50 Shots of America–Arkansas

Granny's Baked Apples

Granny's Baked Apples

Arkansas, our 25th state as of June 15, 1836, is no longer The Land of Opportunity.

No, seriously, they changed their motto to The Natural State back in the 1970s to boost their tourism profile.

What they are the land of is national parks, mountains, hot springs and agriculture–they’ve got poultry, beef and pork down pat!

They also have a high number of dry counties throughout the state: 42 of the 75 do not allow alcohol to be sold within their boundaries! And the counties that do sell it get the privilege of collecting loads of extra taxes–4% to start plus an additional 10% on cocktails and wine at restaurants!

Since we haven’t done a non-alcoholic drink in a while, now seems the appropriate time, doesn’t it?

Granny’s Baked Apples

1.5 oz Apple Juice
1 barspoon Sweetened Condensed Milk
splash of vanilla
sprinkle of cinnamon

Combine over ice and shake like you’re prospecting for gems in Crater of Diamonds State Park. Strain into a chilled cordial glass and top with cinnamon.

The primary inspirations for this drink are the state flower being the apple blossom and the state beverage being milk. I suppose if you just couldn’t hang with the lack of alcohol, you could always dash in some vanilla vodka instead of the plain vanilla.

And with this recipe we’re halfway through the 50 States!

50 Shots of America–Virginia


Looking over the information available on our 10th state, Virginia, I stumbled upon the list of Food & Wine Festivals that happen throughout the year in the Old Dominion State. There are a LOT of them. But, you know, with a considerable agricultural industry and 130 wineries in the state, I suppose that should be expected.

The home of the Jamestown settlement and birthplace of about 8 presidents, I was always told that the state got it’s name in honor of Elizabeth I, the virgin queen. That’s not necessarily wrong, but I also read that there are a couple of Native American words common to the area that sound similar, so it’s a toss-up who really gets credit, there.

Still, I figure that’s as good a reason as any to offer up a non-alcoholic sipper for the umpteenth state (okay, yes, I know, we’re only up to 10 with this one) to claim milk as a state beverage.

Cheerberry Cooler

2 Blackberries
1 Strawberry, quartered
Peach nectar
Cherry soda

In a low-ball glass, muddle the berries with a healthy splash of the peach nectar until thoroughly crushed. Fill the glass half-full with crushed ice and top with cherry soda. Stir to combine the fruit with the soda and float a bit more peach nectar along the top.

Cheerwine is a very-cherry, very carbonated soda bottled in North Carolina but very popular in Virginia. If you can’t find it or another all-cherry soda, substituting Cherry 7-Up will also work. In large volumes this would make a lovely spring or summer punch and, in the absence of fresh, frozen fruit can be substituted. If served doubled in a tall glass make sure to include a spoon so the fruit doesn’t go to waste.

50 Shots of America–New Jersey


Of all the things that come to mind when I think New Jersey (Miss Congeniality, The Sopranos, the Turnpike and my aunt who lives there to name just a few), light bulbs are not one of them. Seriously, I don’t know where I thought Thomas Edison lived when he was inventing up a storm, but never did I imagine it was New Jersey.

But so it was that the 3rd state of the Union (as of December 18, 1787) was, indeed, the home of the light bulb, the transistor, FM radio, the drive-in movie, the zipper, saltwater taffy and dirigibles. (The list goes on and on, I’m just hitting some highlights, here.) It also seems somewhat… ironic? that the place whose State Dance is the Square Dance is also home to the 2nd largest gambling town, Atlantic City (and, apparently, the city where the board game Monopoly got it’s property names!). Go figure!

When trying to decide on a drink for New Jersey I did my best to steer away from some of the more negative connotations (landfills, various refineries, hints of organized crime…) and, instead, focus on some fun bits. While the presence of the oldest operating nuclear power plant in the US does put one in the mind of a Flaming Moe (from The Simpsons, for those who don’t watch much television)–and the cough syrup ingredient is rather appropriate as I’m a bit under the weather as of this writing–I decided to go with the zipper and another New Jersey creation: cranberry sauce.

Okay, not the sauce, the juice of the same ilk. Let’s not go overboard, right?

