50 Shots of America: Massachusetts

In 2005 I took my first plane ride ever up to Plymouth, Mass., to learn the new accounting system my company purchased. (Actually, we flew into Boston–late–and drove to Plymouth by way of Rhode Island… whoops!) At any rate, we didn’t get a chance to do much sight-seeing (one of these days I *will* visit Salem) but we did make it into town to see Plymouth Rock.

Or, you know, what’s left of it.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to gaze on this pebble of our Nation’s history (we’re talking about the site of the second permanent English settlement in North America, after all) let me break it down for you:

It’s a rock. In a cage.

After years of being gouged at and dragged around town the powers that be put what was left of the bit of glacial rock (1/3rd of it’s original size, by then) back where it came from, on the beach, surrounded by a promenade and covered by a portico. You walk up and look down. At a rock in a cage (there are gratings–bars–that allow sea water into the enclosure and back out again).

But, you know, it works. At least they don’t charge you to see it, otherwise it’d be like paying a dollar at the fair to see the world’s smallest horse.

Which brings me to this week’s beverage:

Rockin’ Tea Party

1 oz strong-brewed Tea
1 oz Cranberry Juice
.5 oz Gin
1 Sugar Cube

Combine the tea, juice and gin in a shaker over ice and shake vigorously. Place the sugar cube in the bottom of the shot or cordial glass and strain the mixture over it.

In this little sipper we have several facets of Massachusetts represented: Plymouth Rock, of course, by the sugar cube, tea for the 1773 Boston Tea Party–one of many early actions in MA that spurred us into the American Revolution, cranberry juice for it being the 2nd largest cranberry-producing state and gin for it’s part in the temperance movement.

Oh, yes, there’s some irony in creating a cocktail for the state that is directly responsible for Prohibition and, therefore, “bathtub” gin. But all’s well that ends well, and Prohibition definitely didn’t last.

Other things Massachusetts is responsible for? Check out the short list:

  • the Presidential families of Adams and Kennedy
  • Transcendentalists Thoreau and Emerson
  • the Telephone, 1876
  • Johnny Appleseed and a whole host of cider-apple trees
  • Volleyball, 1895
  • the first Subway system in the US, 1897
  • Birth Control Pill, 1954
  • Vulcanized Rubber, 1839
  • Sewing Machine, 1845

50 Shots of America–Pennsylvania

You’d think (or at least I would) that Pennsylvania would have been the first to ratify the Constitution, seeing as how much time our forefathers spent doing big things in Philadelphia and all during those early colony days. Instead, they signed on a full 5 days after Delaware, on December 12, 1787,* becoming the second official state of the Union.

The site of the first commercially drilled oil well in 1859, oil is not what most think of as being the prime business in the woods (Pennsylvania means Penn’s Wood after the founder, William Penn, and the Latin silva for forest). Some consider Pennsylvania to be the “snack food capital of the world” and with good reason. Not only are the Hershey chocolate factories located in the heart of the state, so are Mars, Wilbur Chocolate Company, Wise Snack Foods and Just Born (the company behind, among other things, Peeps!).

Even though I’ve actually been to Pennsylvania (well, Philadelphia, and only for one partial day–I did some comics about it) and, therefore, actually _can_ find it on the map, I did not get a chance while there to visit that mecca of many: Hershey, PA. No, no pictures with a kiss-shaped street light for me. Not yet at least. I’ve got two sets of people I can stay with should I get a chance to head that far north again and it WILL be on the agenda when that day comes. I did recently read an excellent history of Mr Hershey and his town, though, which makes getting to concoct this next drink extra fun!

(Interesting side note: did you know Hershey found early success not with chocolate but with caramels? It was the success of his caramel business, the recipe for which he learned in Denver, that gave him the opportunity and backing to experiment with making eating chocolate like they did in Europe. I was also fascinated to learn that Hershey’s distinct flavor can be attributed to the slight souring of the milk as it’s processed–apparently the European chocolatiers used milk powder instead of liquid milk in their recipes. But I digress…)

The Sweet Tooth

1/2 oz Vanilla Vodka
1/2 oz Godiva** liqueur, divided
1/4 oz Amaretto liqueur
1/4 oz White Chocolate Irish Cream
1/4 oz Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup

Combine all ingredients except 1/4 oz Godiva in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake it like you’re making a milkshake. Strain into a shot glass and float the remaining Godiva over the top by pouring over the back of a bar spoon.

