Random Appetites: Vampire Punch… with Clots!

Ghoulishly delicious!

At last year’s Pumpkin Party I went with a decidedly more spooky, classic Halloween theme that I usually opt for (the norm being general Fallishness). Along with some spookier food choices, I served this very yummy, if slightly gross, punch. It’s alcohol free, as well, so all y’all non-alky readers can enjoy without impediment:

Vampire Punch with Floating Clots
originally from Today’s Parent

1 Quart Red Grape Juice
2 Cups Orange Juice
2 Cups Pineapple Juice
1 Bottle Gingerale
1 Box frozen Strawberries, semi-defrosted

Chill all ingredients ahead of time to prevent diluting the punch with melting ice later on. Mix together the fruit juices and then, just before serving, add in the Gingerale and the strawberries. This works best in a big punch bowl, of course, so that guests get the real impact of the floating strawberry “clots.”

That’s the punch, nice and simple.

But down here in the South we have this glorious tradition of party punches served up with sherbet in the center–not only does it help to keep the punch cold but it adds sweetness and creaminess. In fact, if you sub the red grape juice for white and ditch the OJ, you’ve got the base of the punch served at almost every wedding I went to as a child. And since sherbet comes in so very many colors, it can match just about any wedding theme!

Back to the party: since I had a close-cousin to party punch anyway and I just couldn’t ignore my raising and had to add sherbet. Now, I could have just hacked up a pint into the punch bowl but that’s not very elegant, now is it? Instead, I found one of those plastic brain molds (though a heart would work wonderfully for this punch as well, either in sherbet or red jello) and filled it with raspberry sherbet a couple of days before the party. To make it easy to remove I lined the mold with plastic wrap which ended up adding some additional texture to the sherbet when unmolded and set adrift in the punchbowl.

Talk about a brain freeze!

Finally, for those wanting a bit more kick to their punch, you could add a few healthy shots of Chambord or Cointreau to the punch bowl and substitute champagne (not Brut! too biting, even for this recipe!) for all or part of the Gingerale for an adult Vampire tipple. Don’t substitute wine for grape-juice, though, unless it’s a very sweet red from Concord grapes or the tannins will likely overpower the rest of the ingredients.

Happy Halloween, folks. Have a safe and fun one!

Random Appetites: Pittypat’s Porch

So, last week I raved about Trader Vic’s and their famous Mai Tai cocktail.

This is not that kind of post.

PItty Pat’s Porch, in Atlanta, Georgia, is more gimmick than gourmet, and not necessarily in a good way. For those who don’t get the reference, Pittypat was the Aunt of Charles Hamilton, Scarlett’s first husband from “Gone With the Wind”, and in whose home she stayed during the War before running home to Tara as Atlanta burned. Anyway, the place is memorabilia central and I have to give them credit for the overwhelming theming: the tables are set with pewter goblets and chargers, the chairs have cane seats, there’s china everywhere and the menus are actually wooden-handled church fans. Not bad.

Unfortunately, the food was mostly underwhelming. We started with drinks. I ordered Pittypat’s Pitch which was eh on taste and whose garnish was a sloppy orange slice and maraschino cherry, the pith of the former souring the drink a bit. Todd had Melanie’s Lemonade which was actually pretty good. The drinks are pricey but you get to take the glass home, so keep that in mind. The Pitch came in a small mason-jar with handle but the Julep glass from the Lemonade is very curvy.

The Sideboard is their version of the Salad bar featuring a mix of greens with various dressing and then half a dozen or more prepared salads. There was a very tasty macaroni salad with sausage (and maybe barbecue sauce? hard to tell) along with an awesome cucumber/green pea salad and some watermelon rind pickles. Honestly, the sideboard was the best thing about the dinner and you can order it only. If I went here again, that’s what I’d do.

For appetizers we had the Hot Crab Dip (Todd) which was pretty good and the Pecan Crusted Catfish Fingers (Jenn) which was recommended as one of the best things on the menu. See, he set it up too much because not only were the fingers kinda scrawny, they were over-fried. The plus side was that you could really taste that it was honest-to-goodness catfish but the crust was too dark (sign of frying too long) and almost a singed taste. They were also dry so thank heavens for the remoulade… but a sauce should compliment–not save–a dish.

