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That Quarantine Life

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THIRTY-THREE and corona-free today! Well, 100% sure it’s my birthday. Hopefully COVID-19 free. In my self-quarantine, I made myself a Lizzo birthday cake! Positive thoughts and my favorite mocha icebox cake! If you want a slice, message me for take-out :) I’ve actually never heard from so many people on my birthday before – really feeling all that “stuck at home, nothing to do” love! Thank you friends!Cake inspired by Joy the Baker’s @DrakeOnCake. Just as it sounds: Drake lyrics frosted on cakes. It kills me.

While we’ve all got a little extra time on our hands, a few things to check-out:

What to Read: Daisy Jones & the Six is my absolute favorite book of the last year. It reads like a VH1 Behind the Music documentary, bouncing back and forth between the bandmates, who recount the rise and fall of their band in the 70’s. All the sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll chaos you’re imagining. It’s magic. It’s LOL funny. I can’t wait for the TV series on Amazon!

Also, on a serious note, read this respiratory therapist’s description of the lung failure he’s witnessed with corona patients, including young adults. It reaffirms your decision to stay home!

What to Netflix: Tiger King is absolutely wild. You couldn’t make these people up if you tried. It’s a documentary, but feels mythic. My mind is blown.

What to Make: Cookie Dough Energy Bites for quarantine snacking. Made a batch last week!

What to Give: If you live in Milwaukee and love to dine out, consider donating to S.O.S (Save our Spots), a fundraiser created by C.J. Krawczyk to support our local restaurants. He’s featured in the Journal Sentinel and has started distributing the collected money directly to restaurant owners.

What to Rock: Justin Bieber – Acoustic Intentions – Here’s to hoping Summerfest goes on as planned this June or I miss the chance to dance with the crop-topped teens to Sorry…Also, Chris Stapleton, if you’re reading this, I’ll wear a hazmat suit to hear you sing Tennessee Whiskey live again. Dead serious.

Stay healthy, friends!!

Christmas Cocktail Competition 2019

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After getting 2nd place 4 of the last 6 cocktail competitions, I finally made a first place cocktail! It was a tie for first, but still redeeming after all these years :) Despite 28 cocktails already in the books, our 7th annual competition somehow still brought 5 new cocktails and a few surprises…

Scottish Dancer: My mom had been taunting that her presentation was already selected months before she actually picked the “cocktail”. She’s the first to enter with a fully edible offering, glass included! We were all frightened when we saw Jameson, Bailey’s and Melon Liquor on the counter, but it ended up tasting good enough for a second shot.

Blood Orange Bourbon: Em shook-up freshly squeezed blood orange juice, triple sec and bourbon for a gorgeous seasonal take on a bourbon cocktail.

Jalapeño Mojito: Mike played-off his recent trip to Cuba with a little rum and a little heat!

The Moonwalk: The head bartender of the The Savoy Hotel’s American Bar in London made this cocktail for the astronauts, Neil, Buzz, and Michael, when they returned from their Apollo 11 moonwalk. It’s sentimental because my family visited the American Bar this year and timely because it’s the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s trip to the moon. This champagne cocktail with grapefruit juice, orange liquor and rose water is considered a nod to the astronauts drink in space, Tang!

Bourbon Blitz: No fancy backstory or presentation, just a hot buttered bourbon and cider cocktail that will warm you right up! It’s satisfyingly savory from the butter and sweet from the cider. I’m calling it the blitz because just one sneaks up on you real fast!

The competition is always tough, especially when the bartenders dress in-theme…

Want to warm-up with your own hot buttered bourbon and cider? Here’s my winning recipe :)

Bourbon Blitz

  • 2 cups cider
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 10 whole cloves
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup bourbon
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • Optional garnishes: apples slices, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg

Bring cider, water, sugar and spices to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and let steep covered for 15 minutes.

Return to heat and stir in butter until melted. Remove from heat and stir in bourbon and lemon juice.

Strain into glasses. Garnish with a cinnamon stick or apple slice and freshly grated nutmeg.

