Food, Wine, Good (and Evil) Spirits

ImageBecause our holiday parties tend to revolve around themes and menus of yesterday (I blame my house, it’s terribly 1950s to the extreme, and no, I wouldn’t change a thing), I wanted to experiment with a category of drinks that are probably better suited to Patagonia rather than Sunny Southern California: hot cocktails.

Regardless of the outside temperature though, sipping a hot cocktail accomplishes two things: it warms your hands and tummy and makes you incredibly drunk. What’s not to enjoy about that? Besides, we can all sit around sipping cider or cocoa all the time, can we?

Here are 4 hot cocktails that will definitely be featured at my next shindig, no matter what the weather’s like. The suntan lotion, however, will be strictly optional.

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Clementine MargaritaYou have about a month to make these before Clementine season is officially over. Don't miss it. 

Have you ever had a Clementine? They are tart, tangy and have a slight sweetness to them. A cross between a mandarin and a sweet orange, they are easy to peel and taste slightly different than both. It has distinct enough flavor that I always make sure I enjoy them throughout the season.

And here's the thing, they are supposed to be seedless, however I am having a hard time finding seedless Clementines. I've heard they lose their desirable seedlessness when they are cross-pollinated with other fruit, bees are the usual culprit.

My latest batch of Clementines was full of seeds, which made them a much better vehicle for making margaritas than just peeling and eating them.

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whiskey_shot_248.jpgWe'd been drinking since Happy Hour at that Korean Pirates of the Caribbean on Wilshire. We guzzled 5000cc's of Amber Ale, and dined on authentic cuisine: "tteokbokki" and "potato skins." Post-Happy Hour pricing pushed us on to the streets. We decided to regroup at a home-base off Franklin.

We drank whiskey shots and warm beer on the breezy patio. Our friends were at that bar-that-offers-free-tacos-with-every-drink. The house descended on to the watering hole recently annexed by the hip-seeking Manifest Destiny of gentrification. Friends from varied areas of my life crowded into a corner of the cantina.

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enotable.jpgI'm obsessed with wine bars. Or I guess I should say, finding the perfect wine bar. Every trip we take usually revolves around this odd quirk. However, it was not a priority on this excursion to Chicago. We only had one day in the city and I initially had other plans. Plus, the places I wanted to go were too far away from our hotel. Or so I thought. Traffic ruined my morning itinerary, so we ended up grabbing a quick snack and then just walking along Michigan Avenue window shopping, trying to overcome the minor hangover from the night before. With no thought of wine on my mind what do we come upon? ENO, a quaint little bar in the InterContinental Hotel, that specializes in wine flights, cheese and charcuterie. Believe me when I tell you I was going to resist, until they mentioned their Blind Tasting challenge. After a decade of serious education and tasting, I felt sure I could come out a winner...and so we sat down.

The challenge is pretty simple: they give you a flight of three reds or three whites and you have to determine grape variety, new vs old world, country, region and the age of the wine (1-3/4-7/7-10/11+). Two Bonus Points if you actually guessed the wine. The more you get right the cheaper the flight becomes. With a total of 21 answers per flight we felt confident we could get at least 8 right, which would knock $8 off the flight. If we got lucky and answered 21 correctly the flight would be only $5.05. We took the challenge very seriously, but were quickly humbled.

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swgpatio.jpgLos Angeles is a very large and fractured city. Most people, myself included, tend to play where they live because commuting is such an unknown quantity. Sure you get used to leaving yourself plenty of time to get where you're going, if you have to be on time or actually respect the people you're meeting. is practically your best friend. So, even though I love a good wine bar, the opening of Sonoma Wine Garden late last summer escaped my attention. I can hardly be blamed for not knowing. It's in Santa Monica and I live in the San Fernando Valley two diametrically opposed areas. When I got an invitation via Twitter to attend a tasting put on by Vibrant Rioja (more about them later) at the aforementioned SWG, I was excited and intrigued. A new wine bar, how cool. Then I became slightly concerned. A new wine bar in the Santa Monica Place Mall?

Well, this recently completely remodeled mall is pretty upscale and far from the usual suburban nightmare, being 2 blocks from the beach and mostly open air. Once I went to their website, I realized this place had real potential. When I arrived, any doubts were immediately put to rest. Being a "wine garden" most of the seats are outside on the roof of the mall, in a setting that is both classy and cozy. Sort of like the patio of most of our dreams. While you can't exactly see the ocean, its presence is felt, which they cleverly temper with several outdoor fireplaces and enough heat lamps to make sure no one ever even has the chance to catch a chill.

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