Author Archives: saramackay23

Christmas Cocktail Competition 2018

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Closing in on the holiday season mainly means one thing in the MacKay household: our annual cocktail competition is near! We are currently preparing for the 7th season, but in the meantime, here’s how 2018’s match-up went down…

The full line-up is always a highly-anticipated night-of surprise, as we don’t even share the spirit of choice ahead of time. Somehow, everyone still ends up going a very different direction:img_7162.jpgJudging is not for the faint of heart. It takes a born and bred Wisconsinite to persevere and accurately assess each cocktail.IMG_7134Hands down, the most impressive cocktail goes to the Midnight in Manhattan. Not only did my dad introduce his drink with a limerick, he also smoked the glasses! He soaked cedar planks in orange blossom water overnight, started little fires in the planks, and then set the glasses on top to capture that smokey orange essence. It was the perfect winter cocktail: bourbon, sweet vermouth, bourbon barrel maple syrup and bitters (garnished with cloves and luxardo cherries). 

“I have the perfect drink for when the weather gets nippy

Don’t drink too much, though, it might make you a bit tippy

It’s as smooth as satin

It’s called the Midnight in Manhattan

Straight from the trails in Natchez, Mississippi”

IMG_7161My mom re-created the Southern Limerick, a cocktail we loved at The Pinewood Social, one of our favorite bars in Nashville. A warm, creamy, boozy drink made of whiskey, coffee, simple syrup and Meletti Amaro Liquer, topped with whipping cream and bitters. This was my fav of the night! (Note that skeptical side eye from Michael!) 

I didn’t lose from lack of trying. I soaked pears in vodka for weeks leading up to the competition! 

However, despite my effort and art deco presentation, my Spiced Pear Martini didn’t cut it for placing on the podium.img_7117.jpgEmily’s White Christmas Martini was the prettiest drink that night! She shook up Vanilla Vodka, Rum Chata, Milk & Honey Cream Liqueur and Half & Half. Bonus points for the throwback rock candy on top!IMG_7130Michael won ANOTHER title with his Limoncello Martini. He spent 10 weeks making his own Limoncello with lemons, vodka and simple syrup. Stirred that night with Limonata and a candied lemon peel. Congratulations, bro!img_7121.jpgClearly, we don’t take this competition lightly. In fact, I already feel behind for not having selected my cocktail entry for the 2019 games! Suggestions welcome :)

Looking for more inspiration? Cocktails of Christmas’ Passed:

A Weekend in Austin

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Austin is spunky and alive, but in a laid-back, southern charming kind-of way. It’s fast-moving and cutting edge, but casual and relaxed. Hustle and bustle, but sip your sweet tea slow. It’s hipster and bougie in the same breath. I totally dig the mixed-energy vibe! You mostly forget you’re in Texas until the bartender asks what can I get “ya’ll” to drink in that sweet southern accent. This city, where you can sit outside listening to live music every night and eat every meal wrapped in a homemade tortilla, has got this whole living thing just right. All I needed was a cowboy hat with a big grin and a two-step to sweep me off my feet and miss that flight back to Milwaukee. I can handle the heat!Austin SkylineThe creativity is tucked into every block, jumping out as you walk, bike, or scooter by, and secretly revealing itself to the treasure-hunting Instagramers searching the nooks and crannies (guilty). Every direction you turn is colorful and expressive.IMG_8327

I savored a Jo’s Coffee Oatmilk Cookie Latte four mornings in a row and it was life. I also took this photo w/ double espresso and no shame:

The food truck hype is real. No restaurants required. Some of my favs: Veracruz for the best breakfast tacos on pillow-y homemade tortillas, East Side King for a Japanese-style fried chicken sandwich, Via 313 for Detroit-style pizza (apparently Detroit has a style and it definitely rocks).

The barbeque is no joke. I’m not a BBQ person in the slightest, but when in Austin…That beef brisket may have been one of my bigger surprises in life. Yes, that was me, Sara MacKay, fighting your fork for that last bite of melt-in-your-mouth meat. (La Barbeque, Salt Lick)Salt Lick, TexasMy favorite bar (ever) lives in East Austin: Whisler’s. It’s rustic, cozy, slightly quirky and medieval romantic. The stone walls are covered in antlers, mirrors, and empty wooden frames and reach up to a high castle-like ceiling. The entire space is illuminated only by candlelight and chandeliers once the sun goes down. The cocktails are fresh, inventive and strong, just how I like them. I’d be a regular on that canvas covered bar chair!

