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By Laura Stec

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About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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Dry January Last Week? LOL

Uploaded: Jan 11, 2021

How’s Dry January going Food Partiers!?

I blame no one for wanting a drink last week.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

A tough week of wildly different highs and lows, my mind is intrigued that my heart feels true emotions about democracy. For the first time since January 1, I really wanted a drink Wednesday. To deal with emotions. Didn’t take one (pat on back). Was hoping a fellow Dry January Joker Support friend would text, “Let’s toast and watch democracy crumble together.” Instead they stood valiant, and here we are, over a week into an eating & drinking revolution.

People have asked: “Why joker support group?” Well, what better support than one of fun? In that spirit…

A baby seal walks into a bar. “What can I get you?” asks the bartender. “Anything but a Canadian Club,” replies the seal.

A termite walks into a bar and asks, “Is the bar tender here?”

But seriously folks, if you’ve cut out alcohol, sugar or whatever these first weeks of 2021, hats off to you. It’s never easy to change up eating or drinking habits, but doing it teaches us much about ourselves and our often mindless habits of consumption.

One thing I’ve realized so far, is that I really enjoy the taste of certain alcohols and liquors. Not because of the alcohol, but just because of the taste. That complexity of mouth and mind sensation, hard to define, hard to reproduce. On point – describe the taste of bourbon. If it’s difficult to even find words for the task, where might substitutes and new recipes be found?

Perfect replacements are a fool’s errand, but hope lies in creativity. I’ve been scavenging for happy hour stand-ins and night cap alternatives. Check out new on-the-shelf, non-alcoholic libations here, and read on for easy ideas we’ve been Food Partying! with as of late.


A fastest route to a complex party of taste for tongue and brain is with bitters – infusions made from botanicals such as eucalyptus, spice, coffee, cigar, jasmine, ceylon, ginger, plum, dandelion root and many others, ready for a spritz over sparkling water.

Bitters can be +25% alcohol, but just a few dabs will do ya. They can also be
made alcohol-free.
With many styles and artisan brands – take a trip to your local, top-shelf liquor or wine store for fun options that can capture your interest. Have a tasting party and discover your favorites. Try hot tea with bitters. Or just shake it into the can! (keep your can cold though - get a Yeti holder) Search online too.

Herbal Syrups and Shrubs

Here’s a simple DIY recipe.

Syrup: Combine equal parts: water, sugar of choice, herbs of choice
Shrub: Include equal parts: fruit of choice, vinegar of choice
Add spices as you like.
Bring to a boil in a pot, Turn off, cover pot, infuse ½ hour. Strain.

Add a few drops to iced or warm tea, sparkling water, or any drink. Also use in a vinaigrette. Reduce added sugar if you choose.


It’s the fermentation process involved in making kombucha that lends intricacy here, gaining mind-grabbing flavor from the yeasts and bacteria that accompany a base, usually made of tea and sweetener. This good bacteria drink is known for health benefits, although much more science is needed about the role of microbiome. I just found a Petaluma company at Safeway, low in carbohydrates and only 45 calories. Refreshing!

Drinking Chocolate

Perfect for the season when one prefers something warm and cozy. Buy a premade mix or make your own, this option can be described as haute hot chocolate, made from shreds of chocolate, not powder. Add to warm milk or tea. There are many styles and prices. Here is one I’ve been sipping, seasoned with monkfruit (keto, no-carbohydrate sweetener).

Citrus Zest
Just a little zest of orange, lemon or lime peels grated into sparkling water adds pleasant depth of character

Dirty Laura
Chef Jessie Cool of Flea Street Café fame, introduced me to a Dirty Martini 30 years ago, and we've been together ever since. If you’re a fan too, try mixing olive juice into sparkling water. Ok, it's weird but opposites attract! Garnish with olive, onion, pepperoncini and cheese cube, and you are back home with the one you love.

Finally, the complexity earned from rehydrating a bar of tamarind* straining the pulp, and mixing it into a refined tonic, such as Fever-Tree, is not to be forgotten.

Gin, Tonic & Tamarind
- sans gin

1 block of tamarind (use tamarind syrup for easier option)*
1 bottle tonic water (get the good stuff)
Gin (optional)

Cut off about a ¼ cup of tamarind (you can smash it in a cup to measure) and soften in 6 T or so of hot water. Cover for 10 minutes. Squish the tamarind with your fingers into a paste. If it has seeds remove, or use seed-free tamarind. Push pulp through a fine strainer. If you have a lot of paste left on the block, add a bit more water and do the step again.

In your glass, mix 1 T pulp with a small amount of tonic and combine well. Stir in remainder of tonic and add ice. Squeeze in a fresh slice of lime. Store remaining strained pulp in a glass jar and refrigerate for next time.

*Tamarind is a sour, sticky and dark fruit, often used in Indian and Thai cuisine. Purchase at Latin American, Indian and Asian grocers as a solid bar or as a liquidy extract.

What is it worth to you?


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