Non-Alcoholic Beverages

I thought I was going to get off easy. This year's family reunion is slated for mid-June. There should be about 150 of us, but unlike years past, which have seen me cooking up a storm and throwing open my doors, this year we'll be renting a venue. I'm in charge of nonalcoholic drinks. I thought it would be a cinch. Then, sister Cathy called up. "Of course, you can have all the standard stuff, but it can't be only that. We need something more exciting, something jazzy to entice Uncle Carl away from the beer. Nobody wants to see him loopy at four in the afternoon, wearing half a pineapple on his head and showing off those Polynesian dances he learned in the war." I couldn't argue. "Oh," she concluded, "and don't forget dessert-type drinks."

Mike Simms, owner of the beverage service Barworks (858-566-6077), suggested an Italian syrup bar. "We call them 'mocktails.' It's just shots of different syrups mixed with tonic water, club soda, juice, or milk. There are lots of possibilities." Simms suggested buying Torani brand syrups ( $4.15 for 750ml) from Café Moto downtown (619-239-6686) or the Torani website ( www.torani.com ). "You can search their drink menu by flavor; it'll give you great recipes. They have fruit flavors, mint, biscotti, chocolate, and vanilla. For the fruit-flavored syrups, you mix them with club soda -- a shot of syrup over ice and fill with club soda, just like you were pouring alcohol." He offered a couple of ideas: "For an orange creamsicle, use a shot of orange syrup and a shot of vanilla syrup." Put them in a shaker, top off with milk, shake, and pour. For a piña colada, use coconut syrup, a splash of pineapple juice, and club soda. It makes a light, refreshing, nonalcoholic drink."

Next I called Sari Sari Catering Company (619-243-3608; www.sarisaricatering.com ), owned by San Diego Culinary Institute grads Mae Villena and Gene Case. "'Sari Sari' means 'a little bit of everything' in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines," said Villena. "I'm Filipino, and I thought, 'What a great way to bring my heritage into something.' My love of food comes from growing up in such a huge family; every time there was a party, the aunts and grandmothers would all be in the kitchen, cooking up a storm." From her family reunions to mine. Recipe number one (all recipes make eight servings):

Lojito (Virgin Lychee Mojito)

6-1/2 limes, quartered

2 tablespoons honey

1/2 cup chopped peppermint (or mint) leaves

1 can lychees with juice

4 cups club soda

Additional lime quarters and mint leaves for garnish

1. Puree lychees with juice in blender until smooth.

2. Mash limes with honey and mint until combined

3. Pour pureed lychees with juice into mashed lime/honey/mint mixture. Strain to remove pulp.

4. Combine with club soda. Serve over ice with two lime quarters and a mint leaf per glass.

"Lychees are prominent in a lot of Asian cuisine," said Villena. "It's a sweet, off-white fruit. It can be found at Albertsons for about $.49 in the ethnic foods/Asian aisle. I think the Lojito is perfect for a summer day." Recipe number two:

Sun-Drenched Cooler

4 cups tangerine juice (about 16 tangerines)

2 cups pomegranate juice

2 cups club soda

Mint for garnish

1. If using fresh tangerines, juice and strain to remove pulp and seeds. Combine tangerine juice with pomegranate juice in a pitcher and chill.

2. When ready to serve, add club soda to juice. Serve over ice if desired. "I would set up a beverage station," said Villena. "Make an elaborate display, with all the fruits that are used in the drinks. You might use a punch bowl or a punch fountain for the Cooler," or for the Sari:

Sari Nonalcoholic Sangria:

2 cups passion fruit juice

2 cups orange juice

2 cups pomegranate juice

1 cup sparkling water

Bottom half of a pineapple, diced

1 ripe mango, diced

1 D'Anjou pear, diced

Combine all ingredients in pitcher or bowl. Stir. Let sit for one hour in refrigerator. Serve over ice garnished with diced fruit.

"I suggest Mexican traditional drinks such as horchata or jamaica," said Izyalit Sanchez of Porkyland Mexican Catering (619-952-7468). Horchata is a cold drink made from rice, almonds, cinnamon, lime zest, and sugar. Jamaica is a tart drink made from hibiscus flowers. Porkyland sells horchata and jamaica for $10 a gallon. Or, if you want to make your own horchata:

Horchata (serves six or seven)

6 tablespoons of uncooked rice

6 oz. blanched almonds

1 inch of cinnamon stick

Zest of 3 two-inch pieces of lime rind

1 cup sugar

1. Pulverize rice in your blender, grinding as smooth as possible.

2. Combine rice with almonds, cinnamon, and lime zest. Let sit overnight (six-hour minimum).

3. Place mixture in blender, blend three to five minutes until smooth and no longer has gritty texture. Add two cups of water and blend again for a few seconds.

4. Place large sieve over mixing bowl, line sieve with three layers of cheesecloth. Pour in rice mixture, a little at a time, and keep stirring to help mixture go through sieve. Gather cheesecloth together at the top, and squeeze out any additional liquid. Add two more cups of water and stir in sugar to taste. If mixture is too thick, add more water. Cover and refrigerate. Serve in a tall glass over ice.

Finally, I put in a call to Sammy Sussman, catering manager at Elijah's in La Jolla (858-455-1461). Sussman gave me an idea for a dessert drink. "We're a New York-style deli, so I'd suggest you serve a chocolate egg cream, or chocolate phosphate."

Chocolate Egg Cream

1/3 cup milk

1/4 cup chocolate syrup in a tall, frozen glass with ice.

Add soda water and stir vigorously. It'll get foamy at the top -- it fluffs up like beaten eggs.

Chocolate Phosphate

Mix 1/3 chocolate syrup and 2/3 soda water and stir.

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