Pity the Poor Lightweight

Pity the poor lightweight. You’ve seen us at parties, bars, and all sort of social gatherings. You recognize us by what we’re drinking: club soda, wedge of lime. We figure most folks will assume we’re holding a gin and tonic or vodka and soda, but deep down, we know we’re not fooling anyone. We know what everyone knows: we’re stone cold sober, and often nodding and smiling like we’re having fun, but off in the front corner of our mind we are thinking about the episode of “Summer Wipeout” we’re missing.

This is the opposite of being a wallflower, for there is no discomfort or reticence that causes our abstemiousness, simply a lack of taste buds that enjoy alcohol.

Most of us misbegotten souls find solace in bar snacks. I wish I had a five dollar bill for every time a dish of Japanese Rice Crackers have gotten me through a bar-centric occasion. MSG never tasted so good. (Five dollar bill? Not a nickel? Yeah. Inflation.)

The other day I was in the bar of a very groovy, of-the-moment, downtown restaurant where the sole bar snack was Wasabi Peanuts. There isn’t enough club soda in the universe to douse that flame. Would someone mind explaining to me the fascination the folks who sell bar food have with Japanese snacks? The core Japanese diet may on the whole be healthier than our core diet, but have you ever looked at the list of ingredients in their snack foods? Downright toxic.

Of course there are many examples of bar snacks that reflect thought, sophistication, and a restrained touch. The nuts at Union Square Café come to mind, a lightly salty, slightly sweet roast of nuts, tinted with the evergreen fragrance of rosemary. A meal unto itself, and for us lightweights an oasis of charm in an otherwise greasy sea.

Parties at home are not immune. Imagine your typical backyard barbecue. A cooler with bottles of beer. Have you noticed that beer drinkers are still provided with the charm of hoisting a cold, glass bottle containing their beverage, yet, pity the poor lightweight who must make do with the charm of a plastic cup? Why don’t soft drink companies recognize this and sell more of their product in glass bottles (at least during the summer) so that I can enjoy my backyard beverage the same way? Yes, they make cans of soda, but you are denied the aesthetic pleasure of seeing the fizz and clarity of what you are drinking.

Ah, but we were talking about bar snacks. I should clarify: I’m not asking to be served dinner; Just a little something that will keep me amused.

Cheese and crackers are nice, but interestingly enough, after a bite or two of cheese I tend to gravitate toward the crackers alone. I love cheese, but the crackers call my name. This makes me self-conscious as I feel like I am “stealing” crackers from folks who want to put them to their rightful purpose as cheese carriers. (This, as my Mother would say, should be my biggest regret.)

Last year I wrote about cake salée, the savory cake that has become so popular in France as a “little something” to serve with wine before a meal. These cakes are often flavored with a combination of cheese and cured meat, like gruyere and prosciutto. I like that practice: a few bites of something with a little substance to keep me interested until the fish hits the pan. Cake salée is also self-contained: I won’t drip it on my shirt.

But during the hot weather the menu changes a bit, and along with it, folks’ choice of wine. I was watching TV the other day and saw an entire segment about Rosé wine. Rosé is one of those wines that cycles up and down in popularity. About a dozen years ago when everyone was calling it White Zinfandel purists considered it a step above Kool-Aid. (That’s one great advantage about being a lightweight: you can’t be a wine snob.)

Now they are calling it Rosé, and it seems to have gained the slightest foothold as a legit summer beverage. Perhaps because it is best served chilled, and tends to have a lower price tag? Perhaps.

I was pondering the hypothetical question of what to serve with a chilled glass of wine on a hot summer night. Cake salée came to mind, but while I was hunting the supermarket cheese aisle for inspiration I happened to see a tub of Port Wine Cheese. I may have been in college the last time I had a swipe of Port Wine Cheese on a cracker. If you have forgotten, Port Wine Cheese was a spreadable extra sharp cheddar cheese with “Port Wine” swirled through it. I placed Port Wine in quotation marks because it was unlikely that any actual Port Wine was harmed in the production of the cheese.

But there it is: my inspiration. I could have flavored a cake salée to mimic this, but I thought people might enjoy something with a little crunch: biscotti.

I took my standard biscotti base recipe, subtracted most of the sugar, added a generous wedge of the sharpest cheddar I could find, and used dried cranberries to mimic the port wine sweetness. The result is a mellow, slightly sweet, cheese cracker that will surprise folks expecting something salty. Each slice is somewhat rich, so meager portions will hold even the most ravenous guest until dinner is served.

And yes, that includes lightweights.

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Click here for my recipe for “Port Wine” Cheese Biscotti

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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