Muscadine cocktail – using wild grapes for a fall cocktail

Muscadine Cocktail with boiled peanuts

 If you live in the South, you have probably have had your share of muscadines and scuppernongs, our native wild grape. In Georgia, a walk through the woods in late summer and early fall will usually yield at least a handful of the Southern wild grapes to enjoy. You can often find them along the ground, where they’ve fallen from their high perch in the trees.  I usually eat them where I find them, but sometimes we’re lucky enough to come upon low-hanging vines that make picking a couple of pints an easy chore. They are fragrant, juicy and sweet. Like pears or apples, the muscadine signals Fall in the South. They are my inspiration this week for a Southern Fall Muscadine Cocktail.

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Autumn Pear Sidecar cocktail

Autumn Pear Sidecar

With the end of the hot weather, I think it’s time to put away the fruity, fizzy drinks of summer and return to the warmer amber spirits. I do love the classic cocktails that use brandy, rye and whiskey as their base, and the Sidecar is one of my favorites. Variations of the Sidecar cocktail abound, so I felt at liberty to futz around with the general concept and make an Autumn Pear Sidecar cocktail.

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Aperol Spritz, an Italian aperitivo drink

Seaside Aperol Spritz in Fano, Italy

I just spent 10 days traveling through Italy and I’m having a hard time adjusting to life back in Atlanta. Besides the daily gelato, I’m particularly missing my afternoon Aperol Spritz. Everywhere we went in Italy, as the heat of the day waned, people began returning to the piazzas and streets in the late afternoon and early evening hours, sitting down for a glass of wine, a beer or a Spritz. Walking throught the streets, you could spy many glasses of Spritz being served at the outdoor cafes. We easily got into the same rhythm, by looking for our nightly place to people watch and sip on our Spritz. Particularly in Fano, a small resort town on the Adriatic, we would stroll down to the beach in the late afternoon and stop at the BluMarina beachside cafe for an Aperol Spritz. The tray of the bright orange cocktails would arrive, cold and bubbly, served with a plate of antipasti to nibble. 

Aperitvo liqueurs from Italy - Aperol and Campari

Aperitvo liqueurs from Italy – Aperol and Campari

 Aperol, an Italian apertivo liqueur

The liqueur that gives the Spritz it’s bright orange color and bittersweet flavor is Aperol. Aperol is made by the same people who produce Campari. LIke Campari, it is a liqueur that has a slightly bitter taste but with enough sweetness to counter-balance the flavor. According to the official website, the recipe for Aperol is a secret, but is infused with an herbal mix of bitter and sweet orange,and “many other herbs and roots”. Aperol has a lower alcohol content (11%) than Campari or a glass of wine.

Because of its low alcohol content, Aperol Spritz is served for aperitivo. Apertivo is a sort of “Happy Hour”, with a drink that is served to whet the appetite for the evening meal and a plate of small bites of food as a refreshment. At our little seaside bar in Fano, for the price of a round of drinks, they brought out bowls of nuts, some chips, a plate of focaccia, pickled eggplant, roasted peppers, tomatoes and fresh cheese. Because no one seems to eat until 9:00 at night, the 7:00 round of Spritz and light food kept us from starving until we were fed our proper dinners late in the evening.

Apertivo nibbles served with our Aperol Spritz

Apertivo nibbles served with our Aperol Spritz – focaccia, pickled eggplant, tomatoes and mozzerella, roasted peppers, olives and chips.

How to make an Aperol Spritz

It’s simplicity itself. Here’s the recipe.

Aperol Spritz

3 parts prosecco
2 parts Aperol
1 splash of soda
Serve over ice with a slice of orange. You can get fancy and add a stemmed cherry or some drinking straws. You can also substitute Campari for the Aperol to make a Campari Spritz.

 Now, all you need is the view….

Beach in Fano, Italy

Beach at BluMarino Cafe in Fano, Italy

Salute! Cheers!

