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Chic Cinco de Mayo

Next week is Cinco de Mayo...a minor holiday in Mexico but one that we Americans sure love to celebrate. Of course, you know the classics that typically make up a Cinco spread - margaritas, guacamole, and such. I love the old Tex-Mex faves, but if you’re looking to take a slightly more chic approach, here are some suggestions:


La Malinche. This cocktail is concocted by North Shore Distillery in Lake Bluff, IL and is made from their limited edition Mole Poblano spirit (still available in stores!). This cocktail is light, and has just a kiss of spice at the end.
2 oz Mole Poblano
1 oz Cointreau
Splash of Fresh Lime Juice
Shake ingredients with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail or coupe glass. Garnish with lime.

Margarita gelées. If you can't get the Mole Poblano spirit where you live, try this creative twist on margaritas! I made them once and they were a hit.  If you decide to serve them but still want to do margarita drinks, consider serving flavored margaritas, for variety.
3/4 c tequilla
1/2 c Cointreau (triple sec)
4 envelopes unflavored gelatin
6 oz can frozen limeade concentrate, thawed
2 c boiling water
kosher salt

Mix tequilla and Cointreau in large glass bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over mixture and let stand 1 minute. Add limeade and 2 cups boiling water, stirring until gelatin dissolves. Pour into a 9 inch square pan and chill 8 hours, or until set. Cut into squares, garnish with lime rind or supreme. Arrange on platter with salt in the middle, for dipping.


Jicama salad Cool and refreshing! Jicama gives it a great crunch. Pictured above, top right.

Chicken mole tostadas Sophisticated nachos! Pictured above, bottom right.

Chipotle Shrimp Taco with Avocado Salsa Verde Yes, it's a taco, but they don't serve these at fast-food taco places... Pictured above, middle left

Guava-Cucumber Mousse This surprising dish is a great palate cleanser. Pictured above, top left.


Tres Leches Cupcakes An adorable take on a Mexican favorite.  Pictured above, bottom left.


Photo credits: mouse (via Foodgawker), shrimp taco, cupcake, jicama salad, tostadas


Creme de Violette makes a comeback

April Showers are supposed to bring May Flowers, but so far in Chicago all we’ve had is rain, rain, rain...not so much in the flower department. So how about drinking some flowers, instead?

I love introducing guests to new drinks, and one such ingredient that's sure to make a splash is Crème de Violette. It’s very, very French - would easily fit in with the French Happy Hour theme! - and until recently, impossible to find. Large urban liquor stores like Sam’s or Binny’s are now carrying it, but depending on where you live, you might have to have it shipped. Rothman & Winter is the most common brand in the US (pictured above...don't you love their art deco label?)

This liqueur, popular pre-Prohibition, is flavored with violet flower and has either a brandy or neutral spirit base. It lends itself well to spring cocktails. Violet Hour in Wicker Park has sparked interest in this classic spirit among Chicagoans. Here are some recipies to get you started...

Hush and Wonder by Toby Maloney at VH (source)
Rinse a martini glass (or a coupe glass, if you want to be authentic) with creme de violette

Into martini shaker, add:
2 oz rum (Matusalem recommended)
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
1 dash bitters (Peychaud's recommended)

Shake, strain, and pour into glass. Before serving, use a grapefruit twist high above the glass, so that “just a suspicion of oil hits the top of the drink”.

Violette Fiz (source)
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp sugar
1½ oz gin
1/2 oz Crème de Violette
soda water

Shake first four ingredients well over ice. Strain into a highball glass filled with ice and top with soda water.

V’ioletta by Junior Merino, pictured at very top (source)
2 oz gin (G’vine Floraison recommended)
¼ oz Crème de Violette
1 egg white
¾ oz simple syrup
¾ oz lime juice
top off with 1 oz of club soda

Pour all the ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice, shake, and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with currants.

Blue Moon
2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce Crème de Violette
1/4 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice, strained

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass; garnish with a twist of lemon.

2 shots gin
½ shot lemon juice
⅓ shot Maraschino
⅙ shot Crème de Violette

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass

You can even use crème de violette to make cheesecake! (If you do this recipie, here's a discussion on "quark". Maria Cookies can be found in the hispanic foods aisle, or you can substitute tea biscuits.)

Photo credits: violets, violet colored drink


The Basics of Entertaining

I'm fine-tuning a series about the Basics of Entertaining because, let's face it, if you're shaky on the basics, then knowing the difference between high tea and afternoon tea or serving unique cocktails won't save your party from turning into the sort that people talk about with a certain sense of thank goodness that's over.

