Sunday, December 30, 2012

Repost: Feuerzangenbowle

I thought I'd share this post again (I originally posted it in 2009), since I'll be making this recipe for New Year's Eve. Get out the fire extinguishers and let's make some punch! 

Today's post has nothing at all to do with fashion, unless you count the subject's ability to stain your clothing. It does have to do with booze and lighting things on fire though, which may perhaps interest you. This post is about a little-known (in the US, anyway) German beverage called Feuerzangenbowle. And today I'm going to tell you how to make it, because it's a drink that's just perfect for this time of year. I'll start by describing the whole process and then I'll give the list of ingredients and quantities at the end.

Feuerzangenbowle is sort of like a mulled red wine, and starts out pretty much the same way, with red wine being steeped with spices and citrus fruit. But because of the way it's prepared, this drink is well-suited for a large party with friends, firstly because of the large quantity that the recipe makes, and secondly because the fire is pretty damn impressive. What's shown in the photo above is the final preparation step, which involves soaking a dense cone of sugar, called a Zuckerhut, in Bacardi 151 and lighting it on fire over the heated wine mixture. The idea is to carmelize and melt the suger, which drips into the wine through a long slot in the bottom of that metal tray.

My love of Feuerzangenbowle started years and years ago when a friend introduced me to it after spending some time doing an intership in Stuttgart, Germany. I used to have one of the metal trays, called the feuerzangen, but lost it to my ex; for years I've looked for a replacement, and finally found an entire set, which is sort of like a fondue set with an alcohol burner underneath. I special ordered it from Germany with the help of the delightful Erika at German Specialty Imports in Prior Lake, MN, and last weekend I gave it its first trial run. You really don't need a lot of fancy equipment to make this drink, but you've gotta love that gorgeous German engineering, which I assure you is a vision in all its gleaming stainless steel glory. If you can't get your hands on a proper feuerzangen, you can try using a large, slotted metal spoon or something similar. It's fairly important to rig up a system that you won't have to hold onto though, because the sugar takes a good 15 minutes to burn, and then of course there's the little matter of it being on fire.

Besides the feuerzangen (or your reasonably MacGyver'd-up substitute), the other unique thing you'll need for this recipe is a Zuckerhut, which can be found at German delis or import stores. Alternately, you can use a whole pile of sugarcubes, about 250 grams' worth of 'em, to be precise. Having made it both ways, I can tell you that although the sugar cubes work just fine, the zuckerhut is a lot easier to work with.

To get started, you'll first need to steep the spices (cinnamon, cloves, and optionally cardamom) and the citrus (oranges and lemons, both the juice and part of the peels), with the wine (choose a dry red wine). To do this you can either mix everything together and leave it in the fridge overnight, or alternately you can heat the mixture until the wine is steaming (not boiling!), and let it steep for 15 minutes or so. For my test run I tried the second method, and it worked great.

Once the wine mixture is ready, it's time to prepare the sugar and rum. When using a zuckerhut, I like to place it in a small container, pour Bacardi 151 over it until no more absorbs, and then let it soak for several minutes, because I find that more of the rum soaks in and the sugar will burn longer without additional maintenance (which I'll discuss shortly). If you're using sugarcubes you can still use this approach, just don't let them soak long enough that the sugar dissolves.

Now, remove all the spices and peels from the wine, and heat the wine in a metal pot it until it's steaming. Position the feuerzangen above the pot of wine, place the rum-soaked sugar in the feuerzangen, stand back, and light it. The sugar makes a beautiful blue flame as it burns (it's even prettier with the lights off), and the dripping caramelized sugar makes a satisfying sizzling sound as it hits the wine.

As the sugar burns down, two things can eventually happen: the flame can go out, or the sugar can start to burn and blacken. To prevent this, you will need to periodically douse the sugar with more rum. This is where the real pyrotechnics get going, because when you add more rum, the flame will shoot up about a foot and a half or more. Obviously, it's important to have a steady hand and nerves of steel. It's also EXTREMELY important not to pour the rum directly from the bottle. Have you ever heard of a Molotov Cocktail? Well, I'm almost 100% sure you don't want one to go off in your house, and putting an open flame near the mouth of a bottle of high proof liquor is, in essence, the same thing.

Instead, pour a small amount, maybe 2-3 tablespoons, of liquor into a metal ladle or large spoon, and carefully but quickly and smoothly pour it over the sugar. You'll need to brace yourself for the flame, but don't chicken out! -- just pour it right over the sugar, pull the spoon back slowly, and if necessary, blow out the now flaming spoon. Easy! If it's your first time making it, and depending on how adept you are with handling fire, having someone else standing by with a fire extinguisher might not be a bad idea. It's also a good idea to make sure you don't have a lot of loose clothing on that could get in the way of the flame.