So… zipper. Zippy. Zingy. Zesty. What flavor best equates to zippy for me? Horseradish! No, not quite there. Pepper, suggested Todd. Which led to Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces. Not the right direction, I thought. Then it came to me: ginger!

Again, I’m already on cold meds so alcohol isn’t going to be a good mix. So this week’s shot (or little sipper as I prefer to think of them–after all, if they’re so nasty you have to shoot them down just to make them bearable, why bother?) is non-alcoholic.

The Zipper Berry

1/4-inch coin of fresh Ginger, chopped up a bit
1/4 oz Simple Syrup
1 1/2 oz Cranberry Juice (100% juice blend if possible, no extra sweeteners or substitutes)

Muddle the ginger and syrup together in the bottom of a small cocktail shaker. Add juice and top with ice. Shake like you’re breezing through traffic on the turnpike (a fantasy, sure, but it’s all good!) and strain into a cordial glass.

The chilled concoction is, to me, the very definition of zippy. You get a bit of the sweetened juice and then the ginger zaps the back of your palate like an electrical current. It’s a pretty drink, too, as the muddled ginger clouds the juice ever so slightly as a few of the smaller bits drift down to the bottom of the glass. This would make an excellent brunch beverage or, if made on a larger scale and cut with some ginger ale, a lovely sipper for hot Summer afternoons.

Creating a Cocktail


That same party that sparked the Menu Planning and Quantity discussions (not to mention reminding me of the fun side of catering) also gave me a chance to try out a new service I’m offering: custom cocktail creation. Because it’s an interesting process (and a yummy drink), I thought I’d share how I went about designing the cocktail to fit the event.

First some background: the party was a Mary Kay Holiday Open House hosted by a trio of consultants, one of which is a good friend from high school, who requested a non-alcoholic drink because people would be coming and going, plus there’d be young ones around. My friend and the other two consultants, lovely ladies all, are fun and bubbly so I had a pretty good feel for their personalities in relation to the type of party they wanted this to be.

So right off the bat I’m thinking pink (I mean, Mary Kay: what else is there?) and possibly cranberry since it’s a fairly popular flavor and a good base for a mocktail but where to go after that? I could do a cranberry-orange mix that’s sorta like a virgin Cosmopolitan, but that wasn’t special enough; this drink needed to be truly unique so a non-alcoholic version of any regular cocktail just seemed like a cop-out to me.

Another thought flitting through my mind is the skin-care  classes the consultants host, so if I could make the drink frothy or milky, reminiscent of a lotion maybe, that would be even better. Being November a smoothie seemed a little much and most frothy cocktails involved egg whites and that’s a tough sell to a stranger even if it is a component of many classic cocktails. I briefly considered experimenting with the powdered pasteurized egg whites but ditched it just as quick. That leaves milk, but with potential diary allergies or intolerance, was that really the best option? And would it even combine nicely with the cranberry juice?

I let this mull over in my mind for a few days when I suddenly had an epiphany: Bubble Tea! For those who’ve not tasted it before, bubble tea is an Asian drink (I’m honestly not sure which culture truly claims it, I’ve seen references to Japanese as well as Vietnamese origins), a sweet combination of tea and milk with, usually, a fruit flavor added and large black tapioca pearls (the bubble part of the equation) in the bottom of the cup. It’s served with a wide straw so that the pearls, which are cooked to a gummy consistency, can be sucked up and enjoyed as well. Now, I’d never seen a cranberry bubble tea and I certainly didn’t want to use the powders (both for the tea and flavorings) that seem to be the norm, but I really liked the idea and thought it had potential.

Thinking Asian got me thinking about another milk alternative: coconut milk. Not coconut cream like you use in a Pina Colada, but the type used in Thai curries. I considered using other dairy alternatives (almond, rice and soy milks) but when I started to do some digging into the health properties of each, coconut milk was the surprising winner. Even though it contains saturated fats (usually a bad thing), the saturated fat of the coconut is unusual in it’s makeup and not harmful like the ones from animal sources. Plus I found out that coconut milk is anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-carcinogenic, anti-bacterial and has been used in studies to lessen the viral load of AIDS patients!