Imagine two full blocks with old quaint houses converted into bars with magical backyard patios centered around cute wooden stages. Live music, Twinkle Lights, Food Trucks. It exists: Rainey Street. And it is SO COOL! (Favs: Craft Pride for local beer, Half Step for fresh cocktails)

The Continental Club has been around since the 1950’s and is still happenin’. You feed off the vibes of the artists playing in front of that glitzy red tinsel backdrop and expect to walk outside afterwards to a row of pastel Cadillacs lined up out front.img_8384img_8383 I love cruising the Lady Bird Trail. It extends for miles along the Colorado River with great views of the city skyline. The warm breeze in your hair and the shade from the Texas heat makes everything feel peaceful and right.img_8238img_8386Let’s all go to Austin and revel in the good music, food and drinks. We’ll smile and be kind and vote for Willie because life can’t get better than this :)3e908dd6-6f08-4a3d-97af-eca08fac97ce

Christmas Cocktail Competition

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Every year around this time, my family gets in the holiday spirit with a little cocktail competition – everyone makes a drink and we anonymously vote on the best one. It’s friendly, but don’t be fooled, we take our cocktails pretty seriously. No one is making Jack and Cokes around here…We keep our recipes secret, not even sharing the chosen liquor, until unveiling the line-up the night of the competition:This is a bit extreme, but I’m a bit Type A, so we even had official voting cards last year:Rob Roy: The winning drink! My dad won the competition with this STRONG Scotch cocktail. It’s basically a Manhattan made with Scotch. He played the crowd well, catering to the MacKay’s Scottish heritage!Beergarita: My mom says she under-performed and wishes I’d leave it out from the list…but I’m a tequila lover and still thought this was a fun drink!French 75: The epitome of champagne cocktails! It was created in a New York bar in Paris during World War I and was said to have such a kick that it felt like getting shelled by a French 75mm field gun.Buttery Nipple: This was the first time someone made a SHOT! My sister wasn’t going to enter last year, but on the day of competition, inspiration struck!Clover Club: I took my chances with a gin drink…and secured 2nd place for the 5th time! One of these years…The raspberries make it a bit fruity, but the vermouth and egg white keeps it tart and dry. This cocktail is named after the Clover Club, a gentlemen’s club in Philadelphia founded in the 1880’s, whose membership was made up of the intellectual elite of the time.Clover Club

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 oz gin (Plymouth recommended)
  • 1/2 oz dry vermouth
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz raspberry simple syrup*
  • 1/2 oz egg white (about half the white of 1 egg)

Directions:

Pour everything into a cocktail shaker and shake first without ice for 20 seconds to emulsify the egg white. Then, add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a glass. (For presentation points, spear some raspberries on a pick to lay across the rim of the glass.)

*To make the raspberry simple syrup: In a saucepan, smash 1 cup of berries into 2 cups sugar with the back of a spoon. Then, add 1 cup water and heat on low until the sugar is dissolved (don’t let it boil). Let the syrup stand for 20 minutes before straining. Make this ahead of time so that it has time to cool. It will last 2 weeks in the refrigerator. OR muddle 5 raspberries in 1/2 oz of plain simple syrup.

Source: The Craft Cocktail Party

Looking for more inspiration? Cocktails of Christmas’ Passed:

Happy Holidays Everyone! Cheers!

Almond Butter Chicken Salad

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I’ve got the PSL of fall salads for you right here! It’s completely basic, but the surprise twist of almond butter instead of mayo is so good!  It’s rich and savory, crunchy, a tiny bit sweet, and a little tangy too. Doesn’t that sound exciting to eat?? (*Pumpkin Spice Latte if you were going to google, Mom…)

Chop everything up – the chicken, celery, apples and almonds:IMG_6814Whisk together the dressing in the bowl first, then dump everything else in:It’s that simple! Stick it on a salad or in a sandwich, whatever makes you happy…IMG_6813

Almond Butter Chicken Salad

Salad Ingredients:

  • 3 cups chicken, shredded or cubed
  • 1 cup diced apples (or halved red grapes)
  • 1.5 cups diced celery
  • 1/4 cup almonds, chopped
  • 1/4 cup raisins

Dressing Ingredients:

  • 3 Tablespoons almond butter
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients in a medium to large bowl.

Add all of the chopped salad ingredients to that bowl and toss to combine until everything is coated in dressing.

Serve on a bed of arugula, in lettuce cups, on sandwich bread, or however you’d like to eat it! Save any leftovers in the fridge for several days.

A Weekend in Nashville

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My first trip to the Music City lived up to all the hype! The music is overflowing from every direction, the food so satisfying and the southern hospitality so warm and welcoming. Unfortunately it rained the 2 full days I was there, but that didn’t ruin any of the fun…

Live Music: The amount of talent everywhere is unbelievable…on every stage and at every hour of the day.