Once the sugar is all melted, the feuerzangenbowle is ready to serve. I like to use regular old coffee mugs, since the drink will be piping hot. My favorite part is the initial sensation as you raise the mug to your lips; you're hit with a strong citrus smell, and the fumes from the steaming hot, residual Bacardi sort of sting your nose as you take a sip. The sugar and spices nicely balance the dry wine, the drink being far less sweet than you might imagine, given the amount of sugar that goes into it.

With my recent test batch I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the feuerzangenbowle will keep for several days in the fridge, if for some reason you find yourself unable to consume 3 liters of alcohol in a single evening. I've never tried scaling the recipe down, as I've usually only made it for a group, though I found this photo on the left that suggests there are also single serving approaches. That doesn't sound nearly as fun though, or as delightfully dangerous.

Feuerzangenbowle Recipe:
2 cinnamon sticks
7-8 cloves
2-3 cardamom pods
3 oranges (juice and a large slice of peel)
2 lemons (juice and a large slice of peel)
3 Liters dry red wine
2-3 cups Bacardi 151
1 zuckerhut, or 250g sugarcubes

large metal pan
long-handled metal spoon or ladle

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Fall Travels: Paris

For the finale of my latest trip to Europe, I spent the weekend in Paris after working in Strasbourg. By now I've been to Paris several times and am starting to know the city pretty well, so I made a point of going to some different spots this time.

I spent the better part of a day in Monmartre, which is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city. This time I spent the day visiting several places associated with the impressionist painters, such as Renoir's house and gardens, and the Lapin Agile cabaret, both shown below.

One of Monmartre's two surviving windmills, Le Moulin de la Galette.

This time I also visited the Georges Pompidou Center, which I hadn't been to before. Though I love the building's exterior and the surrounding area, including this lighthearted fountain, I have to admit that much of the modern art housed in the museum is really lost on me. I'll go so far as to say that I thought the Bertrand Lavier exhibit was utter shit. Interesting in a way, but still... utter shit. If you can explain why a rock sitting atop a refrigerator deserves a spot in an internationally-renowned museum, you're undoubtedly way cooler than I am.

The best part was the view of old Paris through the modern structure of the Pompidou. You just can't beat the classic Parisian structures for their romance and charm.

That concludes my travel series for this round. I hope you've enjoyed tagging along for my latest adventure!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Fall Travels: London

Next up in my fall travels series is London, which was just getting decked out in its holiday finery when I arrived. I do love an outdoor ice skating rink.

One of the highlights of my London visit was the creepy Highgate Cemetery, with its policy of "managed neglect." Dead people ended up being a theme of this trip, as the Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh may have foreshadowed.

A fabulous view over the Thames at night.

I fell in love with London's modern architecture along the waterfront, which I thought formed a great contrast against the classic structures such as the Tower of London.


The impressive lions of Trafalgar Square:

Finally, taking top honors for my favorite museum in London, and also one of my favorite museums anywhere: the Old Operating Theater Museum. I visited this immediately after accidentally finding myself at an exhibit at the Museum of London that detailed the link between grave-robbing, murder, and medical dissection in the early 19th century. I couldn't have planned a better pairing!

This was my last day in the UK; for my next and last post from this trip, I have a few shots from my weekend in Paris. I hope you're having a very merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fall Travels: York and Liverpool

Today's travel post features a few scenes from York and Liverpool. First up is York, where Clifford's Tower was wrapped up like a Christmas present.

The Shambles is the old butchers' marketplace. Despite its rather gruesome history (the raised sidewalks were to create a channel for the blood to run down, and one of the houses on the left was the home of the horrifically martyred Margaret Clitherow), it's a charming street today.

One can't visit York without seeing the awesome Minster from inside, outside, and above.

The next stop on my trip was Liverpool. Its shipbuilding tradition was of particular appeal to me, as I love all things maritime. As soon as I arrived in town I made a beeline for Albert Dock and the Merseyside Maritime Museum, which did not disappoint.

The Maritime Museum building also houses the International Museum of Slavery, a sobering but educational experience. NotSupermum and I joked that its slogan should be, "Slightly More Enjoyable Than Auschwitz."

Last but not least was the visit that NotSupermum, her beautiful greyhound Tessie, and I made to Crosby Beach, with its haunting art installation Another Place by Antony Gormley. Though the wind was cold and relentless that day, this was one of the highlights of the trip.

