Nancy Hour

by Caroline


As Pete Wells recently wrote, our generation matured into a sad time without cocktails. It was all wine and beer. I participated, but aside from my junior year in England I’ve never really been a beer drinker, and red wine, sadly, gives me headaches.

But slowly, happily, the world has started to swing back to cocktails. First, there was our trip to Italy a year after our wedding. We traveled with another couple, and met up, too, with Tony’s brother and his mom, Nancy. An evening with Nancy started around 5 or 6 at her hotel; we would gather from our sight-seeing and share our adventures. She’d drink a martini; Tony (in honor of his late father) would drink a campari and soda; I’d sip a glass of Prosecco. It’s important to have a little bowl of salty snacks — cashews or olives, perhaps– to accompany the drinks. We dubbed it Nancy Hour and it continues to this day, long past Nancy’s passing, whenever we meet up with these same friends.

Then a couple years ago, I gave Tony a bottle of George T. Stagg Kentucky bourbon whiskey for his birthday, a bottle that recently inspired his friends to host a blind tasting of 6 bourbons (now all in our bar) for his 40th. We started watching Mad Men (along with the rest of the country), and discovered San Francisco bartenders mixing up interesting drinks. And so it was that on a recent camping trip with three other families, we brought a full bar and several bottles of wine. I made a batch of these vodka-spiked cherry tomatoes with pepper salt to accompany our drinks, and we stirred up cocktails every night while the kids ate dinner—gin and tonics or sazeracs, sidecars or margaritas on the rocks — and sipped bourbon around the campfire after the kids were down. We carried all the wine back home at the end of the trip. Now I’m no extremist, and there’s still a place in my world for wine, but please don’t cut short the cocktail hour.

Making Drinks (kid version)

One of the first things my husband Tony and I learned about each other on our first (blind) date was that our fathers both made wine. His dad actually used grapes. A regular event during Tony’s childhood involved taking delivery of a load of zinfandel grapes, stomping them into juice in the backyard and then – well, Tony’s version skips right to the burritos (a rare takeout meal after a long day of grape-mashing), while his father continued to do all the work to make and bottle wine that we still (on very special occasions) enjoy today.

My dad, influenced by Euell Gibbons’ books like Stalking the Wild Asparagus, made wines from elderberries, dandelions and blueberries. He kept burlap bags in the back of the car so that he was always prepared to gather materials – you never know when you might run across a nice patch of dandelions – and his foraging habit almost stopped before I was old enough to be embarrassed by it, but not quite. I do remember helping him decant it sometimes, holding the tubing that carried the wine from a 5-gallon carboy into the wine bottles. It spilled all over me once and I still remember the pungent smell of the fermented blueberries, vinegary and sweet.

Tony and I do not make wine. We don’t make our own bitters or beer, as some of our friends do, nor limoncello, like Lisa and her family, nor even root beer, as my family did when I was little. The beverage that gets the most care and attention in this household is probably Tony’s morning cappuccino, which he learned how to make at his father’s elbow as a child, and which he is now teaching the boys how to make. And maybe it’s the influence of that morning cappuccino that has the boys lately making complicated milk drinks. It started one hot day with Eli adding ice to his milk, and has now evolved into a recipe that involves a sprinkle of cinnamon, a few grates of nutmeg, and sometimes a spoonful of Ovaltine and/or vanilla. It reminds me a bit of those old Colonial milk punch recipes (but without the booze). And it’s the only way Ben will drink milk, so I’ll keep putting the ingredients out.


(Tune in later for a post about the mixed drinks the adults are drinking around here)

Only in NJ


By Lisa

Only in NJ because we literally can’t buy Yoo-Hoo where we live, but also because, well, it’s so full of crap and so unhealthy and downright gross that I would never buy it if we weren’t on vacation. But buy it I did, and a six pack at that, for my son, and his sister and their 2 cousins, partly because I remembered it as a rare treat from my NJ childhood and because the packaging is still so iconic, and it’s sort of good and sweet and cold.

Suffice to say Finn had a quintessential NJ food moment, sitting in one of the country premiere delicatessens, eating a bagel that had literally come straight out of the oven, and sucking down a Yoo-Hoo in maybe 60 seconds flat.

But he can also do a mean dance to Rosalita. Both feats prove he’s my son.

Limoncello Party


by Lisa

Ever since we’ve had a lemon tree, and more lemons than we knew what to do with, I’ve been making limoncello–a lemon liqueur made from steeping the zest of fresh lemons in grain alcohol, then mixed with simple syrup and more alcohol. It hails originally from Sorrento in Southern Italy.  It’s strong and fragrant and a gorgeous bright yellow. Served ice cold in warm weather, it’s just about one of the best things you’ll ever drink.

