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Gin-gle All the Way

Have yourself a merry little cocktail

Caroline Siegfried
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Kelley Green

WINE-TER SEASON Kelley Green, a resident of Braes Heights, dresses up a glass of red wine with a “frosted” rosemary sprig. (Photo: Anton Banta/ Food styling by Caroline Siegfried)

As the youngest in a family of five, with 14 years separating me from my oldest sister, it can be difficult to find a good “sibling activity.” Movies were the holiday go-to for a while – I think I saw Anchorman when I was seven. The past few years, we replaced movies with puzzles, and then a wine and board game night. Last year, we came up with a new twist – bring your own signature cocktail. I would say it’s a TikTok trend, but I was told that “Gen Z can’t just claim cocktails.” Regardless, it’s a fun way for everyone to get involved – each person is more invested when they own a part of it. Cocktails of the night included an old fashioned, a spicy paloma, and “Pliny’s Tonic” from Anvil Bar & Refuge. 

For me, the idea is to tap into that kind of creative spirit that you had when you were a kid: Have a little fun and bring a little bit of yourself into it. Don’t just go through the motions; make a bit of time to do something different. Be embarrassingly and genuinely engaged. This holiday season, maybe you’ll want to try out a BYO-cocktail night or introduce your family to a cocktail they can make every year. I’ve gathered a few crowd-pleaser cocktail recipes and garnishes here, and I hope they inspire you to find your very own sparkly reserve of holiday magic. 

French 75

The spiral-shaped lemon twist on this classic French 75 is surprisingly simple to create. (Photo: Anton Banta/ Food styling by Caroline Siegfried)

Classic Cocktail with a Twist

One lesson I’ve learned: You’ve got to tailor your drinks to the crowd. One Christmas, I tried to make a blue cocktail for my siblings – this was met with pure derision, comparisons to toxic waste, etc. Now I save my neon-colored drinks for my friends. Last year, I went with a classic drink that’s hard to dislike: a French 75. I made it special by learning how to do a special lemon twist garnish. This is my recipe!

A Festive French 75

1 ½ ounces (3 Tablespoons) gin 
3 ⁄ 4 ounces lemon juice
3 ⁄ 4 ounces simple syrup 
3 ounces (about half a glass) Champagne or sparkling wine

Pour gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker filled with ice. Shake for 10-15 seconds, strain out the ice, and pour into a glass. Pour sparkling wine to the top of the glass. Gently stir. 

Lemon Twist Garnish 1 lemon
Straw for shaping

I’ve found that the easiest way to do this is with a vegetable peeler. You can also use a paring knife. Take a whole lemon and peel in a spiral motion around the outside, trying to make the peel as thin as you can. You can then twist it around a straw and hold it for a few seconds – the warmth of your hand will help the peel keep its shape. Place the lemon peel on the rim of the glass and garnish with berries.

Note: I always serve this in a champagne flute or wine glass. I love a coupe glass, but the wide mouth of a coupe will quickly release the carbonation. No more bubbles! The narrow opening of a champagne flute will keep your drink bubbly longer. 

espresso martini

An espresso martini gets a cold-weather makeover with a “snowy” coconut rim. (Photo: Anton Banta/ Food styling by Caroline Siegfried)

After-Dinner Drink

My all-time favorite drink is an espresso martini. They are the ideal dancing fuel, although they do require a bit of effort. My brother Will got married last November, and one of the signature cocktails at their reception was an espresso martini. This is his espresso martini recipe (from Defined Dish cookbook The Comfortable Kitchen by Alex Snodgrass).

Espresso Martini

3 ounces vodka
1 ounce Kahlúa
1 ounce simple syrup 
1 ½ ounces hot espresso

In a cocktail shaker, combine the vodka, Kahlúa, simple syrup, and hot espresso. Fill with ice. Close, seal, and shake until very cold (at least 20 seconds). Place a strainer on top of the shaker and pour into two glasses.

winter sangria

A batch of winter sangria can be filled with your favorite fresh seasonal fruits, like oranges and pomegranates. (Photo: Anton Banta/ Food styling by Caroline Siegfried)

For a Crowd

Sometimes making individual cocktails is not the move. My friend Nick has spent many a night regretting his decision to make espresso martinis. Once he’s made about six, there is an unmistakable look of pure dread in his eyes – after that, he just pretends not to hear us. It’s a good strategy. 

Does the thought of making individual cocktails sound kind of like that Greek myth where Sisyphus rolls the boulder up the hill to you? (You’re correct, it is pretty much exactly that.) For a larger party, you can try making a batch drink.

Brittany McDowell, mom of four and health coach, loves this recipe for a winter sangria from Houstonian Marcia Smart of Smart in the Kitchen. This winter sangria is “so easy to make, tastes delicious, and looks very beautiful and colorful on the counter. What I love about this drink is that it calls for fresh ingredients and you can really use whatever seasonal fruits you prefer. We used figs, clementines, and pears.” 

Winter Sangria 

3 tangerines sliced thin, or 1 small navel orange or blood orange
1 bottle Prosecco, Cava, or Champagne
3 cups pomegranate juice
1⁄4 cup brandy or cognac
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1 pear halved, seeded and sliced into thin slices
½ cup seedless Thompson grapes or red grapes cut in half
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise

Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher and stir to combine. Serve in ice-filled glasses.

sugared garnish

The frosty green of this sugared garnish, plus a pop of red from the raspberry, adds winter magic to any drink. (Photo: Anton Banta/ Food styling by Caroline Siegfried)

Garnishes for a Frosty Finish

Not everyone is a cocktail drinker, including Braes Heights resident Kelley Green. When I asked her for a favorite cocktail, she said, “I drink wine!” But even if you stick to wine, you can try a simple wintery garnish like the two I came up with below, to add a little sparkle to your holiday beverages. 

Evergreen Sprig Garnish 

1 sprig of rosemary
4 Tablespoons sugar
2 raspberries

Dip a sprig of rosemary in water, pat it almost dry with a paper towel, and then roll it in sugar. Ta da, snowy evergreen sprig! Stick two raspberries on the less leafy end for a mistletoe-like look. Set it across the top of any glass (wine or cocktail) for a little festivity. 


Snowy Glass Rim Garnish

This will work for most creamier cocktails, like an espresso martini or eggnog, especially if you use unsweetened coconut – it’s not an overwhelming taste. It gives your drink a frosty sort of look. 

½ cup shredded coconut
If needed, 1 tsp honey

If you don’t know how to rim a glass, it’s simple: Fill a shallow bowl with water and dip the rim of the cup. Spread shredded coconut on a plate and roll the rim around until it is coated. A warning: on a normal glass, water will be enough to make the coconut stick. With a martini glass (as shown here) you’ll need something a bit stickier, since the rim is wider than the base. If needed, you can substitute honey for water. You can also put your glasses in the freezer to add to the frosted-over look.

Cheers to the holiday season!

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