Next stop, London!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fall Travels: Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands

Hello again! I hope you're all having a wonderful holiday break, whatever holiday you're celebrating, or not. I'm enjoying a few days of San Francisco being largely emptied of people and a chance to relax and not do much of anything. Since this has given me a chance to get caught up with a few things, including going through my travel photos, I thought that for the next few posts I would (finally!) share some of my favorites from my recent trip to the UK and France.

Today's installment is from Edinburgh and the Scottish highlands, starting with the gorgeous view of Edinburgh Castle looming above Princes Park.

I spent Halloween exploring the eerie and beautiful cemetery around Greyfriars Kirkyard.

One of the focal points of the old town in Edinburgh is the stunning St. Giles Cathedral.

The view of Scott's Tower from the old town. If you look closely you can see the statue of Sir Walter Scott sitting in the center.

The statue of David Hume, and his well-loved toe.
It is well known that this man could out-consume both Schopenhauer and Hegel.

My tour of the Scottish highlands took me to this gorgeous overlook of Loch Tummel called The Queen's View. As you can see, the fall colors were still in all their glory, something that's particularly delightful to a Californian. I do love the fact that San Francisco is green all year, but we also don't get this sort of seasonal display either.

No Scottish tour would be complete without a little tasting of Scotch whisky, which I did at Dewar's World of Whisky.
Up next: York, England!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


After I put this outfit together I added the necklace out of pure laziness, because its being black prevented me from having to swap out my black handbag for a brown one. It seems that no matter how much I organize the contents of my bag, and no matter how many nifty pouches I group items into for easy transfer, I still really hate unpacking one bag and loading everything into another. Especially before I've had my second cup of coffee.

Sweater, t-shirt: Topshop
Pants: Joe's Jeans
Boots: Born
Necklace: a gift from Sal

Sunday, December 16, 2012


This outfit features a couple of new items that I picked up while traveling. The photo is a few weeks old; in fact I think I was still jetlagged when it was taken. At least that's my excuse for looking so tired and bored.

I've been getting quite a bit of use out of this sparkly vest; it's perfect for informal holiday gatherings or for giving a festive touch to a regular outfit. The vest is made of cashmere and each sequin is sewn on individually, so it's both comfortable and durable. The shirt and the crystal ring were also purchases made during my recent trip.

Shirt, vest: Zadig & Voltaire
Pants: Rag and Bone
Shoes: See by Chloe
Bag: Kate Spade
Rings: Metal Pointu

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Travel Wardrobe

Well, I was hoping to have a recap of my recent European adventures for you today, but at the moment I'm just not up to the task of going through hundreds of photos and posting the best ones. Instead here's a good example of what most of my travel wardrobe looked like: casual and layered. Although I was able to mix and match the pants, tops and boots, there was fairly little variation in how most of my outfits appeared. Outside there was even less variation day to day, since the entire top half was generally covered with my parka.

 This was taken at Crosby Beach, which I visited with Not Supermum.

On the whole, the wardrobe I brought served me well. The layers allowed me to make adjustments from day to day depending on how cold it was: in Scotland and northern England I was wearing 2 layers of shirts, a cardigan, my parka, plus a scarf and gloves, whereas in London and Paris I was able to pare it down and ditch the cardigan, scarf and gloves most days. I did over-pack a bit this time, because I really could've done without the 2 dresses and the accompanying tights and jacket that I took to wear with them, and I probably could've gotten by with one less pair of pants. Sure, in total that's only 5 items, but some were fairly bulky pieces that I should've known better than to pack. Even one extra pound, when you have to lift it in and out of overhead luggage racks on planes and trains, makes a big difference.

Friday, November 23, 2012


I hope all my friends in the US are having a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and are enjoying some time off. I certainly planned my vacation well, with just a couple of days to be back at work before having a nice break again. After 3 weeks away it's good to ease back into work.

I'm excited to share this dress at last because it was such an incredible score. I found it at the designer outlet Opitz back in September when I spent the weekend with Sal, and it was in perfect condition except for the zipper being broken. A trip to the tailor later, and I had a new designer dress for a fraction of the cost. And isn't it a beauty? I adore the mix of menswear fabrics, the geometric panels, and the tailored fit. 

In other news, I've been promoted! I'm now an Associate Director, which is really exciting. I've been working very hard on a high importance project for several months now, so it's gratifying to see the reward from it. Can you believe it's been more than a year since I started my new job? I can hardly call it new anymore, but thankfully I'm still loving it as much as I did when I first started there.

Dress: Rebecca Taylor
Boots: See by Chloe
Necklace: vintage
Bracelet: a gift from Mom
Tights: Hue
Handbag: Kate Spade