Now, I’ve read that all-alcohol bevvies aren’t supposed to be shaken. Whatever. If you keep all of your alcohol chilled (I know I don’t have the fridge-space for that!), I suppose you could skip the shaking and just stir it up in a small bar glass before transferring to a shot but I wanted it really cold and, with this many ingredients (probably another no-no for a shot), well mixed so my petite shaker it is!

Incidentally, the state beverage of Pennsylvania is Milk, so if you wanted to mix up a double batch of the Sweet Tooth and stir it into a nice cold glass of milk, I think that’d be just fine, too.

*You know, if the blog-stars align to where I’m writing about a state on the day it became a state, I might just have to play the lottery or something!

**Don’t worry, Godiva’s totally valid here--the North American debut of Godiva chocolates was at Wannamaker’s Department Store in Philadelphia in 1966!

PS–The state tree is Hemlock. Insert classics geek joke here. (Q.What were Socrates’ last words? A. I drank what?)

PPS–From Todd at dinner: “Life is like a shot of chocolate.” To which I, being of a philosophical bent today, added: “Exactly, if you make it yourself you know exactly what you’re gonna get!”

50 Shots of America–Delaware

Welcome to the 2010 series theme for Sips & Shots: 50 Shots of America! Each week I’ll look at a different state, dig up some (hopefully) interesting facts about it that then leads me to concoct a little libation in it’s honor (for these recipes I’ll be sticking to 2oz or less, so a double shot)! These are not intended to be official by any means, just a fun exercise in cocktail creation. (And, hey, if by the end of this year I can actually identify each state on the map–Bonus!*) Rather than do another alphabetical listing, this time I’m using the date of statehood as my guide so first up is…

Delaware, the first state to ratify the constitution on December 7, 1787, is a fairly tiny state (second only to Rhode Island in area) originally colonized by the Dutch. Apparently the log cabin is of Finnish ingenuity and the Finns brought over the plans with them in the mid-17th century. There’s a preserved log cabin of this sort at the Museum of Agriculture in the state capital, Dover. (Thanks to 50states.com for that bit of intel.) Even though I always will associate Georgia as the peach state, the peach blossom is the state flower of Delaware so it shares that nickname with it’s Southern buddy.

Despite wanting terribly to work the ‘no sales tax’ angle into this week’s cocktail, I decided to go with the log cabin and peaches instead. There’s already a Log Cabin cocktail in the world (actually, 3 different recipes presented themselves during a search) so, using that (those) as the base, I now present to you:

the Delaware Log Cabin

1 oz Peach nectar
1/2 oz Applejack
1/2 oz Whiskey
splash Maple Syrup

Combine all ingredients in a small cocktail shaker over ice and shake like a wave crashing on the Rehoboth Beach dunes. Strain into a double shot or cordial glass.

The whiskey seems very pioneer, log cabin-ish to me and using a corn-based whiskey makes sense as one of Delaware’s main crops is corn (it’s even on the state seal). There’s an Apple Scrapple Festival every year in Bridgeville, hence the use of Applejack and maple syrup seemed like a fitting sweetener instead of the usual sugar syrup, which helps to blunt the whiskey’s edge and let the light peach taste come through.

*The only class I ever failed in High School was Geography and it’s been said more than once that I lack any sort of natural sense of direction. Maybe I just didn’t have the proper incentive, then 😉

Since Cocktails Don’t Travel Well…

The Internet and all it’s various uses mean that those on your gifting list may not always been in the same town (or even country) as you. While it’d be great to share a holiday cocktail with friends far and near, sometimes you might have to settle for the next best thing: cocktail-related gifts. And since I’m also an avid reader, books on the subject are a favorite of mine. Here’s a short list of some I’ve plucked from my own shelf that might just strike a cord with someone on your list.

