CLASSIC HOT TODDY

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Happy December, everyone! I know I’m not alone in saying that this is my favorite month of the year, because who doesn’t love the holidays, but I think I have a bit more to celebrate than the average person. On top of all the Christmas celebrations and whatnot, my birthday is the day after Christmas AND my anniversary with Alex is on the 22nd. So pretty much for a week straight there’s something to celebrate every single night. Do I sometimes wish that Alex and I met in June or that I was born in August? You bet I do. But in all actuality, it’s kind of fun to be in party overload and I really try to compartmentalize each event and not lump it all together. For example, when Alex and I are celebrating our anniversary, I try not to even think about what I have to bake for the Christmas Eve dinner or, how many presents I have left to wrap.

But before we get to the end of the month, I have some fun Christmas events coming up that I look forward to every year. One of those events is Hospitality Night: when the streets in downtown Laguna Beach are closed off and it’s one big Christmas party including live music, fake snow, and tons of shopping at all the local shops…and FREE wine and desserts! It takes place every year on the first Friday of December, aka tomorrow! When I was going to high school in Laguna, I NEVER wanted to go because I was a typical teen and thought it was lame but now that I’m older, I find myself collecting ornaments and genuinely getting excited over Christmas lights. I love it.

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Lately, it’s been pretty cold - for Southern California standards at least - and we’ve been having a ton of rain. With that, I’ve been craving colder weather-appropriate drinks like wines and today’s recipe: a Hot Toddy. I’ve never been one to enjoy whiskey drinks and although I’ve tried just about every whiskey cocktail that Alex has ever ordered or made at home, I haven’t been able to enjoy it. But when I tried a Hot Toddy for the first time a few year ago at Hospitality Night, I loved it because it was so comforting and cozy that I didn’t even notice the flavor of whiskey. To this day, it continues to be the only whiskey drink that I order.

When we were visiting Maine this last time, we went to a bar called The Snug (featured here in my Portland, Maine City Guide), on a very, very cold night. When I got to the bar and saw someone else drinking a Hot Toddy, I knew I needed to order one for myself. That experience became one of my favorite moments of the trip - warming up with a Hot Toddy while sitting in a private dark booth with friends, on a cold night in Maine. Perfect.

The recipe for a Hot Toddy is extremely easy and requires no skill, unless boiling water is not your thing. Along with your whiskey of choice (whether you prefer blended or bourbon), you’ll add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a bit of honey. To that, you’ll top off the drink with hot water, add a dash of ground nutmeg or cinnamon, and it’s good to go. Also, if you’d like to replace the water with your favorite brewed tea of choice, that is completely allowed. It’ll give the Toddy a bit more flavor and also allows you to mix up the drink based on what tea you use. And a bonus is that Hot Toddies are great for drinking when you have cold or flu symptoms!

P.S. My adorable mugs are from Cost Plus World Market, and I love them. They’re also perfect for hot tea and coffee.

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Classic Hot Toddy

Makes 1 drink

Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz whiskey (blended or bourbon)

  • 1 tbsp. honey

  • Squeeze of fresh lemon juice

  • 6-8 oz. boiling water

  • Pinch of nutmeg, fresh or ground, or ground cinnamon

  • Cinnamon stick, lemon slice, star anise, whole cloves, to rganish (optional)

Directions

  1. To a mug or heatproof glass, add the whiskey, honey and fresh lemon juice.

  2. Carefully add the boiling water to the glass and stir the drink with a spoon. Add a dash of nutmeg or cinnamon.

  3. Garnish with your choice of a cinnamon stick, lemon slice, star anise, or whole cloves. Enjoy while it’s warm.

"BERLIN-STYLE" MOSCOW MULES

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A few years ago, I was lucky enough to take a trip to Berlin, Germany with my boyfriend, Alex. Alex was actually born in Berlin, where he lived for the first seven years of his life, before his family picked up and moved to Southern California. I can truly say that visiting Berlin has been my favorite trip thus far, and if I was able to, I would move there in a heartbeat. The restaurants, bars, parks, people... EVERYTHING was amazing and so beautiful. I was pretty much crying the day we left and have been counting down the days until we can return (hopefully next May, fingers crossed). 

When preparing for a trip, I actually look forward most to researching and outlining an informal guideline to follow. I scour the internet reading through personal blogs and food websites, in addition to flipping through lifestyle/food magazines to look for the best recommendations and tips to make the most of our experience. When I say an "informal" guideline, I mean that I'm not writing out an itinerary for every day of our trip; I'm just getting an idea of what each neighborhood has to offer in that particular city. I always, always assume we will wonder around and stumble across an amazing spot that I didn't read about - and we always do.

The month before we left for Berlin, I received my Bon Appétit magazine subscription in the mail and coincidentally, there was a travel guide for Berlin featured. One of the places the magazine deemed a "must-visit" was ORA, a restored 18th century pharmacy that was repurposed into an all-day café. The description and pictures alone made me put ORA at the top of our list, and needless to say it was one of the best decisions trekking there.