See, I’d already named this drink The Facial, at least as a working title, and thought that if regular facials are good for our skin, a drink named as such should be somewhat good for our bodies. So, as I experimented with the various ingredients (green tea and cranberry juice, both good things!) I tried to keep that in mind. And experiment I did. It took several trials combining different teas (regular green and flavored), the coconut milk, juice and brown sugar syrup to get a drink that was tasty and had the right color and consistency. And, of course, the tapioca pearls I found were the small white kind so as I cooked them I tinted them black with icing paste (both to match the color scheme of the party–pink, black and silver–as well as resemble the micro-beads that are in various scrubs and serums the company sells) and then stored them in the recommended brown sugar syrup.

Here’s the resulting mocktail, renamed The Miracle after the company’s core skin-care set.

The Miracle Mocktail

2.5 oz brewed Cranberry-Pomegranate Green Tea
2.5 oz 100% Juice Cranberry Juice
.5 oz Brown Sugar Syrup*
.5 oz Grenadine (mostly for color, can be omitted)
1 oz Coconut Milk
1 Tbsp Tapioca Pearls, tinted

Place the Tapioca Pearls in the bottom of a sugar-rimmed cocktail glass.

Combine the tea through coconut milk in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake for a good count of 10. Pour over the tapioca pearls and enjoy!

* Brown sugar syrup is made by combining 1 part brown sugar, 1 part white sugar and 2 parts water in a saucepan and heating until the sugars are completely dissolved. Can be made ahead and store in the fridge for more than a month. Also good in rum-based cocktails where regular sugar syrup is called for though it can change the color of a drink.

The drink was a hit, both with the hostess trio and the guests and I had so much fun creating it and playing bartender throughout the evening. I did get asked if it was harder coming up with a non-alcoholic cocktail and I had to admit that, yes, it was a little more challenging to come up with something different enough to justify the effort but it was definitely rewarding and I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to create a custom cocktail!

If you’d like to find out how to get your own custom cocktail creation, email me at randomactscomics@gmail.com.

Non-Alcoholic Cocktails


I remember one visit home as a kid, my cousins and I had a slumber party at our grandparents (okay, one cousin is technically an aunt who’s 5 months younger than me and it was her house, but let’s not sweat the semantics). While some of the grown-ups congregated in the dining room we took over the living room, complete with a treat: Shirley Temples.

Shirley Temple

Ginger ale
Maraschino cherry

Splash some grenadine over ice and top with a healthy pour of ginger ale (other clear sodas can also be used, depending on what you’ve got in the house) and garnish with a cherry (or two).

Now, adult me kind of wonders about the wisdom in giving children faux-cocktails, is it really the best choice? On the other hand, treating it as a special occasion sort of treat might be just the thing for instilling the right attitude about cocktails.

And it’s not just the underage who drink virgin drinks or, as David Biggs refers to them in his book of the same name, “Mocktails.” Alcohol-free drinks are popular from the pregnant to the designated driver and plenty of folks in between. I mean, every now and then a fruity drink might be nice without the worry of a hangover. Or maybe a tart refresher midweek–or even midday–is a welcome change without the booze.

A lot of non-alcoholic cocktails are sweet, either from the additional of soda (clear for clear alcohol, cola for dark) or increasing the fruit juice to make up the difference. A Virgin Mary (just skip the vodka and maybe a dash more clam juice) is a nice change to the sweet or try this one, a definite throw-back to another era:

Jones Beach Cocktail

This savory drink uses lemon juice to balance the saltiness of the beef consomme. To make consomme, dissolve a beef stock cube in a cup of boiling water. [Or use canned]

Crushed ice
1 c Beef consomme, cooled
Half the quantity of clam juice
Juice of 1/2 a lemon (or lime)
1/2 tsp Horseradish sauce
Couple of [dashes] of Worcestershire sauce
Celery salt
Sprig of parsley

Place a scoop of crushed ice in a cocktail shaker and add all the ingredients until well mixed. Now place two ice cubes in a tall glass and strain the blended drink over them. Serve ungarnished or with a sprig of parsley.

–David Biggs, Mocktails