Makes 4 cocktails.

Looking for more inspiration? Cocktails of Christmas’ Passed:

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:

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!!

 

 

Sugar-and-Spice Nuts

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I’ve been making these nuts for a few years and every time they come out of the oven, I somehow still feel surprised at how amazing they are!! There’s something about this combination of sweet, salty and just slightly spicy that’s incredibly addicting…you will love them!Sugar-and-Spice NutsThey come together very quickly by beating an egg white, stirring in the nuts, coating them in a sugar mixture, and baking for 30 minutes.Sugar-and-Spice Nuts I just ate too many nuts again for the third day in a row and thought to myself: I remember why I can’t make these too often…they are SO UNBELIEVABLY GOOD!Sugar-and-Spice NutsA jar of sugar-and-spice nuts is a great hostess gift for a holiday party – just make sure they are hidden away, or they will be gone before the party is over! I generally fill-up a few gift jars right away after I make them so that there aren’t too many leftover for myself to eat…Sugar-and-Spice Nuts

Sugar-and-Spice Nuts

1/3 cup dark-brown sugar
2/3 cup white granulated sugar
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pound walnuts and pecans (about 4-4.5 cups total)
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and line a jelly roll pan (or cookie sheet) with parchment paper.

Mix together sugars, salt, cayenne, and cinnamon so there are no lumps.

Beat the egg white and water until frothy. Add the nuts and stir until they are coated evenly. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the nuts and stir again until evenly coated.

Spread the nuts in a single layer on the parchment paper and bake for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove from the oven and break the nuts up as they cool. When completely cool, break up any nuts still sticking together and pour into a bowl. Store in an airtight container.

Slightly tweaked this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

 

Christmas Cocktail Competition

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A few years ago, my family started an annual cocktail competition during the holidays. Each of us finds or creates our own cocktail, which we keep secret until the unveiling on the night of the competition.Cocktail CompetitionWe each vote by ranking the cocktails based on taste, creativity, and name to pick the winner and reigning champ for the year. Here are the cocktails from last year’s competition:Cocktail CompetitionMy mom’s “Siren” took home 1st place!  She had a whole story ready to introduce her drink: “In Greek Mythology, Sirens were beautiful but dangerous creatures who lured sailors with their lovely voices to their doom on the craggy rocks of the island shores. Sipping the ‘Siren’ is like listening to a beautiful song, fresh and lovely, and as the flavors change ever so slightly with each sip, be careful not to be lured to your doom!”Cocktail Competition

The Siren is a champagne cocktail with different flavored ice cubes, so that while you sip, the melting ice slightly changes the taste of the drink (inspired by this recipe).Cocktail Competition: The Siren

Pie of My Eye“: We were all a bit skeptical when we saw Smirnoff vanilla vodka on the bar, but this ended up being very good! Turns out, vanilla vodka mixes well with Fireball, apple juice and a dash of cinnamon sugar for a deliciously warm seasonal drink.Cocktail Competition: Pie of My Eye

Edmonton Eskimo Warmer“: a stiff dark rum cocktail mixed with homemade pecan simple syrup, a touch of lemon juice, and a blow-torched cinnamon stick. The pecan simple syrup was as delicious as it sounds!Cocktail Competition: Edmonton Eskimo Warmer

Baconator“: Homemade bacon-infused bourbon mixed with a hint of maple syrup and a few dashes of orange bitters. It was strong and smokey!Cocktail Competition: Baconator

Great Annihilater“: This was easily the strongest cocktail, simply a mix of brandy and two different vermouths. Aptly named according to the mixologist “because this one slips down with such smoothly good intentions that it leaves you utterly obtundated…gently pressing you deeper into the cashmere sofa while also slipping on your silk pajamas.”Cocktail Competition: Great Annihilater

My “White Christmas Russian” sadly did not bring me the win, BUT it was requested by everyone after our Christmas Eve dinner. No one could deny that it is festive and delicious!! Unfortunately, the competition last year was very stiff…I made a traditional White Russian and added cinnamon simple syrup for a seasonal twist.Cocktail Competition: White Christmas Russian

White Christmas Russian

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz vodka
  • 1 oz Kahlua
  • 1 oz Half & Half (or full-fat canned coconut milk for dairy free)
  • 1.5 Tablespoons cinnamon simple syrup*

Directions:

Pour everything into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Strain into a glass with a large ice cube. (For presentation points, I rimmed the glasses partly with cinnamon sugar.)