White Wine Peach Sangria

White Wine Peach Sangria

Living in the Peach State (that would be Georgia, by the way) means getting great locally-grown peaches throughout July and into August. Unlike the peaches from the supermarket, the local fruit that I get from the Farmer’s Market is ripe and soft to the touch. It also means that I need to use them quickly, while they are at their peak. Yesterday, the weather was nice and the peaches were perfect, so I decided to make a pitcher of White Wine Peach Sangria.  

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Blackberry Thyme bramble cocktail

Blackberry Thyme Bramble cocktail

As I mentioned earlier this week, we’re in the beginning of blackberry season here in Georgia. We’re picking blackberries every few days and we’ve got a few big containers filled with them right now. When I have this many berries sitting in my fridge, it’s too tempting to grab a sweet handful to nibble on or put in bowl with some yogurt. I’m also tempted to toss them into a tall glass and add some thyme, lemon and gin for a summer cocktail –  Blackberry Thyme Bramble Cocktail.

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Pimm’s Cup – a British cocktail for sunny days

A Pimm's Cup

In honor of Andy Murray finally winning the Wimbledon trophy for the Brits this week, I’m making the official cocktail of Wimbledon, the quintessential English summer cocktail – The Pimm’s Cup. The Pimm’s Cup is a classic English “fruit cup”… a cool, refreshing long drink made of Pimm’s No. 1 tonic and a lemony or gingery soda and slices of lemon, orange and cucumber. 

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La Floridita Daiquiri – Hemingway’s favorite cocktail

La Floridita Daiquiri

In Old Havana, Cuba, there is a bar called El Floridita. In 1917, a Catalan bartender named Constantino Ribalaigua Vert began working there and was soon known for the quality of his cocktails. Even if he was an expert mixologist with rum and various fruit juices, he will always be known for his invention of La Floridita Daiquiri.

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Watermelon Vodka Cooler – a Summer Solstice cocktail

Watermelon Vodka Cooler

Happy Summer Solstice! Today is the first day of summer and it calls for a cocktail that will be great for those hot days spent with friends by the pool. A Watermelon Vodka cooler, perhaps?

Maybe when you were younger, in college say, did you ever take a watermelon, cut a hole in the top, then proceed to upturn a whole bottle of vodka into that hole? Once that bottle of vodka had emptied itself into the watermelon, you plugged it back up then put it in the fridge for a couple of days. When your 20 or 30 friends showed up at your pool a few day later, everyone got to enjoy slices of boozy, cold fruit. Because it was so fruity and refreshing, those slices went down fast and lethal. Now that I’m a grown woman, I like to think that I have moved beyond those years and can drink with a little bit more sophistication. Now, I blend the watermelon and vodka and put it in a glass. See the difference?

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Michelada – a Mexican tomato beer cocktail

Micheladas, a Mexican beer and tomato cocktail

I don’t know how it came up in conversation, but my good friend Carolyn was telling me about drinking tomato beer during her summers in Savannah. My first thought about combining beer with tomato juice was “Yuck. That cannot be good”. The idea of it stuck in my head, though. After our first week of sweltering heat, I was ready for a summer cocktail that was thirst quenching and different.  A beer cocktail started to sound like it might hit the spot. A quick internet search showed, to my surprise, that beer and tomato juice is a pretty common combination. It also turns out, that beer and tomato juice cocktails aren’t just found in pockets of the Southern U.S., they have been around a long time in Mexico, where they are known as Micheladas. 

I made a couple for me and the hubby and they were good. REALLY good! So good, that I think they might be my new favorite summer drink.

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Maximilian Affair Cocktail – Mezcal and St. Germain

Maximilian Affair Cocktail

The Maximilian Affair cocktail salutes Mexico and France by combining the tastes of smoky Mexican mezcal with the sweet floral French elderflower liqueur. It’s a surprising combination that works great together. Which is odd, considering that it was named for an historic event that took place in Mexico in the 1860’s which wasn’t so sweet. The Maximilian Affair involved an Austrian Archduke and an attempt by those meddling French to rule Mexico.

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