Good lord, what a week. I don’t know about you, but I need a drink.
Normally for this recurring blog, I’d visit a local restaurant during happy hour and report back to you with all of the details – the vibe, the discounted drinks, the most delicious dishes and any “insider secrets” I can scrounge up. This week, of course, nothing is normal. Some restaurants are closing – some for the time being, some potentially for good – while many more have transitioned to curbside takeout or delivery only. It’s a scary time for all of us, but even scarier for these folks, whose livelihoods are on the line. Yesterday, Governor Doug Ducey issued an executive order permitting restaurants to deliver alcoholic beverages with the purchase of food, which will go a long way in helping restaurants survive through this mess.
We have to do our part by continuing to support them. As I type this (things have been changing so rapidly that I feel like everything needs a disclaimer now), you can order takeout from countless Valley restaurants and pick it up outside the establishment or have it delivered to your door. This is still riskier than maintaining a strict quarantine at home, but it is a vote for the kind of future we want to have after all of this is over. My partner, Matt, and I have ordered takeout from our neighborhood spots this week, and we’ve purchased products and gift cards online from our favorite local shops. We’ve been reposting business deals and discounts on the magazine’s Instagram to encourage continued support of local businesses. We’re trying, and we know you all are, too. In that spirit, you could totally order a happy hour spread – including drinks! – from your favorite local joint and feast on it in the safety and comfort of your home. It might not be happy hour pricing, but if there’s ever been a time to choose to pay full price, this is it. (And some restaurants are offering discounts and/or free delivery.)
Maybe you don’t want to order takeout or delivery, though. Maybe you can’t chance any human contact because you or someone you love is immunocompromised, or you think everyone who can should stay home unless it is absolutely necessary to leave, or maybe eating out at all just isn’t in your budget or doable with your dietary needs. Maybe you’re obsessed with food and cooking like me and you’re psyched for an excuse to stay home and make everything from scratch. For you all, I have some ideas and inspiration for a DIY happy hour a la casa.
It’s your home, so you control this one! My suggestions:
- Pick up a little.
You don’t have to go full-on Kondo, just do a two-minute tidy of the area in which you’ll be having HH. It’s a little thing, but it makes a big difference. Staring at piles of clutter and being subliminally reminded of chores is a buzzkill.
- Use your fun glasses and dishes.
Why not? We need every bit of delight we can find right now. If a flowery glass you thrifted (ahem, moi) or your grandma’s serving tray make you smile, break them out.
- Connect with others.
If you live with people, clink glasses with them IRL! If you don’t (or if the people you live with are already annoying you), organize a virtual hang with your friends. You can use FaceTime, Facebook video messenger, Skype, Zoom or lots of other options, including a regular old phone call. Four of my childhood friends and I are having a Zoom meeting for a late happy hour tonight after two of them put their kids to bed, and on Saturday I’m FaceTiming the other two gals in my book club while we drink wine and discuss this month’s pick.
- Celebrate solo.
If you’d rather revel in the solitude (I am an introvert, so I feel you on this), have “date night” in with yourself. Sip some wine or a beer while you read a book, watch TV, take a bath or do another fun activity. If you miss human voices and your friends are busy, listen to a podcast while you drink and nosh. Podcasters are “friends in our head,” to quote Wendy Williams, and hearing familiar, beloved voices is comforting when we’re feeling lonely. I recommend sticking to comedy or lighthearted podcasts right now, for morale.
- Create an atmosphere of fun.
Work is over! Clear away your laptop, papers and anything that reminds you of the office. You might be working from home these days, but that doesn’t mean the line between your personal and private lives disintegrates. Thoroughly enjoy your happy hour by completely disconnecting from work.
My favorite part! My friends and I have done happy hour at home plenty of times over the years to save money and spend more time together (you can linger longer at someone’s house without feeling guilty for tying up a table at a restaurant), so I’ve learned a few things about HH spreads. My tips, along with some things I pulled out of my self-quarantine pantry and fridge:
- Simple works.
You don’t have to create 10 different dishes like you’d get at a restaurant. A little cheese and something crunchy can be really satisfying. For this barebones cheese plate, I paired a hunk of Emmental and cubes of smoked Gouda I had in my cheese drawer with some crispy chickpeas I bought at Costco a month ago. Use whatever you have on hand – cheddar, mozzarella, Brie, Manchego. I have literally put piles of shredded Parm from a bag on cheese plates before, and guess what? They were the first to go. For the crunchy element, go nuts – literally. Pile on any kind of nut or seed you have in the house. I’m partial to pecans and pepitas (pumpkin seeds), so I usually have those in my pantry or freezer (nuts last way longer in the freezer – if you’re not already storing them this way, start now), but anything crunchy and a little salty screams “bar snack” and will put you in the happy hour mood. Pretzels, chips, crackers and raw veggies also work beautifully. Add on more accoutrements if you have them – jelly, jam, chutney, mustard, spreads, dried fruit, etc.
- So does being extra.
