Friday, October 10, 2014

Stocking Our Home Bars for Autumn Festivities

Hudson Single Malt Whiskey, at Total Wine & More

Today I'm checking my liquor cabinet to see what I need to stock on for the upcoming holiday season. I throw a lot of dinner parties, cocktail parties and movie parties. While busy cooking and cleaning for a party, I'd rather not have to stop and run to the store at the last minute to pick up something tasty to serve my guests. Also, I like to have port wine and sherry on hand for stormy nights or snowstorms!

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Do you have any herbs in your garden you need to dry for later use this winter? With our mild and still-warm weather here in Seattle, my outdoor herb garden is still producing a lot of herbs. I want to cut my peppermint, rosemary, basil and mint and dry them. They'll go in some old spice jars I washed and saved for re-use.
  • Take extra time with your dinner preparations tonight (if you're eating in). Treat yourself and household to a nice, non-hurried meal. What do you have to give up, time-wise, tonight to make this possible? Can you ask for a helper to assist you with the meal?
  • Make meal plans and create grocery shopping list for the workweek ahead.
  • Surprise a family member or long distance friend this week, for no reason. It's not their birthday, you're just thinking of them. Send flowers if you can afford to, a notecard or better yet a paper letter, or a small gift. Send stickers or a fall-themed book to a young niece or nephew, with a small handwritten cheery note. Maybe send a recently taken digital photo of yourself to your grandmother - print it out for her? I like trying to do this before the holidays arrive. The holidays shouldn't be the only time I think of far-away relatives.
  • Look over your calendar for the week, noting upcoming appointments and social events coming up.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Stocking the Bar

The Whiskey Companion book, on Amazon

If you entertain often and serve your guests alcohol, it's time to check your supplies for upcoming fall parties. If you don't serve alcohol, you can still stock up with fruit juices, interesting sodas, and yummy hot drinks to serve your guests.

LIQUOR:

If you do serve alcohol in your home, you'll want a good balance between variety, standards, and wasteful overstocking. To keep your cabinet uncluttered, and your bank account from being emptied at the store, I recommend you don't try to have every possible alcohol covered. You're not required to be able to make any possible unusual drink a guest asks for. If you do consider yourself an enthusiastic entertainer and take pride in your hosting, and if entertaining well is important to you, you'll want to have the basics covered, plus a few extras.

I try to have several types of alcohol (vodka, whiskey, gin, rum) needed for mixed drinks, but years ago I stopped stocking tequila. We just simply don't drink it up, and it just sits there in my cabinet. I know Oprah swears by it. I've also been traumatized ever since I learned how many calories are in margarita mix! One of the other alcohols I never buy anymore is vermouth. It could be my circle of friends, but in the eleven years I've lived in this house, only one guest has ever asked for a classic martini.

UV Salty Caramel Apple Vodka

If you can spare an extra $20 or $30, think about picking up the latest fancy flavored vodka just for fun. Display it out where guests can see it, if the bottle is pretty or unusual. Your guests might be delighted to try something new rather than just plain old Grey Goose, Smirnoff, Belvedere or Absolut. Surpise guests with new seasonal vodkas, such as UV Salty Caramel Apple, Spiced Pumpkin Vodka from Crop Organic or CranApple vodka from Pinnacle.

I don't bother with cognac or scotch, as very few of our guests in my friends' age group request those. I stock bourbon for myself and a few guests who appreciate it. I stock a higher end Triple Sec, but rarely ever more expensive liqueurs like Chambord, Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Drambuie. (I feel like Chambord is something you drink in your late twenties and early thirties and like it's sort of "out" right now). I do stock Kahlua or Bailey's for guests who might enjoy that in their coffee. For special occasions, I'll make a trip to the store the day before for cherry brandy or specialty liqueurs, but I don't clutter up my liquor cabinet with those usually. I don't want a bunch of weird liqueurs hanging around the house taking up room, if they won't be used or tasted for months at a time. I try to avoid bar trends like the current cinnamon "Fireball" craze.