Swell Holiday by Cynthia Rowley and Ilene Rosenzweig

Remember when Target started to carry all their chic home furnishings with a nod to the 50s and 60s (the good parts)? Cynthia and Ilene are the women behind the Swell line of books and products and their Swell Holiday book is a nice slim volume with all sorts of neat tips, ideas and recipes (both food and drinks!) for entertaining during the winter holidays. Some gems include using Rice Krispies treats and marshmallow fluff to built your “gingerbread” dream home, substitute glow sticks for electric lights in the tree and coming up with just about anything other than a basket for a themed basket-like gift!

Good Spirits: Recipes, Revelations, Refreshments, and Romance, Shaken and Served with a Twist by A.J. Rathbun

Since purchasing this book, it’s become the first one I reach for if I start thinking about a drink (or ingredient) and wondering if something like it already exists. Not only does it have plenty of recipes for the home bartender or cocktail enthusiast, almost all of them come with some sort of witty introduction that takes this book from a mere collection of recipes to something you want to curl up on the couch with and read like a novel.

Absolut: Biography of a Bottle by Carl Hamilton

I think it’s safe to say that practically everyone knows the Absolut bottle. In an industry where packaging is generally over the top and exploited for the best possible shelf-recognition, this vodka managed to take something fairly simple and make it into their symbol. More than just the story of the ad campaign, this is the story of a brand building itself and the times it did it in. An interesting read from several standpoints, I picked this up from a bargain bin, I think, and was so glad I did because the story is just amazing.

Merry Kitschmas: The Ultimate Holiday Handbook by Michael D Conway

Traditional Christmas decorations and celebrations got you down? Wanna spice up your holiday or convince those pesky in-laws they don’t ever want to visit again? Following the advice in Merry Kitchsmas can do all that and more besides. My friend gave this to me as more of a joke one year than anything–I’m fairly traditional, after all–but I adore it’s tacky abandon from afar and have considered using some of their techniques in a more subdued fashion more than once.  Featuring all sorts of odd-ball decorations and recipes, many of the cocktails even get the glue gun turned in their direction for the ultimate in deco-gone-wild effects. Even if you never make anything from it, it’s great to have around just for the pictures!

The Official Guide to Christmas in the South: Or, If You Can’t Fry It, Spraypaint It Gold by David C Barnette

While not *technically* a cocktail book, it’s so much fun that I thought I should include it, just to round out the list. Being from the South, I can safely laugh at, confirm and commiserate with some of the anecdotal stories in this book. Featuring great spot illustrations and a definite sense of whimsy (I absolutely love the idea of the “regifting food chain” chart on page 85), it’s a perfect gift for the displaced Southerner on your list.

And, since this IS a cocktial blog, here’s one of the cocktails from Merry Kitchsmas:

The Sugarplum Fairy

2 oz Citrus vodka
1/2 oz Cointreau
1 oz Lemon juice
splash Cranberry juice
Ice
2 tsp sugar (plus extra for rimming the glass)

Blend all ingredients into a “pink icy slush.”

Rim a collins glass with sugar (colored sugar is even better). Pour in the contents of the blender and garnish as decoratively as possible.

The authors suggest hot glueing a ballerina cake pick to a pink swizzle stick and then inserting it into a straw (for stability, I suppose) then wrapping a piece of pink tulle around the bottom third of the glass and securing it with a rubber band to give the glass it’s own tutu.

Creating a Cocktail

That same party that sparked the Menu Planning and Quantity discussions (not to mention reminding me of the fun side of catering) also gave me a chance to try out a new service I’m offering: custom cocktail creation. Because it’s an interesting process (and a yummy drink), I thought I’d share how I went about designing the cocktail to fit the event.

First some background: the party was a Mary Kay Holiday Open House hosted by a trio of consultants, one of which is a good friend from high school, who requested a non-alcoholic drink because people would be coming and going, plus there’d be young ones around. My friend and the other two consultants, lovely ladies all, are fun and bubbly so I had a pretty good feel for their personalities in relation to the type of party they wanted this to be.

So right off the bat I’m thinking pink (I mean, Mary Kay: what else is there?) and possibly cranberry since it’s a fairly popular flavor and a good base for a mocktail but where to go after that? I could do a cranberry-orange mix that’s sorta like a virgin Cosmopolitan, but that wasn’t special enough; this drink needed to be truly unique so a non-alcoholic version of any regular cocktail just seemed like a cop-out to me.