Dinner was the Fried Chicken for Todd which he reported to be a bit dry but at least the mashed potatoes were tasty. My Beef Tenderloin on a Spit was smothered in some goopy mushroom sauce and topped with julienned red and green bell peppers that tasted like they hadn’t completely thawed in the skillet. The rice was strictly “Uncle Ben”-style. And then there were the sides served family style: greens and black-eyed peas. Now, normally I’d be all over that except they were both a little bland for my liking, and not just in the needing a smidgen more salt way. It was just off. The cornbread was on the dry, unsweetened side (not my preference, but I know that some people prefer it that way), a very hard biscuit and a chocolate chip mini-muffin. Yeah, I know… not really sure about that one either. We skipped dessert.

For the quality of the food, I think the overall experience was over-priced and over-hyped, but if you like GWtW stuff and prepared salads, go and have a look, have a bite, and then head up the street to the Mexican restaurant that smelled oh so good on our walk back to the hotel ;-)

Now, since I wasn’t truly fond of my own drink, how about we close with a class Southern cocktail:

The Mint Julep

7 sprigs of mint
1/2 oz. simple syrup
3 oz. bourbon

Crush 6 mint sprigs into the bottom of a chilled double Old Fashioned glass. Pour in the simple syrup and bourbon. Fill with crushed ice. Garnish with the remaining mint sprig and serve with two short straws. Sometimes a splash of club soda is added.

–from Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers

Wrapping It Up: 24 Hour Comics Day

It’s a few minutes early but I’m pronouncing my effort done for today. At some point not tonight I’ll do an overall wrap-up impression, but for now I’ll say that I scripted, laid out and lettered 24 pages. I pencilled 6.5. I’m okay with that. If (and that’s a big if) I ever try this again, I’ll do something less time-consuming, but at least I’m this much farther ahead on the rest of the year’s strips. Good night!

Halfway Point: 24 hour Comics

Well, I certainly thought I would have had another progress report by now, namely one that said “letters complete, moving on to pencils” but that’s still a couple hours away. I just finished lettering page 15 of 24 so at least I’m on the downhill slide of that task, but I can’t believe it’s taking me this long. Still, there’s almost 12 hours left and I’ll be happy to finish the day with a complete set of pencils. If I get any inking done at all, I’ll consider it gravy, icing, hell the whole cake! lol

Once Spectrum woke up it was easier to stay awake, felt more like daylight, but at 10 I needed a serious break and took a shower, changed clothes, etc. Feel somewhat normal, think it’s mostly adrenaline I’m running on. That and baklava. In fact, when Todd returns I’ll be having gyro or something else deliciously Greek for lunch courtesy of the Greek Food Festival that I’m missing right now. Oh well, my commitment to comics comes first?

In Progress: 24 Hour Comics Day

So it’s 5:40am and I just finished scripting. If you notice my proposed timeline below, I’m about an hour behind where I thought I’d be. Oh well, at least I haven’t given in to sleep or given up.  It was tougher than I thought, this forced production, very different from how NaNoWriMo and Script Frenzy have gone in the past. But that part, probably the 2nd hardest part (the first being the pencilling yet to come) is now complete and I can get on to the visual bits. I’m looking forward to something other than typing for a bit.

Event Reminder: 24 Hour Comics Day

So this Saturday, October 18th, is the official 24 Hour Comics Day and I’m one of many webcomickers out there participating. The goal is 24 pages in 24 hours with absolutely no work done ahead of time. That’s the tough part, of course, because I’m just dying to at least get an outline or page-map going, if not the bones of a script. But I’m also a Rules Girl and so will be good and not think too much about the actual content for another couple of days.

Now, remember, I’d decided that this could be a great way to get 2 months of updates for Random Acts… done in one(ish) fell swoop, so it’s a story of my own. I’ve got a couple of working titles in mind (Wedding Bell Hell or, slightly more topical, Rings on Her Finger(s)) but I’m hoping something even better clicks in the process. It’s going to span a bit more than a decade of my person history and I’m not opposed to there being some very narrative bits, but I am going to try to keep things balanced. We’ll see how it turns out, right?

