December 18, 2013

Gentle reader,

Today, I bring you a tale of a Christmas miracle. It involves gin.

Bill, my step-(may-as-well-be-my-)Dad, lives in a small (tiny) town in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. He is a spry 82, still teaches one class each semester at Trinity College, has a lady friend who lives down the road and around the corner, regularly goes to the gym, prefers movies without gore, blood and sad stories, and generally, wants for very little. Exchanging gifts is not necessary, but can be nice. If I can, I like to get a sour cherry pie to him for his July 10 birthday. (My friend Christine actually baked him a pie once, delivering it to his front porch and startling him. Whoops.)

Bill always gets cookies at Christmas, of course.

A few weeks back, Bill called to talk about an article in the New York Times. In his youth, Bill was a gin drinker, usually with tonic, but sometimes with just a whisper of vermouth. While wine is more to his taste these days, he admitted a fascination with the idea of a barrel aged gin. He asked if I knew where he could get something like this gin.

I took this as a challenge. Little did I know what a challenge it would be. Starting with the fact that liquor cannot be shipped into Massachusetts. I asked the world of Twitter to help me find a liquor store in Massachusetts and either Maggie Battista (@mizmaggieb, who curates the gorgeous Eat Boutique) or amazing photographer Brian Samuels (@myfoodthoughts) suggested Social Wines in South Boston.

Social Wines is a newish store, and the Very Helpful Elaine answered my telephone call. Yes, they had barrel aged gins, in fact, there is a distillery next door (!) making some. Good. Yes. We worked the details, Bill’s address, what the card should say. We two were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. I thanked her and sent out a tweet with my compliments.

Four days later, a sheepish Elaine called. There were some details. Some problems. Some legalities. Massachusetts is a complicated place for liquor dealings. But Elaine had worked it out. One of the distributors working with Social Wines lived near enough to Bill and said he would DROP IT OFF!


Is this a Christmas miracle or what? These were the nicest people doing their best to make sure Bill got some barrel aged gin.

When Bill got wind of the plan, he said he would drive in to Great Barrington after all, and pick it up at Domaney‘s, his favorite liquor store, which just seemed easier. But I know that Elaine and the distributor were ready to drive those small back roads and for that I am enormously grateful.

All’s well that ends with a barrel aged martini.

If you happen to find yourself in Boston please do give Social Wines your business. And say hi to Elaine. And of you are in the Berkshires, head on over to Domaney’s. They have superb wines and Berkshire Mountain Distillers Ethereal Barrel Aged Gin.


IMG_1736It’s been a big year in Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s kitchen. Over 1000 jars filled with food, hundreds of pounds of meat, gallons and gallons of milk and cream, more sugar, vinegar, salt and woodsmoke than seems possible. Several reams of paper. Dozens of red pencils. Plenty of sleepless nights and, yes, a few tears.

We are spending the holidays at home in DC. The tree is up, the lights twinkle on the front walkway and over the windows that look out on the garden. It smells like evergreen and butter and sugar and gingerbread spices. Dozens and dozens of cookies have been mailed, handed out and consumed. Our last cookie party is this weekend. My hips are grateful.

As usual, Dennis and I have planned a quiet time between Christmas and New Year’s. We tend to tuck in, watch TV, sit around the tree and go for dog walks. This year, we’ll end the holiday week with an open house party. I’ve got a multi-culti menu planned and look forward to catching up with friends.

The big news is the kitchen renovation. We have been in this house for 15 years, and while it may seem to casual visitors that the kitchen is a dream, the fact is, it doesn’t function very well. The pantry is ridiculous. (Ironic, right?) We never really use the dining room which is small, cramped and cold. We love the breakfast room but it’s too long and not deep enough to be truly comfortable. And, the worst part, the cupboards, which, at first glance, seem numerous, are not at all functional. Most of my cookware lives in the basement and making a meal often involves five or six trips up and down the stairs for ingredients, tools, cookware and pantry items. We have hired a local architect and today I saw the first designs and I am very excited. I will be reporting regularly on the design process, selecting all the itsy bitsy things, and the joy/pain of contractors in the house.