Another thought flitting through my mind is the skin-care  classes the consultants host, so if I could make the drink frothy or milky, reminiscent of a lotion maybe, that would be even better. Being November a smoothie seemed a little much and most frothy cocktails involved egg whites and that’s a tough sell to a stranger even if it is a component of many classic cocktails. I briefly considered experimenting with the powdered pasteurized egg whites but ditched it just as quick. That leaves milk, but with potential diary allergies or intolerance, was that really the best option? And would it even combine nicely with the cranberry juice?

I let this mull over in my mind for a few days when I suddenly had an epiphany: Bubble Tea! For those who’ve not tasted it before, bubble tea is an Asian drink (I’m honestly not sure which culture truly claims it, I’ve seen references to Japanese as well as Vietnamese origins), a sweet combination of tea and milk with, usually, a fruit flavor added and large black tapioca pearls (the bubble part of the equation) in the bottom of the cup. It’s served with a wide straw so that the pearls, which are cooked to a gummy consistency, can be sucked up and enjoyed as well. Now, I’d never seen a cranberry bubble tea and I certainly didn’t want to use the powders (both for the tea and flavorings) that seem to be the norm, but I really liked the idea and thought it had potential.

Thinking Asian got me thinking about another milk alternative: coconut milk. Not coconut cream like you use in a Pina Colada, but the type used in Thai curries. I considered using other dairy alternatives (almond, rice and soy milks) but when I started to do some digging into the health properties of each, coconut milk was the surprising winner. Even though it contains saturated fats (usually a bad thing), the saturated fat of the coconut is unusual in it’s makeup and not harmful like the ones from animal sources. Plus I found out that coconut milk is anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-carcinogenic, anti-bacterial and has been used in studies to lessen the viral load of AIDS patients!

See, I’d already named this drink The Facial, at least as a working title, and thought that if regular facials are good for our skin, a drink named as such should be somewhat good for our bodies. So, as I experimented with the various ingredients (green tea and cranberry juice, both good things!) I tried to keep that in mind. And experiment I did. It took several trials combining different teas (regular green and flavored), the coconut milk, juice and brown sugar syrup to get a drink that was tasty and had the right color and consistency. And, of course, the tapioca pearls I found were the small white kind so as I cooked them I tinted them black with icing paste (both to match the color scheme of the party–pink, black and silver–as well as resemble the micro-beads that are in various scrubs and serums the company sells) and then stored them in the recommended brown sugar syrup.

Here’s the resulting mocktail, renamed The Miracle after the company’s core skin-care set.

The Miracle Mocktail

2.5 oz brewed Cranberry-Pomegranate Green Tea
2.5 oz 100% Juice Cranberry Juice
.5 oz Brown Sugar Syrup*
.5 oz Grenadine (mostly for color, can be omitted)
1 oz Coconut Milk
1 Tbsp Tapioca Pearls, tinted

Place the Tapioca Pearls in the bottom of a sugar-rimmed cocktail glass.

Combine the tea through coconut milk in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake for a good count of 10. Pour over the tapioca pearls and enjoy!

* Brown sugar syrup is made by combining 1 part brown sugar, 1 part white sugar and 2 parts water in a saucepan and heating until the sugars are completely dissolved. Can be made ahead and store in the fridge for more than a month. Also good in rum-based cocktails where regular sugar syrup is called for though it can change the color of a drink.

The drink was a hit, both with the hostess trio and the guests and I had so much fun creating it and playing bartender throughout the evening. I did get asked if it was harder coming up with a non-alcoholic cocktail and I had to admit that, yes, it was a little more challenging to come up with something different enough to justify the effort but it was definitely rewarding and I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to create a custom cocktail!

If you’d like to find out how to get your own custom cocktail creation, email me at randomactscomics@gmail.com.

XYZ and so forth

Okay, barflies! I’m going to wrap up this little trip through the Alphahol in one fell swoop of a post for a couple of reasons.

a) we’re at the “difficult” letters, and
b) I wanna talk about the Zombie before Halloween instead of 2 weeks after.