And speaking of seeing, you can actually do just that! If you’re interested in keeping up with my progress over those 24 hours, there are a number of ways to do that:

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/scrapsoflife
I’ll probably be micro-blogging frequently (at least hourly) so if you twitter you can follow me either on my page there, the twitter box on the Random Acts… homepage or get my updates sent to your phone. Whatever works :)

The Blog here at Random Acts…
If you already subscribe to the RSS feed for the comic then you’ll automatically get the periodic updates I post in the blog in your aggregator of choice. If not, simply check in when you think about it, if you think about it.

Fly on the Wall http://www.ustream.tv/channel/random-acts
And if you REALLY want to watch my progress in a very literal sense, I will be broadcasting live from the drawing board over at ustream. I think I’ve pretty much figured it out and made sure the camera and mic all check out and work as intended (the lag amuses me, it’s like the delay in Scream, only not as long or deadly… poor Kenny), so come check it out.

I’ll be starting at Midnight, Eastern on October 18th and running (hopefully) all 24 hours with very few breaks. In order to facilitate this, I’ll be going to bed as soon as I get home from work on Friday, waking up at 11pm to get rid of the groggies and get something to eat and then starting on my outline as soon as midnight hits. My plan of attack is

  • Outline, hit the highlights of the story (30 min)
  • Quick page-flow, not really thumbnails, just dividing the 24 pages into the Outline, there may be a dummy involved (1 hour)
  • Scripting, in Celtx, as complete as possible; if nothing else I need to work out the narrative before starting the visual assembly line (3 hours?)
  • Layout and letter all 24 pages in pencil (2 hours)
  • Pencil in all the foreground people and props, roughing in backgrounds for placement (8 hours)
  • Ink letters, panel borders and foreground elements (4 hours)
  • Detail main figures, add backgrounds (5.5 hours)

Granted, I have no idea how realistic those time estimates are (obviously I can’t work at my usual 4-6 hours per strip rate) but I’m hoping that if I do it like this I can get the important bits down in the alloted time. Honestly, it’s the scripting and penciling that I may have underestimated and that’s why the detail inking that I do (the extra interior lines that provide a bit of shading and depth and sets the scene with backgrounds) is the last step and the one that, for the purpose of the challenge, can get shortened if necessary. Of course, before it goes live with page 1 on November 5th, I’ll have done the detailed inking to make it “right” the way I want it but I think I’ll make a reference copy at work to show how much really got done in the 24 hours.

Heaven help me if I get sleepy, though. Especially since, as many of you may know, I can’t have caffeine!

Random Appetites: Trader Vic’s Mai Tai

And back to the booze! Well, sort of…

While at Dragon*Con 2008 Todd and I had dinner at Trader Vic’s. Let me tell you: it was phenomenal! What we had:

Shared Appetizer: Cosmo Tidbits (BBQ Spareribs, Cha Sui pork, Crab rangoon and crispy prawns)
Shared Starter: Bongo Bongo Soup
Todd’s Entree: 20oz Ribeye
Jenn’s Entree: Pancetta Scallop Skewers
Todd’s Dessert: Banana Fritters
Jenn’s Dessert: Trio of Creme Brulee (mai tai, coffee, and coconut)

Holy Cats! but that was a good supper! There really wasn’t anything that we didn’t like and we both took some of our dinner back up to the room because it was just a lot of food. There was only one little thing that struck me as odd: The Cosmo Tidbits appetizer is meant for 2 and while it is 12 pieces, there’s 3 of each thing. Now, we’re really good at sharing, lol, but it seems like it would make a lot more sense (and this goes for a lot of shared dishes where there’s a definite quantity) to have even numbers of each item to make it that much simpler to split. But it’s a minor complaint and certainly didn’t impact the experience. And I totally need to find or create a recipe for the Bongo Bongo soup.

And, of course, there was drinking. Again, if you’ve never been there: the drink menu alone is massive! So many options that by the time I read through it I had totally forgotten what I’d read at the beginning! Todd ordered one of the various punches (I’m having trouble remembering which one he went with) and I had to order the special of the house: a Mai Tai. I wasn’t really sure I’d like the Mai Tai, so I also ordered (we only had to take the elevator to the room, not like I was driving anywhere!) a Samoan Fog Cutter. Wouldn’t you know it: I like the Mai Tai best! Todd and I worked on the Fog Cutter together (it was a big drink, very citrusy).