After stopping in just about every bar on Broadway, my favorite spots were Tootsie’s, Robert’s Western World, and Layla’s, which seem to be the holy trinity of famous honky tonks, all lined up in a row on the same block. For two solid afternoons, we bounced back and forth between all three, listening to everything from traditional to current country music from bands just like you’d picture: amazing guitar players, expert fiddlers and southernly charming lead singers.Here’s Jake Maurer, who asked us to “Cheers!” between every song to something like “his 87 year old grandma who still doesn’t use glasses…she drinks straight from the bottle!”

Seeing a concert at the Ryman Auditorium our last night was SO worth it and a major highlight of the trip! We experienced a whole other level of musicianship that left you walking away trying to comprehend just how much musical talent is in this city! The Ryman is right downtown and steeped in history, as it was first built as a church in the 1880’s (you sit in the original pews) and then housed the original Grand Ole’ Opry.

A night at Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar in Printer’s Alley proves that country isn’t the only talent in town! This spot is the perfect break from the rowdiness on Broadway that sets in after dark on the weekends. The 8-piece band we danced to brought the funk!

Food

My only regret was not being able to eat more! The food groups I hoped to eat were hot chicken, biscuits, tacos, and BBQ. II only knocked out 2 of the 4 – there just wasn’t enough time!

Hattie B’s is the infamous spot for hot chicken and absolutely worth the wait in line! When in Nashville, you’ve gotta eat hot chicken. Even the locals said this was the place you have to go. You pick white meat, dark meat, or a chicken sandwich and then a heat level from Southern, Mild, and all the way up to “SHUT THE CLUCK UP!”

Biscuit Love started in an air-stream trailer and grew into its own adorable restaurant. The bonuts (biscuit donuts) were unreal, as were the actual biscuits themselves. Do yourself a favor and wait in line for this place too…I ordered the Princess, their sweet and spicy take on hot chicken with a fried egg on a biscuit:

Five Daughter’s Bakery is known for the 100 layer donuts (their take on a cronut) and it’s 100% worth the additional calories you might think you don’t need! This bakery is so cute and the donuts are so memorable!

ACME Feed & Seed is a great place to kick-off your weekend in Nashville. Listen to live music, order a local beer and enjoy a hot chicken grilled cheese sandwich with peppercorn aioli and pickles on it! Sensing a hot chicken theme here?! After you eat on the first or second floor, make your way up to the rooftop for views of the whole city.

Drinks: The bourbon and beer just tastes SO right with country music and southern food!

Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery is one of several choices close to town to experience the Tennessee Whickey Trail. It’s got a fascinating and unique history, dating back to pre-Prohibition times. The tour was endearing and the tasting delicious.

Pinewood Social Club has excellent cocktails and such a hip vibe! It’s full of people dining, cocktailing, studying, bowling…basically, anything goes! There’s no wrong time or reason to be there. Easily my favorite drink of the weekend.

Neighborhoods

We stay in The Gulch, which bumps right up on the south side of downtown. It’s a trendy, fun area full of lots of action and a little whimsical inspiration:

12south has an adorable main drag to walk around and stop at some of the places you’ve surely heard of in one Nashville recommendation or another, such as Frothy Monkey for a rosemary latte, Five Daughter’s Bakery for donuts, Bartaco, Jeni’s Ice Cream, Edley’s BBQ, and a photo-op to affirm your love for the city:

Nashville, you were SO much fun! I can’t wait to see you again!

Christmas Cocktail Competition 2016

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My family is always up for a little friendly competition, which not surprisingly, has crossed over into our cocktails. The last 4 years, we’ve held an annual cocktail competition around the holidays to see who can come up with the best recipe. I’m sad to say that last year, I took 2nd place for a third time! And each of those times, I’ve lost to my brother! The first year, he beat my cranberry margarita with his basil gimlet:

image[1]The second year, everyone joined the competition. My dad still doesn’t understand how his Bloody Mary with a bacon cheeseburger on top didn’t win?! He offered a drink AND a meal – sorry dad!

Christmas Cocktail CompetitionTwo years ago, my mom jumped from last to first place with her champagne cocktail, The Siren, and an epic Greek Mythology story to tell the “tale” of her drink.

Cocktail Competition

Last year, my brother took home his third win with this Espresso Martini:

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Espresso Martini: He made a homemade espresso simple syrup, to shake up with vodka and Kahlua. It was delicious!

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Pisco Sour: This was the first egg white cocktail to ever enter the competition. Most of us were a little skeptical, but it ended up tasting really refreshing with Pisco, fresh lime, simple syrup and bitters!

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Apple Cider Bourbon: We are a bourbon loving family, so this was right up our alley – bourbon mixed with an apple cider syrup and fresh lemon juice.

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Mid Winter Margarita: I ALWAYS love a fresh margarita and this was a delicious twist! A basic margarita (tequila, Cointreau, and fresh lime juice) mixed with the addition of fresh grapefruit juice…and a chili salt rim – yum!