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Located in the neighborhood of Kreuzberg, a very cool and hip area filled with amazing bars and restaurants, ORA is where Alex and I discovered how Berlin does Moscow mules differently than they do here in America. Instead of the classic recipe composed of vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice, we were served a Moscow mule with vodka, ginger beer, bitters, and cucumber. I thought it was an odd combination but the moment I took a sip, I was hooked and vouched to always add cucumber/bitters to my Moscow mules. Below is a picture from our night at the bar. 

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After ORA, we decided to walk around the neighborhood and ended up going to a crowded cocktail bar that looked very cool. The bar, Würgeengel, ended up being one of our favorite bars from the trip to the point that we made a second trip on our last night in the city. At Würgeengel, I also ordered a Moscow mule to see if it would be prepared the same as it was at ORA and it was except for the addition of bitters. It was here where I noticed that the type of ginger beer that was being used was Fever Tree, a brand sold here in America and by far my top choice as far as ginger beers go. 

My assumption is that cucumbers are just more readily available than limes, and Germans have adapted the Moscow mule accordingly. So today I provide you a delicious recipe inspired by the Moscow mules that we enjoyed while in Berlin. To add more of the cucumber flavor, the recipe entails muddling a few cucumber slices and shaking it with the vodka to infuse the liquor. This step really makes a great difference in taste, so I would suggest not skipping it! 

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"Berlin-Style" Moscow Mules

Yields 2 cocktails

Ingredients

  • 4 peeled cucumber slices
  • 4 oz. vodka
  • Handful of ice
  • 4-5 oz. ginger beer, per drink
  • 2-4 dashes of Angostura bitters, per drink
  • Sliced cucumber, to garnish

Directions

  1. In a cocktail shaker, muddle the peeled cucumber slices. Add the vodka and ice and shake vigorously for about 10-15 seconds. 
  2. Pour the liquid through a strainer into two prepared glasses filled with ice, making sure to divide the liquid between the two glasses equally.
  3. Top off each drink with ginger beer and your desired amount of bitters. Stir with a spoon. Garnish with a cucumber slice, if desired. Sip and enjoy!

SPICY GRAPEFRUIT MARGARITAS

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It appears that I have a theme going on this week - margaritas today and the Tres Leches cake from Tuesday - and yes, I did plan for this! Once I realized earlier this week that Cinco de Mayo was coming up, and I had already planned on making the Tres Leches cake, I knew it was a no-brainer to share a delicious margarita recipe.

Like I've mentioned before, going to a Mexican restaurant and ordering a couple rounds of margaritas with my carnitas plate is just about my favorite thing ever. Without a doubt, a traditional margarita is my drink of choice, mainly because tequila is my favorite liquor. 

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Additionally, there's another tequila drink that I'm very fond of, and it actually is nowhere near as popular as margaritas are at Mexican restaurants; that cocktail is the Paloma. A Paloma is tequila mixed with grapefruit juice or soda and lime juice, and poured over ice. So based on the ingredients, margaritas and Palomas are not too far off from one another, the only difference being that Palomas are always made with grapefruit, and margaritas are always sweetened using either orange liqueur, agave nectar, or honey.

So today I'm sharing margarita recipe that is quite similar to a Paloma: you'll get the subtle sweetness that a margarita promises from the agave nectar, as well as the delicious grapefruit flavor from the Paloma. I also decided to step it up a notch by making this a "spicy" margarita by including a few slices of serrano or jalapeño chile peppers. If you're not a fan of spiciness, I totally understand because I know it's not for everyone; you can just leave the peppers out entirely. It'll still be an amazing cocktail! 

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Just in case you didn't know, cocktail recipes are given in measurements of ounces. To make this easier for yourself, I strongly suggest in purchasing a jigger, which is the proper way to measure out cocktails. Jiggers may come in a variety of sizes, but the standard one (and the one I own) gives you 1 and 2 oz. measurements. Also, I want to make it clear that this recipe yields only one cocktail! So double or triple your measurements accordingly. Enjoy and please drink responsibly!

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Spicy Grapefruit Margaritas

Makes 1 large-ish cocktail

Ingredients

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  • kosher salt, for the rim

  • 3 oz. silver tequila

  • 3 1/2 oz. fresh or store-bought grapefruit juice

  • 1 1/2 tbsp. agave nectar (or triple sec)

  • 2 oz. fresh lime juice

  • 2-3 thin slices of serrano or jalapeño peppers (more or less, depending on how spicy you like it)

  • lime and serrano/jalapeño slices to finish

Directions

  1. Salt the rim of your margarita glass, add ice and set aside.

  2. In a cocktail shaker, combine tequila, grapefruit juice, agave nectar, lime juice, serrano/jalapeño pepper slices, and a handful of ice. Shake the mixture for about 10 seconds (the longer, the more spicier the drink will be).

  3. Strain the mixture into the prepared glass, and top with lime circles and/or more serrano/jalapeño slices, if desired. Sip and enjoy!