So indulge me: 3 cocktails in rapid fire!

XYZ Cocktail

1.5 oz Rum of your choice
3/4 oz Cointreau
1/4 oz Lemon juice

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Whew! This one is strong–of course, it’s mostly booze. If you like a softer drink, try this with caution, and because there is so little to work with substituting a generic Triple Sec for the Cointreau is going to result in a sub par Xperience.

Your Favorite Aunt

1 oz Gin
1 oz Brandy
1 oz Sweet vermouth
1/2 oz Lemon juice
1/2 oz Simple syrup

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Discovered this one while trying out sweet vermouth recipes and it’s actually quite tasty. It is, again, high on the alcohol and short of mixers but it’s a good sipping drink.

And, finally…

The Zombie

1 oz White rum
1 oz Amber rum
1 oz Dark rum
3/4 oz Lime juice
3/4 oz Pineapple juice
1/2 oz Apricot brandy
1/2 oz Papaya juice
1/2 oz Simple syrup
1/2 151-proof Rum

Combine all but the 151 in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake vigorously–as if you were running from a zombie–then pour into a very tall glass (don’t strain). Float the 151 on top of the drink and garnish elaborately–a spring of mine, lime wheels and cherry all dusted with confectioners sugar; orange and pineapple slices or some other tropical fruit. Serve with a straw–sipping from the top will give you a mouthful of the 151 and not much else, not the desired result.

A bit complex but the taste is worth it. If you have trouble finding papaya juice, puree or nectar (as I did) juicing your own isn’t as difficult as it seems. Sure, it’s not like a citrus fruit that’s juice is easily available, but if you don’t have an electric juicer, here’s how I got it done.

Juicing a Papaya

  1. Slice the papaya in half, lengthwise, and remove the black seeds and any light-colored membranes.
  2. Slice each half into quarters to make it easier to separate the pink flesh from the skin and lighter rind.
  3. Cut up the long slices and place in a decent-sized bowl with high sides.
  4. Crush the fruit with a muddler, pestle or wooden spoon until no longer solid.
  5. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a smaller bowl, working the mash gently with a spoon to get the maximum juice out.

Now, I got about an ounce of juice from a quarter of an 8-inch papaya and it was a bit pulpy so, as I sipped the resulting drink, did get a bit separated but it didn’t make the drink at all unpleasant to imbibe. I’ve read that you can also substitute orange juice but I think I’d go with mango juice (something generally easier to locate) before going with the more mundane OJ.

Of course, this year’s Pumpkin Party is going to be a brunch, so I think I’ll leave the Zombies off the guest list. Instead, for those who wish to imbibe, I’ll be serving Bloody Marys, Mi-moan-sas, and Boo-linis. Have a good holiday, folks, stay safe and drink responsibly.

The Toddy

I’ve had my head buried in alcohol history and lore, lately, and in the most recent reading, the Toddy came up. With the beginnings of a nip in the air (okay, so it’s our annual Fall cool snap that will disappear soon, but let a girl dream) the Toddy sounded like an excellent subject to tackle instead of whatever else I’d been thinking of for ‘t’.

Toddies are an old, old, old drink and, in their original form, were nothing more than water and liquor, with maybe some sugar added. They’re not much different now, with the addition of some sort of spice and maybe a bit of lemon to round things out.

I read a lot as a child and when you tend to read old books, that take place centuries prior and maybe in other countries, it’s easy to develop some fanciful notions about toddies and, especially, their healing properties as they were often given to characters who’d come town with a cold or had gotten caught in a terrible storm while on their horse. So, several years ago, when coming down with yet another case of something or other, I decided to try a Toddy to see if it would help. Of course, I didn’t have brandy in the house, but I could have sworn I’d read about someone using Bourbon, and I had that, so I brewed some tea (tea used to be considered a spice, by the way), adding a cinnamon stick, a lemon slice, some honey and a shot of bourbon to it.

It wasn’t exactly what I’d thought it would be.

Whether it was the harshness of the Bourbon (which I generally keep around for cooking with, not drinking) or the bitterness of the tea–or both–the drink needed a lot of sweetening before it was palatable and it just wasn’t the pleasant, soothing experience I had hoped for.

