Let's just get a couple of things straight. No, I'm not pregnant. And no, I don't have a drinking problem. (At least not one that requires all 12 steps.) What I do have is a fairly low tolerance for alcohol that seems to plummet further during the annual progression of holiday parties. It's hard, if not being the life of the party, to consistently add to the life of the party. Or to step into a social situation recognizing more cold cuts and dips than fellow guests. But following a three- or four-party spree consuming everything from Merlot to martinis with some spiked eggnog and bubbly on the side, I feel like hell. Sure, my schmoozing skills go into high gear and I laugh a lot more, but I eat too much and go home (after forking over my keys, mind you) with the spins. So before I put any cold-turkey resolutions on the docket for Y2K Plus One, I've decided to be more aware of my hooch intake this season.
Herewith, my surefire, no-stone-left-unturned, seven-step guide to drier, yet wetter, party survival:
1. Start with water, end with water. Return to the source, my friends, to the clarity and simplicity of H2O. Add a twist of lime for special effect, and work that room. Your after-hours weariness will wash away along with the toxins you imbibed with that late afternoon Diet Coke. Drink deep, drink pure, and ask the hired bartender (or your generous host) for plenty of ice. The first thing I do when I'm sure everyone has had a good look at my holiday finery is to head straight to the spread. And, strangely enough, it's not for the desserts. It's for the salt: dips, chips, smoked salmon, cheese, tiny meatballs that require spearing with a gussied-up toothpick, whatever. Water it down, and you won't be licking the saline off your glossy lips for the next few hours, as you would with a vodka tonic or a Chardonnay. Water, I tell you; it's not just for workouts anymore.
2. Just kidding. What I meant by the first item was "Start with water, end with water, and just keep the water coming." You can maneuver among soda water, sparkling flavored water, and tap water. Whatever you do, keep it coming. There's nothing worse than feeling the capillaries in your face throb. (Actually, there is, but it has nothing to do with this topic.)
3. Again, just kidding. The reality is that you need to pace yourself. Starting with water is a way to hydrate before moving on to the cocktail round. And, if you're concerned that you've just sucked down a spritzer too quickly, then find the nearest faucet, rinse your glass, and fill 'er up. Con agua, por favor!
4. Don't debate—hydrate! If everything at the smorgasbord seems dried-up and smoked, like that perennial favorite raft of salmon, then you're outta luck. You're going to be parched as a prairie in a dust storm. More often than not, though, your host has lovingly prepared (or had catered) a delectable mix of fresh and cooked, dried and sauced foodstuffs. Find the fruit, the gravy, the Jell-O mold, and dig right in. Talk to three people while you're at it. Turn to a carbonated soda, perhaps a comforting ginger ale, till you hear the Schweppervescence fizzing cozily against the ice cubes. If you must, add a slice of lime.
5. Avoid that liquored state— alternate! This is always a safe bet when you can handle a cocktail or two: water, alcohol, water, etc. The ultimate party goal is to be able to cradle a drink in one hand, even though the cocktail napkin is getting soaked through from the condensation, balance an hors d'oeuvre-filled plate in the other, and carry on a stimulating, yet wit-filled, conversation. It's after work, you're hungry and stressed, and you need to fuel and relax and meet new people and be charming and network and schmooze and look for a life partner. And yes, it's certainly possible without the booze. But it doesn't mean you have to deny yourself the pleasure of a Syrah or a G&T; the water chaser does more than chase your potential for idiocy away. It keeps your belly filled and your need to toss down another Scotch to a minimum. Your fellow guests will thank you!
6. Mocktails. Every holiday host worth his or her pigs in a blanket should be mindful of the fact that there isn't room for all their guests to pass out and sleep on their living room floor. Nonalcoholic drinks are easily prepared, less expensive to provide, and can be livened up for your partygoers' seasonal pleasure. We contacted several local caterers, who suggested the following recipes:
1 pint milk
4 oz. whipped cream
3 oz. maple syrup
3 egg yolks, beaten
ginger root, grated
Combine maple, egg, and milk in bowl. In a separate bowl, dust whipped cream with ginger. Pour liquid mix into glass, top with whipped cream.—Lowell-Hunt Catering (1111 Fairview N, 264-0400)
Ravishing Cranberry Sparkle
48 oz. cranberry juice cocktail
20 oz. lemon-lime sparkling water
4 oz. Rose's Lime Juice
1 cup cranberries (for garnish)
1 bunch fresh mint sprigs (for garnish)
Combine first three ingredients in a large bowl. To keep punch from being watered down by ice cubes, freeze some punch in ice cube trays (use special holiday forms, such as holly leaves). Pour the punch in a punch bowl, add the ice cubes, float cranberries and mint sprigs. Serves 8-10.—Ravishing Radish (801 26th E, 860-1449)
Hot Pumpkin Sugar Pie
2 cups apple cider
2 cups pear nectar
bouquet garni—wrap the following in a square of cheesecloth and tie:
cups grated sugar pie pumpkin
vanilla bean, split
1 cinnamon stick
Heat liquids with bouquet garni to boiling. Turn heat off and steep for 20 minutes. Sweeten to taste with maple syrup. Bring back to near boil when ready to serve, and remove cheesecloth bundle. Top with: Spiced Meringue Topping
2 egg whites
cup superfine sugar
pinch nutmeg or mace
pinch cream of tartar
Beat egg whites until frothy. Add remaining ingredients and beat until stiff and glossy. Ladle hot liquid into four mugs, divide topping evenly between mugs, and garnish with candied sugar pie pumpkin.—Baci Artful Catering/executive chef K䲥n Jurgensen (1801 E Marion, 323-6986)
7. BYO. As in, bring your own. Nothing wrong with that. Stop in at Larry's Market (100 Mercer, 213-0778; 10008 Aurora N, 527-5333; Kirkland, 425-820-2300; Redmond, 425-869-2362), Thriftway (2320 42nd SW, 937-0551; 1400 NW 56th, 783-7922; 1908 Queen Anne N, 284-2530; 8500 Third NW, 782-1610), or Whole Foods (1026 NE 64th, 985-1500) and you will find a selection of nonalcoholic beverages for your consumption. My particular favorite is Ame, the sparkling, fruit- and herb-infused wine alternative. At only $5 a bottle, you're paying less than a single mixed drink at most cocktail lounges! Other brands to watch for include: Arielle nonalcoholic sparkling wine (in Rouge or Blanc, $5), Sutter Home's nonalcoholic Fre (in Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Merlot, Spumante, Sparkling Brut, $5-$8), and Inglenook's St. Regis (about $6-$8).
Cheers! Stay safe and stay somewhat sober this holiday season! Your next job, lover, or your life may depend upon it. . . .
Emily Baillargeon Russin is the managing editor at Seattle Weekly.