*To make the cinnamon simple syrup: Mix 1 cup sugar with 1 cup water in a pan, add 2 cinnamon sticks, and heat until a boil. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes. Pour into a glass jar for storing. Make this ahead of time so that it has time to cool (in the fridge/freezer if necessary).

For a description of how we judge the competition or other cocktail ideas, read about our 2014 Cocktail Competition.

Favorite Wedding Moments

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I absolutely LOVE weddings! I love the emotions, the personal touches, the speeches, the dancing, all of it! One of my friends recently asked me what my favorite memory is from my wedding day. Tough question! I named off several before I got to my final answer. Here are my top 10 moments that still stand out a year and a half later:

Getting Ready at Home: I look back at the morning of September 27th and remember waking up feeling…completely calm. It was so special and comforting to be hanging around my parents’ kitchen getting our hair and make-up done, sipping the first champagne of the day, and putting my dress on in my childhood bedroom.Getting Ready Wedding DayPutting on my Wedding DressFather Daughter First Look: Walking out in my wedding dress to meet my dad was so emotional! People I haven’t even met have told me they cried along with me during this part of our wedding trailer.Father Daughter First Look: Wedding DayFather Daughter First Look: Wedding DayWalking Down the Aisle: What an adrenaline rush! I can still remember the nerves of the doors opening for my entrance. I might not have made it down that aisle without my dad there to hold me up!Walking Down the Wedding AisleCeremony Performance: This ranks near the top! Our best friends, Ashley and Antonio, performed Ray LaMontagne’s “You Are The Best Thing” as a surprise to Andrew and myself. It was incredible and beautiful. I’m known for laugh-crying, but in this moment, I was laugh-cry-dancing!"Best Thing" Performance: Wedding CeremonyPost Ceremony: Talk about feeling all the emotions! It was so overwhelming to walk back down the aisle married and get a few moments with our bridal party to soak in what just happened. I loved hugging everyone who came to celebrate with us.Wedding CeremonyPost Wedding CeremonyPopping Champagne: We popped bottles of champagne while taking pictures and the boys had some hysterical misfires…Popping Wedding ChampagnePopping Wedding ChampagneOur First Dance: This is my absolute favorite moment of the entire day! Andrew and I shared our first dance to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” outside during cocktail hour surrounded by our wedding party. It was the most joyful moment and I wish I could relive it a million times over!Our First Dance: Wedding PicturesOur First Dance: Wedding PicturesMaid(s) of Honor Speech: Back when deciding who I wanted to be in my bridal party, I jokingly threw my brother in the ranking for a bridal magazine quiz and he ended up winning position of maid of honor! My sister Emily was my actual MOH, but when she got up to give her speech, she called our brother Mike up and they were hysterical. We laugh to this day because Mike accidentally read Em’s final toast.Maid of Honor SpeechDancing to the Band: We had the best band I could’ve dreamed of. The lead singer used to be a back-up for Aretha Franklin and she brought the house down with Etta Jame’s “At Last”. The band also learned a New Orleans song, “Down in the Treme”, for us and called all the ladies on the floor for a rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “I Will Survive” full of sass! I could’ve danced all night long.

Stepping Outside during the Reception: Andrew and I snuck outside for a few minutes to soak in everything that had happened that day. It was a really sweet moment to ourselves to reflect on all of the love we felt.Wedding Reception

I have 5 weddings in the next 5 months and I couldn’t be more excited! I can’t wait to be there to witness all of their favorite moments!!