There are big plans afoot for this blog. I have a super team of WordPress designers working on a new and improved site. I hope to be up and running by the middle of January, back with all sorts of new features and a bunch of new recipes.

I’ve been tinkering with the book for the last few weeks, all while the manuscript was in the capable hands of star copyeditor Judith Sutton. Today, that manuscript returned to me with “heavy” edits (ahem). I have 20 days. So I am saying farewell for a few days.

Sending oodles of love and thanks for being here, for reading, cooking along. Wishing you a very merry Christmas and the happiest New Year. 2014 is going to be so exciting.


16 Responses to “a miracle involving gin”

  1. Wendy Read

    Congratulations on all you have accomplished this year! Wishing you wonderful holidays and I just know you are going to blow right through those edits 🙂

  2. Sharon Miro

    Nice post..looking forward to seeing your kitchen pictures…BTW All my cookware and platters etc are in a basement too! Crazy…I have been thinking about renovating my kitchen for a few years…might door a few things this winter, too.

  3. Gail

    Happy Holidays! Sweet story abt the gin. Having spent time in the Berkshires I’m not surprised. Congrats on your new kitchen!!! Can’t wait for the reveal.

  4. Mary-Denise Smith

    Oh, have the very merriest and happiest of holidays, be warm and well fed (!) in preparation for the installation hassles for your fabulous new kitchen. Can’t wait to see it AND the book!

  5. Lynda

    Such a lovely story Cathy. As a Boston native and East coaster at heart, I feel a real tug at the heart strings each holiday season. And a big year for you, indeed – best wishes as you launch into the new one. Exciting!


    My husband is a martini drinker. Where can I find that barrel-aged gin in the DC area? Will be anxiously watching your kitchen renovations – what on earth will you do while it is being remodeled???

    • Cathy

      Hi Jill, Paul’s Liquor Store on Wisconsin Ave. NW near Harrison St. has several barrel aged gins. And a very helpful staff.

  7. Lynnette Pease

    Merry Christmas Mrs. Wheelbarrow! I’ve so enjoyed your posts and recipes this year, both here and at Food52. Today, at my office, we are having your Habanero Gold with goat cheese and crackers….yum! Looking forward to seeing your book when it is published.

  8. Tammy Kimbler

    I love reading your posts. The tradition of giving and sending food and booze is big in my family, two, although all we really do is trade. I get to taste my brother, mom and dad’s pickles, they get to taste mine. Experiments are thrown in (or out, if they are terrible) for fun. Have a lovely Christmas!

  9. Carol Sacks

    I loved the gin story and it only could be told in your warm “gentle reader” voice. Congratulations on a magnificent year! No one deserves happiness and rest more. And, I look forward to hearing about the kitchen, every step of the way. xo

  10. Mary

    I remember visiting MA and being confused about the system there and then later, selling wine in that state. Good luck with the renovation, but remember that there is never enough room for all the stuff!

  11. Deborah

    I used to live in the Berkshires and your lovely story made me miss the long walks or bike rides on the winding roads as well as memories of cross country skiing in the woods. Thank you for sharing your story. Best wishes for the holidays and enjoy your kitchen renovation (we did ours a few years ago.) Think of it as a magical project and you will enjoy it every step of the way (rather than be frustrated!) Blessings.

  12. Wendy

    Happy holidays Cathy, and happy new year! I will have to seek out that gin the next time I’m up in the Berkshires.

  13. Marilyn

    Cathy, I first knew you from scarf collecting forums and remember well your transition from landscape design to a culinary endeavor. To say you’ve done well with your transition is an understatement so I’ll just offer my heartfelt congratulations. I’m looking forward to your new book and also living through your kitchen remodel (I’ve done a couple myself and know what fun it is despite the inconvenience and turmoil.) Happy holidays to you and your dear husband and sweet Louie!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.