First, some previously written SCS articles on the topic:

Avoiding the "Party Killers"
Making the Mood with Music
When to Hire Help

Secondly, I'd like to hear from you!  What are some of your sure-fire ways to please your guests?  Do you have a go-to playlist?  How do you break the ice with new guests?  Deal with small space?  Maybe you're a beginner and have questions - let's hear them!  You can comment below, or email me


Functional Yet Fun Hostess Gift Ideas

While a bottle of wine (to drink later!) or a bouquet of flowers (already in a vase so your hostess doesn't have to stop what she's doing!) are classic and always appreciated hostess gifts, sometimes you might want to do something with a little more pizzaz. When departing from the norm, it's a good idea to keep your gifts either consumable or functional. A hostess gift should be something small, thoughtful, and perhaps something she wouldn't buy for herself.


Who can't use a little more storage space?  Pretty, functional boxes from World Market ($14.99 ea)

Is she constantly entertaining?  Bring this set of delicious dips and bowl from Frontier Soups ($15.95)


Chocolate is another classic gift, but these exotic mini-bars from Vosges give it a gourmet twist. ($25.00)


Instead of a candle, give these fragrant home perfume cubes from L'Occitane.  ($20.00)


If it's possible for a chopstick rest to be both pretty and soothing, this one from Urban Outfitters accomplishes it. My friend Eileen gave me a set of these - love it!  ($6.00 ea).


Does she love fresh herbs but doesn't have garden space?  Bring the outdoors in with this cute basil plant from Perpetual Kid ($8.49)


It's Derby Week!

Next Saturday is the 135th Kentucky Derby. I attended last year for the first time, and learned a few things about this American institution. First, the locals don’t call it “the Kentucky Derby” but rather Derby or Derby Week. Secondly, it’s a holiday in Louisville, to the point where complete strangers wish each other “Happy Derby!” the day of the race. Lastly, "the Derby" refers to only one of many races held that day. This is probably obvious to those who follow horse racing, but then, I’ve always been the sort who arrives at my alma mater’s homecoming events without knowing who we’re playing at the game. I’m more about the social events surrounding a sporting event rather than the contest itself.

Happily, the Derby presents social opportunities even if you’re not in Louisville.  Want to hold a Derby party of your own?

Roses, bourbon, mint...it must be Derby time! (source)


Of course, you must serve mint juleps...it’s the official Derby drink! The mint julep I tried at Churchill Downs was not so great, sadly. The experienced was salvaged by the mint juleps we had back at our host’s house (a HUGE antebellum home complete with white columns). Delicious! Refreshing! Minty! I think the difference is that our hostess used mint infused simple syrup. Make a big batch...it's delicious in iced tea, too.

Once you’ve made that, you can make your Mint Julep. Here’s a how-to video (replace the sugar & water with your simple syrup). If you want to make a non-alcoholic version, use lemonade instead of bourbon.

Traditionally, mint juleps are served in silver cups, but those are a little hard to find outside of Kentucky. Surprisingly, you can sometimes get them at floral shops. In Chicago, I’ve been told that A New Leaf has them in stock. Otherwise, just use a glass of medium height...if that was good enough for the pretty house on the banks of the Ohio River, it’s good enough for your condo in Lincoln Park.

Other traditional Derby Day favorites include:

Benedictine sandwiches
Hot Brown
Derby Pie

Round out the menu with additional Southern staples like fried green tomatoes, deviled eggs, cheese grits, and fried chicken.

Mmm...delicious Derby Pie (source)


Since it’s the Run for the Roses, it’s appropriate to decorate with red roses. Short stem roses look gorgeous in silver mint julep cups, but don’t stress out if you can’t find them. A silver or clear vase will suffice.

If you trust your guests to control their hand-eye coordination even after a few juleps, this is a great time to use pretty china plates. It adds to the gentility of the occasion. Speaking of gentility, you can set the tone for the party and ask your guests to dress up...although if you live in the north be aware that most women don’t own a big hat (I don’t, and that makes me sad), nor do most men own a seersucker suit (my husband doesn’t, and it makes him sad...no, really. He wanted one after seeing them all over Louisville last year.).

I'm swooning.  I need this hat.

Need more stuff? There’s still time to order from the official Derby site.
Want to go crazy? Purchase horseshoe coasters.

Otherwise, go to a store that sells stamping supplies, buy a cute horseshoe stamp and some fabric ink, and stamp a horse shoe onto heavy paper cocktail napkins.



Ok, so this isn’t the hippest, coolest music out there, but 135 year old institutions aren’t about hip and cool, but rather, tradition. This playlist has some good suggestions (except it’s missing "Run for the Roses" ...a song I was first introduced to in 1983 when my dad bought a new car and it came with a tape to demonstrate the kickin’ General Motors hi-fi).

If you don’t already have these songs and don’t want to hunt them down, I suggest you keep it country. This isn’t the time for ambient trance.



For some, betting is a big part of the day. You can bet online, but if your guests aren’t interested in that, it’s nice to have a list of contenders available so everyone can pick a favorite to cheer on.  Remember, the race is on NBC at 4pm Central, with post time (when the race actually occurs) at 5:04pm Central.  Pass the time with a game of horseshoes!


Additional Resources

The Derby's official party-planning site

Feel like going out instead? List of Derby parties in Chicago.

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