The Best Thing About the Holidays

Late afternoon cocktails. That’s one of the best things about the holidays.

Well, aside from the birth of Jesus, watching the children’s eyes light up in wonder and joy, and peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Yes, cocktails come in about number four. But …  there’s also the love of family, and giving beautifully wrapped presents, and singing Christmas carols by candlight. So, let’s call it eighth. Yes, eighth. I’ve never seen a turtle dove or roasted a chestnut or gone sleighing, so definitely a solid eight.

Yes, late afternoon cocktails are in my top ten best things about the holidays. Sitting in the glow of the Christmas tree lights with family and close friends, hearing the same stories told year after year, feeling a little warm inside, and not just from the bourbon. That’s one of the things I most look forward to this time of year.

In the summer, I like to drink gin cocktails, but during the winter, and around Christmas especially, I like good old Southern bourbon, especially in a Manhattan (ironic, I know). And nothing is better with cocktails than a salty, spicy snack. Cheese straws are the perfect holiday treat to serve alongside your holiday libations.

Manhattans are the easy part (spring for the good cherries, after all, it’s Christmas). The cheese straws take a little more effort, but once you make a big batch, you can enjoy them for a while. Daddy is the king of the cheese straw, so I’m sharing his recipe with you. Make them as spicy as you like, but if you really bring the heat, better give your guests a heads-up or they’ll be feeling really warm and not just in their heart.

Cheese Straws
Ingredients

  • 3½  cups plain flour
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¾ tsp. cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
  • 3 sticks butter
  • 1 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, finely shredded

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Sift salt, flour, and cayenne in a large bowl.
  3. Cut butter into small pieces, then blend into flour mixture until it reaches the consistency of coarse cornmeal (This can be done with a pastry cutter or with your fingers as long as the mixture stays cool).
  4. Add shredded cheese and mix well until mixture forms a solid ball when pressed firmly between your hands.
  5. Cut the ball into quarters. Roll each quarter out with a rolling pin on a floured surface to about 1/4 inch thick. Use additional flour if mixture wants to stick.
  6. Mixture will be ragged around the edges and that is OK.  Using a pizza cutter or knife,  cut into strips about 3 inches long by ⅓ inch wide. Save remnants in a bowl. Place ½  inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Repeat with remaining quarters and remnants until entire mixture is used.
  7. Bake at 350° about 10 minutes, being careful not to burn.
  8. Cool on a rack, then store in an airtight container using waxed paper between layers.

Audrey’s Classic Manhattan
(You know I wasn’t going to leave this part out!)

Ingredients
Makes one cocktail.

  • 2 oz. of good quality bourbon (or rye if you like it better)
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
  • A few dashes of bitters (Angostura or Peychaud’s)
  • A cherry with a tsp. of the juice

Directions

  1. Stir first three ingredients together with some ice and strain into a glass.
  2. Garnish with the cherry and juice.
  3. Raise a glass and toast the holiday season!