In the month of May, which now seems a million miles away, my sister and I threw a birthday party. See, she turned 24 on the 24th of May and, later, I turned 27 on the 27th of June - those are champagne birthdays!
Around December, when we realized this was a milestone year for both of us, we decided that a big celebration was in order. As we tossed around ideas, like a pie-eating contest or bouncy castle, I declared that we needed a Nebuchadnezzar of champagne. Now, at the time, I didn't quite know how much was in a Nebuchadnezzar (that'd be 15L). All I knew was that after your typical 750ml bottle they had names and they started to get a little wacky - Magnum (1.5 L), Methuselah (6L), etc. So the search began.
At first I thought we'd special order a big bottle from one of the many excellent B.C. wineries making sparkling wine. No one did anything remotely close to that size. I trolled the internet looking for large bottles but my only leads came from the U.K. (with prohibitively expensive shipping costs) or the U.S. (with crazy border taxes). Finally, I was reminded that one of my cousins works for a big booze company. I fired off an e-mail and within 24 hours he'd found us a bottle! Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) we could only get a 12L bottle, a mere Balthazar. Well, it would have to do.
The day of the party dawned clear and chilly; sun sparkled on frosted wild strawberry blossoms outside the community hall near my grandparent's old farm. We shifted into last-minute party-planning gear with lots to do - lights to string, chairs to set up, outhouses to move.
Soon enough, our guests started to arrive - aunts and uncles, grandpas, high school friends, old co-workers who drove through the night to make it! Over 70 people dined on an entire spit-roasted pig with incredibly crispy, fatty skin and a gamut of potluck fixin's. They visited, lounged around the fire and played football. We blew out birthday candles on seven different kinds of cake - each with a different set of letters that, put together, spelled out HAPPY BIRTHDAY! And then we opened the champagne. It took a good while, but we opened it!
Once everyone had a glass of bubbly in hand we toasted to birthdays and started the evening festivities. We gathered around another campfire, this one in a clearing inside the woods on my Dad's nearby land. We roasted marshmallows and smokies, drank ApriKat beer and more champagne. We watched a fireworks extravaganza. We danced under Christmas lights and starlight in the middle of that clearing, in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, and it was good.
We didn't finish the champagne that night though.
We didn't even finish it the next morning, mixed with orange juice, to wash down pancakes a la Steve (with real maple syrup) and rhubarb pie. We didn't finish it after the final clean-up when everyone in my family had a big glug as we posed for pictures.
David and I siphoned about 4L into an empty water jug and my sister took whatever was left in the bottle. We drained that a few weeks later, with the help of some grapefruit juice, at a post-funeral brunch. I shared some of mine with folks on the farm. I made a few cocktails. It was going nowhere but flat, fast.
Then I found this recipe. It called for beer in the batter but I thought champagne would be a better match for blini. Having a glass of champagne in hand while you nibble on one topped with sour cream and caviar is practically a pre-requisite for this pancake of Russian origin. We ate ours with a smorgasbord of spring delights from the woods, our garden, and the farm (the grocery store too). There were radishes, butter, sea salt, asparagus, hard-boiled eggs, dill, nettle pesto, pecorino cheese spread, fresco mixed with some lemon zest, smashed peas with almond butter and bresaola.
After I made a second batch the birthday champagne was finally laid to rest.
Adapted from The Yellow House
I made some changes to the recipe, using instant yeast instead of active dry because that's what I had on hand and it's what I prefer. I like that you don't have to proof it before you use it. All you do is whisk it in when you're combining your dry ingredients, add the wet ingredients and proceed. Super easy. I also used some buckwheat flour in a nod to the classic blini. The recipe calls for olive oil but you can use whatever kind of oil you like. I think I used canola with a bit of hemp oil (both from a terrific Alberta producer) the first time around. The second time I tried some of the camelina oil I'd just gotten as a birthday present. Oh, and finally, if you don't have 3 cups of champagne kicking around use half water, half champagne. The original recipe used half water, half beer but I was itching to get rid of as much champagne as I could!
2 tsp instant yeast
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
good pinch of salt
3 tbsp olive oil
3 cups leftover champagne, warmed
butter, for cooking
Whisk together the yeast, flours and salt in a large mixing bowl. Crack the eggs into the mixture, add the oil and start whisking. Gradually add the champagne and continue whisking until smooth. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and set aside in a warm place for an hour, though more won't hurt. Once the mixture has risen visibly and is frothy you are ready to cook.
Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat and film with a thin layer of butter. I like to use leftover butter wrappers for this purpose. Scoop heaping tablespoons or quarter-cups of batter (depending on whether you want tiny or large-ish blinis) onto the hot surface. When the edges look a bit dry, bubbles appear throughout the batter and the surface has fluffed up significantly (like making pancakes), flip. Cook on the other side until golden brown.
Keep the blini in a pile on a plate in a low oven until you've cooked them all. Serve them warm with a smorgasbord of toppings to pick and choose from. Mix and match to your heart's content!
Makes a lot of appetizers or enough for about 4 as a meal, with plenty of toppings.