When we bought our house, it came with an excellent old orange tree, so orangecello was added to my spring brewing. ThenI discovered crema di limoncello and crema di orangecello (in which sweetened milk is added to the steeping zest; think: creamsicle for adults) and my house in spring began to look a bit like a small artisinal distillery.  The word spread.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I like parties of any kinds, and that we live in an Eichler, which is pretty much designed for entertaining.  So it was natural that last year, when lemons were in full season, I held a brewing party for my girlfriends, who also like a good party, all the more if it can provide them with delicious hooch for the year–which also happens to make really excellent gifts for Christmas if you can manage to keep it in the house that long.   So, what was our family tradition became a communal event, and because of when it takes place, it really does feel like we’re welcoming spring and looking straight into the mouth of summer  There are so many of us now, that the brewing has taken on a life of it’s own.  My kids know that the recipe will be passed on to them when they’re (much) older, the husbands and siblings and grandparents look forward to the fresh batches, which we all drink at holidays and family dinners or just whenever.   There’s more than one story of a batch mysteriously “disappearing” after a relative’s visit.  And for now Ella and Finn know that limoncello season means lots of fresh lemonade and orange juice for them, and one of my Italian friends got her kids in on the zesting action in her home.  Even Finley, this year, when he saw me zesting oranges instead of lemons wondered, “You making limoncello with oranges? Yum!”

For the party, I supplied the recipe and know how, as many oranges as my friends could pick off my tree, the last of my previous year’s limoncello for tasting, some prosecco for mixing and drinking straight, and my friends brought their lemons and alcohol and a dish to share and we zested and juice and ate and drank all afternoon.

It’s an excellent party:  easy, fun, productive.  This year  my friends branched out:  some started a batch of crema, some added vanilla beans (which I always do to my cremas and meyer lemon batches), they use different vodkas, etc.  There’s basically a recipe for every family, which is how it should be.


I set up one zesting station, with 6 zesters, where everyone took turns zesting into their large glass jars.  At another station, set up with 3 juicers (2 were mine, one brought by a friend), we juiced the zested citrus and brought the juice home in freezer ziplock bags, which I provided.  I freeze my lemon juice in ice cube trays, then the kids can mix it with simple syrup and bubbly (or plain) water all summer long for fresh lemonade.  Call it the recessionary party, but we’ve been doing it this way for years.


I also laminate the recipe cards, with the recipe on one side and serving suggestions on the other, which is what I’ve reproduced below.  It’s not too late for you to brew.  Especially with friends.


Italian Limoncello

20 organic lemons

2 bottles (750 ml) 100-proof vodka or Everclear

4 cups sugar

5 cups water

Note: Don’t be afraid of the Everclear if you can find it.  It’s stronger than regular vodka and has less flavor of it’s own. This means it extracts more of the flavor and essential oils from the zest and imparts less of its own taste to the finished product. It also doesn’t get slushy in the freezer. Organic, unsprayed fruit is essential. You don’t want to be drinking chemicals.

Step One: Wash the lemons with a vegetable brush and hot water to remove any residue; pat the lemons dry. In a large glass jar (1-gallon jar), add one bottle of vodka.

Carefully zest the lemons with a zester or vegetable peeler so there is no white pith on the peel. Add the lemon zest to the vodka as it is zested. NOTE: Use only the outer part of the rind. The pith, the white part underneath the rind, is too bitter and would spoil your limoncello.

Cover the jar and let sit at room temperature for at least 10 days and up to 40 days in a cool dark place. The longer it rests, the better the taste will be. (You can shake or stir a little every few days, if you like.) As the limoncello sits, the vodka will slowly take on the flavor and rich yellow color of the lemon zest. When the color is no longer deepening and the rinds look whitish, it is definitely done.

Step Two: In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and water; cook until dissolved, or until thickened if you want a thicker, sweeter drink, approximately 5 to 7 minutes.

Let the syrup cool, then add it to the Limoncello mixture from Step One. Add the additional bottle of vodka. Allow to rest for another 10 to 40 days.

Step Three: After the rest period, strain the liquid through a cheese cloth or coffee filter and bottle: discard the lemon zest. Keep in the freezer until ready to serve.

Limoncello variations…

  • · To original recipe, add zest of 1 lime
  • · To original recipe, made with either lemons or oranges or meyer lemons, add one whole, split vanilla bean during steeping
  • · Substitute lemon zest with zest from Meyer lemons or 10 oranges or blood oranges
  • · Substitute lemon zest with dry, unwashed organic basil leaves to make basilcello (wipe dust off leaves with dry cloth)
  • · Use zest of 30 lemons & 5 vanilla beans (insides scraped, beans and seeds used) for initial steeping
  • · Experiment with vodkas and the amount of sugar in the simple syrup, you can make a mellower or sweeter or less sweet liquer
  • · Try Crema di Limoncello/Orangecello, a creamy version of this drink: steep 2 vanilla beans in 750 ml. warm milk, add sugar and stir until dissolved. Cool completely. Substitute this milk mixture for the simple syrup. Or, steep the zest right with the vanilla beans, then add the milk/sugar mixture. Don’t use the second bottle of alcohol. Many other variations for this recipe for this are available online. When I make my crema, I just split, scrape and steep one vanilla bean with the first bottle of alcohol and zest.  I love the flecks of vanilla in my drink.

& Serving Suggestions

  • · Drink ice cold
  • · Drink ice cold with ice chips
  • · Drink ice cold mixed with mineral water or prosecco or any other sparkling beverage
  • · Drizzle over shaved ice
  • · Drizzle over ice cream
  • · Drizzle over pound cake or fresh summer berries
  • · Mix with prosecco and vanilla or lemon gelato to make a Venetian shake
  • · Mix with iced tea
  • · Label & “brand” to give as gifts

My batches thus far for this year:  lemon, lemon for crema, meyer lemon w/vanilla bean, double batch of orange w/vanilla bean for crema di orangecello: