There are so many things I love about fall. It’s beautifully ironic to me that in a season typically full of death, decay, and hibernation, fall has always been so alive to me, so sensory with the bright infused leaf colors, the return of the rich green to our grass, wool slippers wrapped warm around my toes. My fingers spill over the yarns at the knitting store; I snuggle on the couch with my kiddos and escape into books.
And the scents, oh the scents.
Burning wood stoves perfuming the air, the crisp morning dew, chicken broth simmering on the range, yeasty beers at a football stadium, all the organic apples at the market that you can smell from a mile away, like ambrosia. Wild orange hot tea with honey, hot toddies, thyme and garlic sautéed chanterelles. Even the breath of air heavy with the smell of dried up leaves on the sidewalk adds to that full picture of autumn for me. I get inspired to bake again, to cook rich meals like cannelloni, chicken coq au vin, chilis and fondue. It’s the smells of fall that really get me, they feed me, nourish me, awaken me, comfort me, surround me with memory.
A few years ago in early November, Greg’s mom came out to visit and Greg and I took off for a long weekend, just the two of us, to visit the wine country in McMinnville, Oregon.
We spent one afternoon tasting delicious, earthy wines at a few of the wineries, but more breathtaking than the wines, was the scenery. I’d never actually been to any wine country during the fall. Instead of all green rows of grape vines stretching out over the lazy rolling hills, deep red, yellow and bright orange leaves, shimmered and dotted throughout the green, many rows disappearing into a Brigadoon-like foggy mist. Very mysterious and magical.
We rented a small house about two blocks from downtown McMinnville, which was lovely, because aside from the day at a few wineries, we didn’t drive anywhere. Downtown McMinnville is small and alluring in a somewhat odd spot, right next to a busy weird highway 99; you could drive through this little gem and almost miss it. I’m glad we didn’t. We had amazing food the entire time from the spicy shrimp at the Spanish tapas restaurant, La Rambla, to the rich dark coffee and perfectly scrambled eggs at Community Plate for breakfast on our last morning.
But our favorite meal was at Thistle one evening. Completely unassuming from the outside, but as we stepped into the snug bar we were enveloped in a flickering special warmth. The rough wood floors, the polished bar, a low lit chandelier and little jam jar candles, scattered throughout to give a subtle intimate warmth.
The entire night felt special. Greg and I walked – holding hands through the few blocks, a tiny mist of rain around us, bright red maple leaves stuck on the sidewalks and in the gutters – to Thistle. We had a dinner reservation but we started out at the bar, sitting next to each other, and we each ordered a cocktail.
I’m not sure why I even ordered a cocktail, I never ordered cocktails out, not to mention we were in a delicious wine country with some of the best Pinot Noirs I’ve ever had. Maybe it was the tiny white lights surrounding the bar, the boozy jazz playing low on the speakers, knowing that we were celebrating just being on a long, relaxing weekend with each other. I’m not sure. The bartender asked me what I liked to drink. I immediately said I didn’t like vodka, that I liked gin & tonics, and before I could say much else, he winked and told me he’d surprise me.
He set this pale, almost opaque-hint-of-green (imagine the color of limeade) cocktail, in an old fashioned coupe glass in front of me. There was a super thin lime wheel floating on top. I brought the glass to my mouth, but what happened first, before I even tasted it, was a hint of celery drifted to my nose. It happened quickly, then I sipped and became instantly infatuated with this amazing drink. There was gin, a bit of sweetness – which I later learned was from elderflower liquor and simple syrup – lime and celery bitters. One of my first thoughts was, how can I be in love with this cocktail, I don’t really even like celery. But together the combination was so exquisite. With each drink, I wanted to close my eyes and hold on to the aroma and taste combination, and just savor.
I remember our meal, of small shared plates and local red wines, was delicious, but I can’t remember anything we actually ate. What stays with me is the scent of celery bitters and how it truly made that cocktail one in a million.
When we returned home, I quickly became obsessed with bitters and all kinds of craft cocktails. Greg and I worked on making our own version of the special drink which I named, The Thistle. I hope you enjoy this luxurious cocktail which I find perfect for the fall and celebrating. To make it extra special, add a sparkly, sugared rim to your glass before you pour the cocktail into it, even if all you’re celebrating is a special date night with your honey.
- 1 1/2 oz gin, preferably a dry one (Smalls, Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire all work well.)
- 3/4 oz St. Germain
- 1/2 oz simple syrup
- 1 oz fresh lime juice
- 3 dashes celery bitters
- lime wheel for garnish
- Put a coupe glass, or cocktail glass of your choice in the freezer to chill for a few minutes.
- Add gin, St. Germain, simple syrup, lime juice and celery bitters to cocktail shaker.
- Add ice above level of liquid and shake.
- Remove coupe glass from freezer, run edge of a lime wheel on the rim of glass, then dip in sugar. (optional)
- Strain mixture from cocktail shaker into glass.
- Garnish with lime wheel and enjoy!