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Fairy Tale of New York: This was my stab at winning over the judges with a winter-y old fashioned. If you love bourbon, THIS is your holiday cocktail! It’s an original old fashioned, spiced up with a winter warmth syrup made from all the best seasonal flavors – pear, walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg…It doesn’t get cozier or stronger than this! It’s very quick to make, once you’ve made the syrup ahead of time. (The recipe comes from a restaurant in Toronto my mom and I loved, The Harbord Room.)

Ingredients for 1 drink:

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 2 tsp winter warmth syrup* (or more for a sweater drink)
  • 6 dashes walnut bitters (you could use orange bitters if that’s what you have)
  • orange peel

Directions:

Pour bourbon, winter warmth syrup, and bitters into a cocktail glass with a large ice cube and stir. Twist orange peel over glass and drop in.

*To make the winter warmth syrup: Mix all of the below ingredients in a pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar disolves. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer for about 15-2o minutes. Pour into a glass jar for storing, straining out all of the extra stuff. Make this ahead of time so that it has time to cool (in the fridge/freezer if necessary).

  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 apple, peeled & diced
  • 1/2 pear, peeled & diced
  • 12 walnut halves
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 whole nutmeg

Thinking your own friends and family might love to do this?! Maybe it’s time to host your own cocktail competition! Here’s how we’ve settled on voting:

  1. Each person votes using their own scorecard and ranks each drink 1-6 (if 6 drinks are entered). 6 is for the drink you like the most, 5 is for second place, etc. (You can vote for your own drink…)
  2. All points are summed up and the cocktail with the most points wins!

Cheers!!

Stocking Stuffer Gifts 2016

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Here are some of my favorite things, perfect for sticking in someone’s stocking next weekend…or for treating yourself :)

Blanket Scarf: I love this scarf I received for Christmas last year and I looked forward to getting to use it again this fall and winter. It’s so warm and cozy! I like tying it around my neck to go outside or just wrapping it around my shoulders to keep warm inside. It’d be a great scarf to keep on the back of your desk chair at work. (I think these similar autumn plaid or ivory plaid scarves are also pretty.)Stocking Stuffer: Blanket ScarfRubber Twist Ties: These reusable twist ties are great for organizing all kinds of cords in your drawer. I also use them with my headphones in my purse. They are lightweight, but very sturdy and do not loose their shape. Simple and effective!Stocking Stuffer: Rubber Twist TiesDrawstring Shoe Bags: This is such a simple thing, but it’s great to have travel bags for your shoes to keep them from getting the rest of the clothes in your suitcase dirty. It feels a little classier than using plastic bags :)Stocking Stuffers: Travel Shoe BagsMakeup Eraser: This little towel blew my mind! With just warm water and a few wipes, it entirely removes all stubborn eye makeup. I can’t believe how easy it is! I used to sometimes debate whether or not to put makeup on simply because I didn’t want to wash it off later. That is no longer a question for me! Pack this with you when traveling and you won’t have to worry about getting your host’s towels dirty with makeup after you wash your face. Every so often, throw it in the washing machine, and it’s as clean as new. (Here is a pack of two smaller ones)Stocking Stuffers: Makeup EraserGapFit Breath Long Sleeve Shirt and Mockneck Pullover: I now have a couple colors in each style and I put one on almost every day! So does my mom! They are SO soft and SO breathable. I can’t say enough how much I love wearing these tops! When I’ve worn them to workout, I’ve had other women comment that they also have one of these shirts and love theirs. (I also have this long sleeve, available here in more colors, and this pullover hoodie.)Stocking Stuffer: GapFit Breath TopsCast Iron Skillet Scrubber: If you love to cook with cast iron, or don’t because you’re intimidated by cleaning it, you have to have this scrubber! It makes cleaning your skillet after cooking a breeze, easily removing any build-up without scratching the pan. This is a game-changer for cast iron cooking.Stocking Stuffer: Cast Iron ScrubberMagnetic Car Mount for Phones: Do you find yourself holding your phone while driving and trying to look at navigation directions? I was doing that way too often, so it was time for an iPhone car mount. The thing that I love about this one is that it is magnetic, which makes it so quick and easy to attach your phone when you hop in your car. It comes with a thin magnet, which you can stick in the back of your iPhone case.Stocking Stuffer: Magnetic Car MountCard Case: For years, I’ve used this little business card case to hold my driver’s license and credit cards. It makes transferring my “must have” cards to a small clutch quick and simple. I’ve gotten so many compliments at check-outs when I pull this out to pay. Use this to keep your credit cards handy or carry business cards – or both! (I also love this gold or silver card case.)Stocking Stuffer: Card Case

That’s it for this year! Looking for more stocking stuffer ideas? Here are my suggestions from 201520142013, and 2012. Happy Gifting!!