland, a quirky, but cozy place filled with mismatched sofas, couches, and chairs. They claim to be one of the greenest movie theaters and I can see why.

For example, if you buy tickets online, they discourage you from printing them. At the concession stand, they serve popcorn in reusable plastic bowls. If you order Italian soda or kombucha, it’s served in a glass. They offer cloth napkins that were likely washed in unscented and organic laundry detergent. My Starbucks in a paper cup felt like contraband, which I managed to smuggle in without incident, thankfully.

quirky, yet cozy seating

When the movie ended, we were inspired to see the USS Hornet (CV-12), the actual carrier that recovered Apollo 11 (and later, Apollo 12) astronauts from their lunar capsule that safely splashed down near Hawaii on July 24, 1969.

Alameda, California

After having watched some conspiracy theory videos, which suggested the moon landing was a hoax, I was skeptical for many years. However, after watching Apollo 11 today, I’m a believer again! The never-before released footage and audio from the 1969 space mission erased any doubt from my mind.

If they can put a man on the moon…

…then each of us can achieve anything with courage, determination, and focus!

For more information:

Tell me in the comments below: What are your thoughts about the first moon landing? 🚀🌝

Where My Beignets At?

Closely associated with New Orleans, a beignet (“ben-YAY”) is a donut made with choux, a French pastry dough also used to make éclairs and cream puffs. Luckily, I don’t have to travel that far to enjoy these fried and pillowy sweet treats! Café Jolie in Alameda and Powderface in Oakland both make delicious beignets!

from Cafe Jolie

I’ll update this post as I discover places that make beignets in the Bay Area and beyond!

Where do you get your beignets? Tell me in the comments!