This go round, wiser and with a better-stocked bar, I skipped the tea, used brandy (okay, I used a brandy-based liqueur–Tuaca–that I knew I liked) and used simple syrup for my sweet. I also just used a lemon twist instead of a lemon slice, and I think it makes a difference.

Tuaca Toddy

1.5 oz Tuaca liqueur (an Italian brandy-based liqueur with hints of vanilla and citrus)
.5 oz Simple syrup
1 Lemon peel, 2″ long
dash of Cloves
2.5 oz Hot water

In a mug or other handled glass (this is warm, remember?) combine the Tuaca (or the brandy of your choice)  and syrup. Twist the lemon peel (try not to get too much pith when you shave it away from the fruit) to release the oils and drop it in, followed by a sprinkling of ground cloves (you could use nutmeg, if you prefer, or even cinnamon but I’d stick to a little and not use the stick–it can be too strong). Top the drink off with the very hot (not quite boiling) water, stir it around a bit and drink when the temperature is level enough not to scald your tongue.

Even though this is a favorite home remedy for colds and chills in many areas, keep in mind that alcohol can dehydrate you so you should supplement it with plenty of plain water if you choose to try this at home.

* * *

And speaking of health, a gentle reminder that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and I’m still raising funds for my local Making Strides Against Breast Cancer campaign. “Support the tWINs” (the team I’m on) through my support link and get a special print. More details at the link, and thank you.

Sangria

A fruited wine beverage, Sangria has as many variations as it has makers. The downside, generally speaking, is that to make good Sangria you need time. Namely, time for the fruit to mix and meld with the other ingredients. But what if you want Sangria now, and you’ve got all the parts but you’d rather drink it tonight as opposed to tomorrow? Are you doomed to a passable but not spectacular bottled version? Is there a happy medium between 8-hours and a screw-top bottle?

I think so.

In fact, my theory is that you can “fake” the steeping period by the application of gentle heat to the fruit and any other items you are adding to the wine base (because in addition to a variety of fruits and their juices, brandy, spices or even some flavored vodka could be used). In this scenario, you could then have a very flavorful Sangria in an hour or so, instead of overnight. Plus, you can make just enough for a drink or two (or a person or two) without needing to make an entire pitcher.

Red Sangria for 2

Combine in a small saucepan:

1 lime, cut into slices
2 strawberries, hulled and halved
a couple chunks of pineapple
1 Tbsp white sugar
2 Tbsp hot water
Small cinnamon stick (optional)

Bring this mix to a gentle simmer then reduce heat to low. Use a muddler or wooden spoon to gently break up the fruit. After about 10 minutes, add

1-2 oz vanilla vodka

turn off the burner and let the mixture sit for another 10-15 minutes.

Pour the fruit mix (sans cinnamon stick) into a glass jar or carafe or divide between two tall glasses. Pour in

4-6 oz. red table wine per glass

and refrigerate for 1 hour.  Serve with more fruit, if desired, and enjoy your drink!

Variation: White Sangria for 2

Substitute a handful of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries for the lemon and pineapple in the red version and skip the cinnamon stick. Use Apple Brandy instead of the vodka and a white wine for the red.

Compared to the bottled Sangria I picked up for comparison, both of my versions (actually, all four since I tried each fruit/liquor combo with each wine just out of curiosity) were less sweet than the pre-made. You could add orange juice (red) or white grape juice (white) if you wanted a fruitier, sweeter beverage or add club soda or some other fizzy drink for a bubbly version.

Orange You Glad It’s Cocktail Hour?

The first Thanksgiving with the extended New Orleans family after my 21st birthday was a bit surreal: my Uncle was mixing Mimosas but the carton (pour out a third of the juice, fill with Champagne, shake and pour) and offered me one. I think it took my mother by as much surprise as it did me!

Orange juice is one of the most common mixers in cocktails though I’ve never been fond of it’s most common pair-up, Vodka, in the Screwdriver. Of course, that has a lot to do with early vodka experiences and low-quality product.

