The weather has well and truly turned here in Los Angeles. Sure, the sun is shining and the fronds on the sky-high palm trees still tickle the invisible ivories as the sea-breeze wisps past them. But it’s cold for us, ok? Heck, all those hipsters on Melrose sporting the military boots, short shorts and flannel-fleece hats can’t be wrong, can they?
In any case, I’m cold. I’m wearing my little fake-fur lined booties even as I speak, and I know it won’t be long now before I have to shut my windows because the breezes cause me to shiver in my yoga pants (yes, you can roll your eyes at me now). But here’s something you might be able to relate to: today, I couldn’t get enough warm drinks. Another telltale sign that winter is on LA’s doorstep.
By 2 o’clock, I’d already made my way through a cup of hot pour-over coffee (oh dear, I am a hopeless coffee snob) and two cups of green tea. As we sat down to a lunch of tiny pupusas at Tinga, I looked longingly at their coffee list, hoping for a decaffeinated version to warm up my internal organs without giving them such a jolt that I’d be unable to sleep tonight. A couple of hours later, I ran across the street to grab a hot cocoa from Sycamore Kitchen. A plain glass of water no longer appeals to me; rather, its potential to make my teeth to chatter causes me to give it a wide berth. I have a feeling I’m going to be very dehydrated this season!
For me, one of the tricky things about this time of year is trying to figure out how to have my cocktails and my warmth, too. The notion of a shot or two of my favourite spirits, spun around chunks of ice until the glass itself shivers and frosts up… well, it doesn’t sound all that enticing. But what’s a girl to do at the myriad winter gatherings ahead of her between now and the New Year? Sip on her hot green tea, the reluctant teetotaler? Heavens forbid.
Here are some ideas for cocktails that will warm up you and your guests in one way or another. You’re welcome. Now take that flannel hat off. You look ridiculous.
Hot Toddy, with a “Nutritional” Twist
Ah, the old faithful, or as my Irish-blooded husband likes to call it, mother’s milk. What could be better than some whiskey, lemon juice, honey and hot water? How about a small shot of apple cider vinegar? If you’ve been following the cocktail trends over the past couple of years, you’ll have noticed vinegar, and its other code name “shrub”, popping up on menus across the country. Those sugary-sweet cocktails we guzzled in our ’20s? Those are for the birds. Enter vinegar to give that honey a little snap, a little depth. You can also add a little apple cider (the beautiful unfiltered kind is best) if you want to temper a.c.v’s sassy sour bite. I like using unfiltered apple cider vinegar, too (Bragg’s is a favourite in our house) because it apparently has some great digestive qualities.
There’s more than one way to warm up your system. The alcohol will do her part (I always think of those old cartoons where the St. Bernard comes calmly to the rescue of an Alp-stranded wanderer, who reaches for the little barrel of heart-warming brandy around the aloof canine’s neck!) but why not help her along with a few Scoville heat units? When I was in India, I had a delightful cocktail that, I imagine, began with the muddling of some green Serrano chiles, fresh mint, half a lime and some sugar. Add some white rum and bubbles for a winterized version of a mojito!
Another way to add some heat to your cocktails? Grab some spicy bitters. You can find them at your neighbourhood fine spirits shop but you can also make some. My husband made a batch of what he calls Aztec chocolate bitters: cacao, chiles d’arbol, cinnamon and even a little coffee. It definitely punches up our Manhattans! Oh, and speaking of Manhattans…
Manhattan with a Flamed Orange Peel
This is more of a “show-off for your guests” trick, but if you’re making Manhattans, Negronis or even a Boulevardier, finish it off with a little flaming orange peel. There’s a whole host of videos online to show you how to do it. It’s easy enough, adds a lovely burst of caramelized orange flavour to your cocktail and best of all, it makes your guests go “oooh!”. Obviously, keep the kids and pets out of the room if you’re going to do this, and as the night goes on (and your intoxication level rises), you may want to keep the matches at bay. But if you’re looking to bring a little warmth to your cocktail party, this is a sure-“fire” (see what I did there?) way to jazz things up. Sorry, I can’t help it. I’ve never met a pun I didn’t like.
Apple Cider/Mulled Wine
I love how my house smells when I make a big batch of warm spiced apple cider or mulled wine. This is an opportunity for you to pull out all those spices I’ve told you to buy all year: cinnamon, cloves (punctured into a small orange for easiest removal), green cardamom, star anise, all spice berries, nutmeg, black peppercorns, bay leaves. I still remember sipping small glasses of Glogg on a freezing night in Chicago at a cozy bar in Andersonville. Almonds that had been soaked in vodka floated in our glasses, the piece de resistance as the Lake Michigan winds did their worst outside. Deep, deep sigh.
Hot Cocoa with Curry Powder & Marshmallows
And here’s one of my favourites when it’s just the mister and myself at home. We warm up some milk on the stove (at the moment, we’re loving hazelnut milk), dissolve some unsweetened cocoa into it, then add whatever flavours we’re into. A perennial favourite? A teaspoon or two of curry powder. Yup, it’s one of the few times I reach for it, and I’ve got to tell you: chocolate and curry powder on a chilly night? Topped with some marshmallows (or if Bren’s making it, some Fluff)? It’s the kind of thing that will make you long for a night when the mercury sinks ever lower.
Happy supping! What do you like to drink when it’s cold outside and you’re feeling festive?
Aarti began cooking as a chubby kid, as soon as she realized that in order to satisfy her sweet tooth, she’d have to make dessert. It was only as an unemployed adult that she graduated to cooking other dinner courses, and once she did, she was hooked. Her blog, aartipaarti soon birthed a YouTube cooking-variety show of the same name, shot with her husband in her tiny Los Angeles apartment. After much coercing, she applied for season 6 of Food Network Star, was accepted, competed and won. She now hosts Aarti Party on Food Network, and appears on Cooking Channel’s Drop 5 Lbs with Good Housekeeping, Unique Eats and will host a new show, Taste in Translation, that debuts in January of 2013. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter (@aartipaarti) and Instagram, as well as her blog.