I LOVE cooking, so I have been a madwoman in the kitchen over the past few days. I’m working on my bread skills, so I made rosemary focaccia and no-knead Dutch oven bread. I made my first batch of ricotta from scratch. If you enjoy this kind of “project cooking,” go crazy and then morph the results into happy hour snacks. Example: I toasted a slice of the bread I made in a skillet with a little olive oil over medium heat, piled it with my ricotta, drizzled with more olive oil, sprinkled with salt and finished with a flurry of freshly cracked pepper. Thinking about it now, I wish I’d added a ribbon of honey and some pepitas. You could make something similar with store-bought ingredients, mixing it up with whatever you have. No yeast or desire to make bread? Use any bread (or even a crispbread like Wasa) you like. No ricotta? Goat cheese, a mild blue cheese, Neufchâtel, Boursin, plain cream cheese or even spreadable vegan cashew “cheese” all work. Top with whatever tickles your fancy: balsamic vinegar, salami, pesto, roasted veggies, pickled veggies, apple slices, bacon, hot sauce, herbs, more cheese.
- Remix leftovers.
This is a cardinal kitchen rule for me all the time, but it works particularly well for happy hour during the apocalypse (JK – I hope). Reanimate any restaurant leftovers you might still have in the fridge with a quick blast in the oven or skillet. Chicken wings, flatbreads, pizza, potstickers, egg rolls and more reheat well with that approach. You can also take elements of homemade dinners and make them snacky. For example, here I made a little platter with leftovers from Healthyish’s chicken and rice meatballs with hummus recipe and multigrain crackers I had in the pantry. Pile leftover meat or veggies onto crostini or into lettuce wraps, add flour and eggs to leftover mashed potatoes and fry in balls or patties to make croquettes (do this with rice to make arancini), put leftover beans or lentils in the food processor with olive oil and herbs to make dip, use up past-their-prime veggies and fruit in salsas, make street tacos with leftover veggies and proteins. And if you take only one thing from this blog, make it this: With chips and the right attitude, you can turn almost anything into nachos.
YOU are in charge, so you decide which ingredients to keep or leave out. I love basil and mozzarella, but I don’t love fresh tomatoes. At Casa de LeMoine y Hubbard, I can wrap mozzarella balls in fresh basil leaves and skip those fleshy orbs for a tomato-less Caprese salad. Like extra garlic on your bruschetta? Pile it on. Hate chickpeas? Make hummus with white beans instead. Gluten-free? You don’t have to worry about contamination, because your house is already clean.
I am not a mixologist and I am not here to tell you how to make a martini or a margarita or, god forbid, something involving dozens of ingredients or special equipment. That’s what Google is for. I apply my improvisational cooking spirit to making drinks at home, so most of my tipples don’t have recipes. I just see what I have and combine it into something that sounds good. Thankfully, it usually is. Here’s what I made with what I had on hand. Remember, these are just ideas with things from my fridge and liquor cabinet. Assess your own supply and mix and match flavors to your tongue’s content.
- A Gin Thing
I love gin and it plays so well with others, so it’s a mainstay in my amateur mixology. I especially love two local brands: Caskwerks Distilling Co. and Blue Clover Distillery. This time, I combined a little more than an ounce of gin with sliced strawberries, fresh basil and a generous glug of sweetened lime juice. You could muddle the strawberries and basil, but I’m out on chunks in my drinks, so I left them whole and just stirred vigorously. You can definitely use other fruit and herbs – just make sure the flavors work together. Blackberries and thyme? Yes, please. Grapes and cilantro? Maybe not so much. I finished my gin concoction with ice and ginger ale, since the sparkling water bounty I thought I had in the fridge was apparently decimated by teetotaling friends at my annual Galentine’s Day brunch. So herbal and fresh! It was like an early taste of summer. “This tastes like a cocktail we’d have at one of the fancy restaurants you take me to,” my mom said.
- A Tequila Thing
Self-quarantine is a good time to use up the dregs of booze bottles, which is what I did here with this Olmeca Altos 100 percent agave tequila. I honestly don’t remember when I bought it, but I had just enough (about an ounce) to make a drink. Ordinarily with blanco tequila I’d make a Paloma, but I don’t have any grapefruit juice or even Squirt right now. Instead, I added the juice of one lemon and then filled the glass almost halfway with guava nectar, which I bought on a whim at Lams Supermarket a while ago. I stirred it, added ice and then topped with pineapple Bubly sparkling water. “It’s like a tropical pink lemonade,” Matt said.
God bless the Spanish for this drink, which is made up of equal parts of two things I always have at home: red wine and Coca-Cola. This is my go-to summer cocktail because it is so damn refreshing, beautifully lightening red wine with Coke’s sweetness and effervescence, and the easiest drink ever to make. I typically use a cheaper red for this to avoid wasting a bottle of nice wine, but it is also a great way to use up the last bit of a quality bottle you opened a few days ago but didn’t finish. It’s excellent with pizza and tacos.
Too overwhelmed to mix a cocktail? Head to your beer or wine fridge. I’m a wine gal, so I’ll be reaching for these Arizona wines for the duration: Page Springs Cellars Vino del Barrio, LDV Winery’s Rosé of Grenache, Bodega Pierce’s Malvasia Bianca and Dos Cabezas WineWorks’ Pink, which I picked up at Arcadia Premium before this mess got messier. Tarbell’s and many other places are offering delivery and pickup wine, beer and spirits as well.
THE INSIDER SECRET
You don’t have to wear pants or a bra.