Now, I have three different bar books in front of me and none of them have the exact same recipe for a Mai Tai. Trader Vic’s is where the drink started so I trust them–wouldn’t you?

The Original Mai Tai

2 oz. 17-year old J Wray Nephew Jamaican Rum
1/2 oz. French Garnier Orgeat
1/2 oz. Holland Dekueper Orange Curacao
1/4 oz. Trader Vic’s Rock Candy Syrup
Juice of 1 large lime

Hand shake and garnish with half of the lime shell inside the drink and float a sprig of fresh mint at the edge of the glass.

Pretty specific ingredients there but I think there’s some wiggle room. The key seems to be that the rum be a golden Jamaican variety and the Orgeat syrup. Since the syrup might be hard to find, I did find a great recipe for making it at home (that I haven’t tried yet, but plan to). In fact, the entire “Art of Drink” site is phenomenal for anyone interested in cocktails and mixology.

Remember how I said the entire dinner at Trader Vic’s was phenomenal? Well, as dinner was nearing an end I asked our waiter (I wish I could remember his name! Kai? something like that…) about purchasing the glass that my Mai Tai came in: it was the 60th Anniversary glass with a quote and the original recipe on it. Well, turns out they no longer stock those for purchase but he transferred what was left of my drink to a regular glass, washed mine out and wrapped it up for me! Also, since there was so much of the Fog Cutter left, he asked if we were staying at the hotel and then put the majority of the drink in a plastic logo-cup so I could finish it later.

Alas, the porter managed to break my Mai Tai glass as we were leaving the hotel. Of the 5 glasses in the bag, that was not only the best wrapped on but the only one to break. Just my luck. The hotel made good on it, though, and in a couple of weeks I had my replacement so all was once again as it should be. Anyone want to take bets on how long it’s going to take me to frame and hang the cocktail art I bought at Dragon*Con?

Random Appetites: BYOP Basics

In September, 1999, I had just ended my brief career as a pastry chef to return to the more lucrative bookkeeping job I’d left and had recently been dumped by my boyfriend of more than a year. It was the first time in two years I found myself with loads of free time.

Not only did I start watching a lot of television around this time, I also got back into crafting. And while flipping through “Crafts” magazine, full of all sorts of Halloween projects, I saw a small inset about throwing a BYOP (Bring Your Own Pumpkin) party. That Fall was my first of a string of very successful Pumpkin Parties whose invitations are, actually, quite coveted.

This year is, unfortunately, a non-BYOP year for me as I have a couple of schedule conflicts but, hopefully, next year will see BYOP-6 (I mean, I already have a theme in mind!). But if you want to throw your own, here’s the basics:

  • Have it up to a week before Halloween itself. This prevents schedule conflicts with the actual holiday and gives people more time to show off their creation. Depending on your October weather, a week may be pushing it.
  • Start in the early afternoon and leave a few hours for people to to work on their pumpkins. Asking your guests to clean out the gourds ahead of time will lessen the clean-up for you, but have a bag or two available for guts and discards.
  • Have lots of patterns and tools available. I like to provide everything BUT the pumpkins for my guests, including carving tools, patterns, paints and brushes and sundry other items (toothpicks, candles, etc.)
  • Serve refreshments. My first couple of BYOPs were pot-luck because I was on a serious budget and this party started big! (both friends and family came as well as a church “youth” group) The last several I’ve supplied everything from appetizers to desserts and plenty in between as my budget allows.

Other things I like to do are to award prizes for Most Original, Scariest, Funniest and Best in Show and have goodie bags for when people leave, after supper and general hanging out. Anyone who doesn’t carve a pumpkin gets to acct as the judging committee or we do silent ballots–so far there’s always been a couple who haven’t carved but come for the rest of the fun.

And I’ve had all sorts of pumpkins show up! Huge ones big enough to fit a small child inside (I have picture proof…somewhere) and little baby pattypie pumpkins that were painted instead of carved. We’ve also had a spaghetti squash that was painted (so it could be washed and roasted later and therefore not wasted) and last year featured a very scary looking parsnip!!! Just roll with it!