BEER:

Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat Beer

I keep only a few beers on hand, since few of our friends (usually it's the guys) drink beer and the types of food I serve at parties are better suited to wine. Besides a few intriguing IPAs, I keep a twelve-pack of Stella Artois and a few Guinness on hand. I used to regularly stock pumpkin beers, but found guests only wanted one per person and I'd be stuck with them after the first of the year.

WINE:

Chateau Diana Halloween Wines, on Amazon

Wine is something I stock quite a few bottles of, as I have many friends who enjoy wine. Besides my own tasty stock, I keep "emergency" wine around, for when we have a short-notice party, drop-in visitors, or a windy, rainy night requiring a fire, candles and wine. A few times a month I bring a bottle over to the next door neighbors for an hour to catch up, chat, gossip, and soak up their advice on families and home maintenance.

I try to have a sparkling wine (usually Asti or Prosecco, not champagne); a couple bottles of white (usually Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc, not Chardonnay which I don't personally enjoy drinking); a dessert wine like a Gewurztraminer or a Muscat (though many of my guests have sophisticated wine palates and no longer enjoy sweet wines); port; and several bottles of red (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, red Zinfandel, etc).

However, I don't feel the need to have a wine cellar or wine refrigerator with dozens of bottles of wine. I don't want to take up that much space. I'd rather go to the store more frequently to select new bottles if we drink a couple at a party. It doesn't have to be expensive wine, just well chosen. I really enjoy the wine selections at Trader Joe's and the PCC Natural Market down the street. Also, it's surprising how many affordable bottles are on offer at Whole Foods.

MIXERS:

Fever Tree Mixers Sampler Pack, on Amazon

Take inventory and see how you are doing on jarred sweetened lime juice (though I prefer to use fresh squeezed whenever possible), high quality Grenadine, sweet and sour mix, bitters, vermouth, cocktail onions, and cocktail cherries if you tend to make drinks that require those ingredients.

Check your mixers. Do you have enough Coke, Sprite/7-Up, club soda, tonic water, bitter lemon, orange juice, and cranberry juice? Add things to your shopping list, and clear an organized space to put them away. Because my fridge or cupboards would get too full, I try to limit the amount of mixers I store. I can always run to the store for tonic water or club soda if I have a party planned.

WINE GLASSES:

French Wine Glass, at Crate and Barrel

Last, check your supply of wine glasses. Unless you are a really huge and well studied oenophile, you really don't need to have different glasses for brandy, for bourbon, for merlot, for burgundies, etc. That's just a way to overclutter our cupboards and make more work for us. It does make sense to have two different shapes, for reds and for whites. You do need champagne flutes if you serve champagne often, as the shape of the flute really does promote the flavor of the bubbly.

Casual gatherings of friends mean you are free to serve drinks in mismatched or unusual wine glasses - that's part of the fun! If you entertain formally, however, you'll need matching, unchipped glasses. Martini glasses for cocktails and highball glasses are a must if you frequently serve people who drink martinis and whiskys. Really, most people are delighted to drink a refreshing beverage and aren't going to look askance at the glass you handed it to them in.

Sort out your glasses, discard anything chipped or mismatched, clean if dusty (so they're ready to use at a moment's notice!). Put everything back in your cupboards and cabinets in an organized fashion. Treat yourself to a little sip of something nice when you're done tonight!

