CHEERS TO A COLORFUL 2016

Even as I sit here on my kitchen stool this morning, I'm making plans for our New Year's Eve celebration, which is colorful in its own way (we have a peculiar tradition involving sushi, sparkling rosé, and this year, plenty of catching up on series nine of Doctor Who as we count down to midnight). But I'm also daydreaming of this vibrant cocktail I created for a recent New Year's Eve-themed party in the desert, which echoes all the feelings of that particular evening: the brilliant colors of the Arizona sunset, the sweetness of memory, the effervescence of hope for the new year, the surprise crunch of pomegranate seeds as metaphor for whatever 2016 will bring.

Persian-style sticks of

saffron rock candy

(also known as

nabaat

) are traditionally swirled around in cups of hot tea as a sweetener, but I'd never seen them reimagined as a cocktail swizzle stick. Turns out, the fizz of sugary sweetness is a perfect match for a dry champagne or other sparkling wine, and the earthy background note struck by the saffron is a beautiful surprise. Tiny, jewel-like pomegranate arils bob around like edible party confetti, or like a fruity version of another favorite New Year's tradition of mine, caviar. The occasional pop between your teeth of these juicy little seeds is honestly my favorite part of this drink, which I'm calling the New Year's Saffron Sparkler. Tying a few strands of shiny gold mylar to the end of each

nabaat

stick to symbolize the burst of a sparkler is optional, but lovely!

New Year's Saffron Sparkler

Saffron rock candy sticks

Dry sparkling wine (champagne, prosecco, cava, etc)

Pomegranate seeds

Place a rock candy stick in each glass, fill with champagne nearly to the top, then garnish with a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds. Toast immediately and enjoy while the bubbles last!

Here's to a beautiful 2016, friends!! May your new year be filled with joy, sparkles, friends, love, bubbles, and COLOR!

THE THANKSGIVING NIGHTCAP

This isn't your typical Thanksgiving post, I guess. Today I'll be sitting down to some version of the meal we'll all be staring down the table at--and it's kind of comforting in its sameness, isn't it, with all that perfectly bronzed turkey glow, sweet potato predictability and green bean wonderfulness? But I'm not writing a stuffing recipe, or a pumpkin pie or an ode to cranberry sauce (although I looooooove cranberry sauce, with brown sugar and bourbon and orange zest, but that's a story for another day). I'm thinking ahead to the evening after the meal, Thanksgiving night.

After all, something unnatural happens when dinner takes place at three in the afternoon. Maybe you're sitting around, lazily doodling on a crossword or pushing game pieces around on a Settlers of Cataan board (no point in confessing that I'm a huge nerd after a sentence like that, I guess?). Maybe you're having that second, late-night gathering of friends, drifting together after family dinners and goodbyes to toast to the beginning of winter and all things holiday season. No matter where you are or what you're doing.....hunger strikes at ten o'clock that night. What to eat after a day of feasting? I have the solution for you, friends.

When the festivities are over, whether you're standing alone in the kitchen by the glow of the refrigerator light wondering if it's too soon to eat a leftover-turkey-and-mashed-potato sandwich, or whether you're surrounded by board games and late-night friends and holiday stragglers......you need the Thanksgiving Nightcap.

Technically, this is four suggestions in one. Two cocktails, one as buttery warm and soothing as a homemade piece of pumpkin pie, and one as briskly wintery and holiday-tasting as a holly wreath, if a holly wreath were delicious. And two dainty little snacks for in between sipping, one reminiscent of the day's iconic cranberry sauce (made fragrant, like my own cranberry sauce, with a hint of bourbon and orange zest), and one that's like an efficiently bite-sized pecan pie. 

Nobody needs or wants a loaded tray of snacks after a day spent consuming turkey, savory carbs and multiple pie slices, after all. Just a few little bites and a cocktail to send you off to bed feeling full, warm, and thankful. Happy holiday, everyone!

Cranberry Rosemary Cocktail

For the rosemary simple syrup:

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

4 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 oz. cranberry juice

1 oz. gin

1 oz. rosemary syrup

Ice

Fresh rosemary for garnish

Don't forget to make the rosemary simple syrup ahead of time, leaving enough time for it to cool completely. Bring sugar and water just to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat. Roll rosemary sprigs lightly between your palms to release the oils, then submerge in syrup and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain out rosemary leaves, place in fridge to cool. This recipe will make enough for several cocktails, so keep any extra (if it's possible to have leftovers!) in an airtight container for up to three weeks.

Add cranberry juice, gin, rosemary syrup and ice to cocktail shaker, give it a good shake until cold, then strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a tiny sprig of rosemary, sip & enjoy!

Candied Cranberries

1 1/2 cup sugar, divided

1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons bourbon

1 cup fresh cranberries

1 teaspoon finely zested orange peel

In a small saucepan, combine 3/4 cup of sugar with water and bourbon. Heat over medium low, stir until dissolved and add cranberries. Let simmer for five minutes, then remove from heat. Pour into heatproof bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Strain cranberries from remaining syrup, then place in a single layer on plate or baking sheet. Sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup sugar, rolling berries to completely cover in sugar. Place in fridge and let dry for at least an hour (I have even stuck these in the freezer for a similar amount of time, for a really nicely chewy, chilly treat), then snack away!

Bourbon Maple Pumpkin Punch

2 cups milk

1 cup pumpkin puree

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, plus more for garnish

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup (4 oz.) bourbon 

Cinnamon sticks for garnish

The amounts in this recipe make four servings, because when you're going to get all these ingredients together, heat them up and serve them. it might as well be to an adoring crowd! Feel free to adjust the amounts to suit your own gathering, though. 

In a small saucepan, whisk together milk, pumpkin and spices, heat gently over medium heat until steaming. Remove from heat, add maple syrup and bourbon, then immediately pour into four cups. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and a sprinkling of pumpkin pie spice, then serve while hot!

Maple Sea Salt Pecans

1 cup pecan halves

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, then line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a mixing bowl, toss pecan halves with maple syrup first until completely coated, then add vegetable oil and sea salt and continue to coat. Arrange in a single layer on baking sheet, roast for 20 minutes until pecans are nicely browned and shiny. Remove and let cool slightly, then break up clumps while still warm to make sure that pecans don't stick together.