Welcome to Lent, 2016, arriving much earlier than usual and after a condensed, hectic Carnival season. Maybe this year the intent of Lent, self-sacrifice and reflection, is actually a very good idea. We truly have not stopped since mid-November and we are looking forward to a grand festival season upcoming during the next three months.
This break-in-the-action may be as good a time as any to bone up on one of the great mysteries of life. No, I am not talking about Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance or what’s the answer to finding success for the Pelicans. What befuddles many of us is the “trick” to pairing foods with alcoholic beverages, like wine or cocktails. How does one know that chardonnay does not go well with kale? Or does it?
Before anyone professes to having the key to such mysteries, let me assure you the knowledge is not innate, nor is it indelibly written in the fine print on the packaging. A lot of the body of knowledge on this subject is common sense and experience. You really don’t think that jambalaya works with a dirty vodka martini, do you? Knowledge of this sort is trial and error, gained by making a lot of stupid pairings that did not work.
And a lot of pairing knowledge is personal preference. What you like is exactly that: what you like. And that’s good enough.
The real insights to pairing foods with adult beverages are fuzzy and soft. Everything can change with the addition of just one more ingredient into the dish. A dash more of oregano, or salt, or ginger can move the whole project into another response. The more ingredients, the stronger the ingredients and the more complicated the beverage can each demand rethinking of where you want to go.
And those are the reasons there are no hard and fast rules. Pairing foods with alcoholic beverages is sort of like one of those 3-Dimension chess games. The entire matrix is up and down and back and forth. Likely you are not going to come up with one of the answers –and there can be many more answers than just one – until you have all the pieces assembled. And at that point, you may not have a lot of leeway to change.
Best option: do what you think will work out best, and then hope for the desired result.
There is one area of pairing with alcoholic beverages where there is no leeway. The rules are set and very strict: taking medicine. This is not an area that can be trifled with, nor is ignorance a good excuse.
- Allergy or cold and flu medicines – many of these over the counter medications have more than one ingredient that can interact with alcohol. Medications include Benadryl, Claritin, Claritin-D, Dimetapp, Zyrtec, Sudafed Sinus and Allergy, Tylenol Cold & Flu, and Tylenol Allergy Sinus. With the addition of alcohol to the regime can cause drowsiness and dizziness, may even lead to liver damage.
- Cough syrup – such as Robitussin Cough or Robitussin A/C. Many of these medications already contain alcohol so any effects, such drowsiness, are increased with additional alcohol.
- Non-prescription over the counter drugs – such as Tylenol, Advil, Aleve, Motrin, Excedrin can cause stomach ulcers, liver damage, rapid heart rate. These are particularly a danger when the user overuses stated limits of intake. Recent studies have shown that negative effects on the heart and the stomach lining are even more pronounced when used with alcohol than previously realized.
- Antibiotics – like Z-Packs, Flagyl, Nizoral can result in sudden changes in blood pressure, stomach pain, headache or worse. Alcohol accompaniment is not recommended.
- Arthritis medications – Celebrex, Naprosyn, Voltaren can interact with alcohol and cause ulcers and internal bleeding. These products already cause a higher risk of heart incidents and alcohol can increase those risks.
- Blood Clot medications – such as Coumadin. While not all medications prescribed for this purpose create issues when used with alcohol, some do. Caution is the keyword here and asking questions of pharmacists, doctors and other trusted sources is always a good idea.
- Pain medications, sleeping pills, and sedatives – Demerol, Percacet, Vicodin, Valium, Ativan, Lunesta, Ambien and the like can cause dizziness and slowed breathing. In addition some medications that are timed release may “dump” their dose of medicine all at once when alcohol is introduced, causing undesired side effects in greater measure.
The real key to alcohol and any other matter of food or medication is to use your head. Getting high is an immature action, not at all what enjoying an adult beverage is all about. If it happens accidentally, then all the more is the pity.
Putting alcohol with fine cuisine is, as noted earlier, personal preference, mostly gained through trial and error and knowledge of texture, flavors, aromas, protein, fat, sugar, freshness, temperature, and a host of other factors that make a dish sing or cause the whole mess to best be forgotten.
Just keep in mind that you have only one point of entry into your system. Everything must pass that way and everything has an impact. It’s really great fun to find something truly special. Now, go forward and experiment.
(Special thanks to AARP for the compilation on medications and alcohol)
Read Happy Hour here on www.myneworleans.com every Wednesday. Read the monthly cocktail photo-feature, Last Call, New Orleans Magazine. Listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at www.wgso.com