RELATED LINKS:

The Best Way to Store Vermouth (Serious Eats)

Pumpkin Beer History: Colonial Necessity to Seasonal Treat (Serious Eats)

These Are the Best 21 Pumpkin Beers, In Order (Huffington Post)

When to Say Goodbye: The Expiration on Wine and Vermouth (The Alpha Cook)

LOVELY BLOGS: Sumptuous Spoonfuls

Like me, this blog's author Ann doesn't always have a lot of people to cook for. So I love that her recipes make just enough for one, two or three people. Ann is an engineer and health freak who loves to cook. I've been enjoying her recent posts on her Tomato Basil Gorgonzola Soup, Ricotta Fig Crostini with Pecans, and her inventive Jalapeno Popper Heirloom Tomato Pie recipe.

http://www.sumptuousspoonfuls.com/

LOVELY BOOKS: Come to the Table

I wanted to share some of the quotes from this wonderful book I just checked out at my local library. "Come to the Table: A Celebration of Family Life" is subtitled "Rekindling the flames of traditions, togetherness and wonderful times." I've found it really inspiring, and it's made me nostalgic for childhood family meals. I'm not ashamed to say I've cried a few happy tears while reading this and remembering my grandmothers' meals. Since I'm childless and won't have any grandchildren, I can only hope my young nephews will someday look fondly back at my cooking or at least a meal we shared together at my table.

Chapters in this thoughtful book include "Celebrations," "Sundays," "Teenagers and the Table," "Winter Comforts," "Communities, Neighbors and Friends," "Holidays," "The Children's Hour," "Summer Pleasures," "Family Reunions," and "Reaching Out."

"I would kneel on a kitchen chair, my arms dusted with flour and one of Mothers aprons encircling me. It'd be just the two of us, baking together. The warmth of the oven, the gentleness of her tone, and the nose-prickling aroma of hot cinnamon all blended to transform our modest little kitchen into a soothing and magical place where I felt wonderfully snug and secure" (p. 117-118). "Remember listening to the muffled snores of the uncles who had fallen asleep watching football, or the music of your mother's laughter as she lingered at the table, sipping coffee with your favorite aunt. These are the things that stay with us forever, not whether the dishes were mismatched or the bird overcooked." (P. 105)

"Unlike bears, we humans approach our winter slumbers armed with knitting, needlepoint, newspapers, magazines and books, to say nothing of cinnamon toast, grilled cheese sandwiches, and homemade Snickerdoodles fresh from the oven. There are few experiences in life as luxurious as that first winter's nap on a raw Sunday in January, when the house is warm and quiet and the sky is an ominous gun-metal gray." (p. 76).

I highly recommend checking this book out from the library and reading it on a rainy day, or gifting it to a relative you share fond holiday memories with!

Come to the Table, on Amazon

LOVELY HOME: Roux Maison Laundry Detergent

I recently discovered this laundry detergent, and though I'm happy with my Method Home detergent, thought I'd give it a try. I love that it's hypoallergenic, as I have sensitive skin. I can handle fragranced detergents though, and enjoy both their Ambrosia and Sweet Tea scents. I think I'll stock up on a bottle or two to use for my sheets and towels this autumn.

http://www.rouxmaison.com/

LOVELY SHOPS: Leif

Here's a lovely home and accessories store I wanted to show you. Their jewelry isn't to my personal taste, but I think several of you with better taste than me will enjoy it. They also sell some intriguing modern tabletop accessories, charming stationery, plus some colorful modern purses and scarves. My favorite section here is their apothecary with lovely soaps, bath oils, scrubs and toners for the face. Also check out their Bathtub Tea!

http://www.leifshop.com/

LOVELY SHOPS: Yawahada Marshmallow Shop

I wanted to show you this Japanese shop full of darling edible marshmallow decorations, though it looks like the process of ordering their items to the US is rather complicated. "Cafe Cat" can float in the top of your hot cocoa or coffee. They also sell cute Latte Paws.

http://yawahada.ocnk.net/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Apple Cider Pomegranate Mocktail (The Merrythought)

Chickpea Nicoise Salad (Eats Well With Others)

Fig, Bacon, Goat Cheese & Thyme Crostini (The Merrythought)

9 Desserts to Make With Beer (CHOW)

Pear Clafoutis (Guess Who's Cooking)

Pumpkin, Chickpea and Red Lentil Stew (Better Homes & Gardens)

Spicy Chickpea and Bulgur Soup (101 Cookbooks)

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