Taken a step further, there are a variety of orange alcohols and liqueurs available: from the orange-infused vodkas and rums to Grand Marnier and Triple Sec (which comes in a variety of brands).

At the Plantation, we used a lot of Grand Marnier in both the truffles I made to go out with the checks or as turn-down treats as well as in the Creme Brulee desserts (at least, that is, until I got them to agree to chocolate creme brulee… mmmm, Godiva!). Meanwhile, the stronger, pushier Triple Sec stayed in the bar.

Even though it appears in so many cocktails, Triple Sec is a tough taste to balance. Like I said, this is one pushy orange and many times it’s inclusion in a cocktail means that’s one of the few flavors you’re going to get. Not only has this spirit disrupted a pomegranate martini in the past (I know, what were they thinking), too much of a “good” thing can ruin an otherwise drinkable Cosmopolitan.

While on our cruise this past January, our itinerary took us to Roatan, Honduras, where I picked up a small bottle of Vaca Negra Tangerine Liqueur. It smells like concentrated orange soda and, straight, has a lightly orange flavor with a warm base–much like the brandy-based cordials friends had made. And, since I was thinking Cosmo (which, at it’s most basic, is vodka, triple sec and cranberry juice) I decided to give the Vaca Negra a try in place of the usual. The result was tart, refreshing, and not at all overpowering in the citrus department–just enough for flavor without going overboard. (Okay, the vanilla vodka didn’t hurt, either.)

CHF Cultural Cosmo

2 oz Vanilla Vodka
1 oz Vaca Negra Tangerine Liqueur
1 oz Lime juice
2 oz Cranberry juice

Shake everything over ice and serve in a chilled martini glass with an orange twist.

Now, even though the label on my Vaca Negra mentions a States-side importer in Metairie, Louisiana, I’ve been unable to  find any leads online of where to order it. Still, it’s possible to make your own if you’ve got a few tangerines and some time to make an infusion. Pierce a few tangerines and cover with vodka or brandy (my vote is for the latter) for up to 2 weeks. Then, strain off the liquor and let sit for a month before using.

Non-Alcoholic Cocktails

I remember one visit home as a kid, my cousins and I had a slumber party at our grandparents (okay, one cousin is technically an aunt who’s 5 months younger than me and it was her house, but let’s not sweat the semantics). While some of the grown-ups congregated in the dining room we took over the living room, complete with a treat: Shirley Temples.

Shirley Temple

Ice
Grenadine
Ginger ale
Maraschino cherry

Splash some grenadine over ice and top with a healthy pour of ginger ale (other clear sodas can also be used, depending on what you’ve got in the house) and garnish with a cherry (or two).

Now, adult me kind of wonders about the wisdom in giving children faux-cocktails, is it really the best choice? On the other hand, treating it as a special occasion sort of treat might be just the thing for instilling the right attitude about cocktails.

And it’s not just the underage who drink virgin drinks or, as David Biggs refers to them in his book of the same name, “Mocktails.” Alcohol-free drinks are popular from the pregnant to the designated driver and plenty of folks in between. I mean, every now and then a fruity drink might be nice without the worry of a hangover. Or maybe a tart refresher midweek–or even midday–is a welcome change without the booze.

A lot of non-alcoholic cocktails are sweet, either from the additional of soda (clear for clear alcohol, cola for dark) or increasing the fruit juice to make up the difference. A Virgin Mary (just skip the vodka and maybe a dash more clam juice) is a nice change to the sweet or try this one, a definite throw-back to another era:

Jones Beach Cocktail

This savory drink uses lemon juice to balance the saltiness of the beef consomme. To make consomme, dissolve a beef stock cube in a cup of boiling water. [Or use canned]

Crushed ice
1 c Beef consomme, cooled
Half the quantity of clam juice
Juice of 1/2 a lemon (or lime)
1/2 tsp Horseradish sauce
Couple of [dashes] of Worcestershire sauce
Celery salt
Sprig of parsley

Place a scoop of crushed ice in a cocktail shaker and add all the ingredients until well mixed. Now place two ice cubes in a tall glass and strain the blended drink over them. Serve ungarnished or with a sprig of parsley.

–David Biggs, Mocktails