Wrapping up a visit with friends last weekend, my hubby and I dunked the final bites of our biscotti in the last few sips of our coffee, feeling warm and ready to head back out into the cold afternoon. What a lovely visit, I thought, resting my mug gently on my saucer and dabbing the corners of my mouth with my napkin. We must get together again soon. Rising from our chairs, we gathered our winter wear and began to re-bundle for the ride south.
As we headed for the door, however, one word stopped us dead in our tracks.
"We completely forgot," our hostess exclaimed, "to offer you some Limoncello!"
As quickly as we'd wrapped our scarves around our necks, we whipped them back off again with a flourish and flung them atop our coats in a homely pile in the foyer. (When it comes to this subject, we don't waste any time.)
Our foursome then shuffled single-file into the kitchen, were cordial glasses were lined up like soldiers across the counter in front of a giant jar of pale yellow liquid studded with curled and dimpled rinds. Our mouths watered with anticipation; we may have even drooled. Our host, you see, is Italian, and he makes this special brew from scratch. Vodka, lemons, sugar and water are all there is too it, but somehow his result is much greater than the sum of its parts. He measured out our crystal-clear servings, and my dear friend, his wife, headed out back for fresh basil to float in each glass.
This isn't what it looks like. I swear.
The first sip was liquid gold - the sweet, pure essence of lemons. My tongue detected not the slightest hint of bitterness, nor alcoholic burn. This was the Limoncello of dreams. I marveled at those drunken lemon peels as I took tiny tastes from my cup. There must have been hundreds of them, nestled one atop the other like scales or feathers, piled several inches high behind the glass. Each time I raised my drink, staring transfixed at the jar, my nose caught a whiff of clean, licorice-laced basil on a background of velvety citrus. I could have sniffed and sipped all day.
By the time I snapped out of my stupor, the conversation had jumped about ten steps ahead, moving on to another cocktail altogether. The Wisconsin Lunchbox hails from Oshkosh where our hosts attended college, and is perhaps the polar opposite of a delicate glass of Limoncello. I can't quite remember how we arrived on the subject, but soon I was watching as a frosted mug was pulled from the depths of the freezer and filled with three ingredients that I never would have imagined could get along inside a glass. "It's really very good," I was assured several times. "It kind of tastes like a dreamsicle!" I stared dubiously at the fizzing concoction, giggling inside at how much fun can be had just standing around in a kitchen with good friends.
Finally I relented, and took a sip from the mug. Sweet and tart and a little bit dangerous, this drink gave the impression of packing more of a kick than its flavor would indicate. I could see this Lunchbox warming up a long Wisconsin winter, or a sunny December in Dallas, for that matter.
We eventually wrapped up a second time around, and I was treated to a little jar of Limoncello of my very own. Happy Holidays to me! Don't even ask - I won't share. And the recipe will have to remain a secret for now. I did, however, get the formula for the Wisconsin Lunchbox, and I'm sure you'll love it as much as we did. In fact, a couple of these babies might help me get the Limoncello recipe next time around...
The Wisconsin Lunchbox*
(With special thanks to Jill and Brian)
Place a shot glass inside of a frozen beer mug. Fill the shot glass with Amaretto Liqueur and pour orange juice into the mug to the level of the top of the glass. Fill the mug the remainder of the way with your favorite beer (a lighter style, such as pilsner or pale ale, is preferred).
*Try it in place of a Mimosa, the next time your brunch needs a kick.