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Perfect Holiday Cocktails

Festive drinks, delicious with or without the alcohol

En español | My husband, David, is an Episcopal minister, which means that between Christmas Eve and Day he's busy with five services and a pageant. Our family used to try to squeeze our celebration in on the same day as everyone else, but found it stressful and rushed. Over the years we've learned we're better off celebrating on Dec. 26 — what the English call Boxing Day. We start late morning with a big brunch, and continue through early evening with a festive dinner. It's a day we enjoy both eating and drinking, which is why I serve two holiday cocktails.

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When I gave up calorie-packed eggnog long ago, I began making a lighter alternative called milk punch. At first whole milk — rather than heavy cream and eggs — served as the base for this festive and fun drink, which we dubbed the Adult Milkshake.

This year I've made it even lighter. At his last doctor visit, David's cholesterol was slightly elevated, and he's been trying to tamp it down with diet and exercise. With whole milk now out of the question, I've discovered that coconut and almond milks are often fine substitutes in our favorite dishes, and both make splendid milk punch.

Many of the nondairy milks are packaged aseptically and located in the grocery aisles, but more and more are turning up in the refrigerated dairy section. You can use any brand you like, but one of my new picks is Califia Farms almond milk, with flavors that include a delicious toasted-coconut. It has only 40 calories per cup with 3.5 grams of fat (no trans or saturated fats).

For me, drinking and eating go together, which is why I love to load up my Bloody Marys with fun garnishes. I've suggested some of the more obvious options, but you might also consider pickled okra, skewered cocktail onions, whole scallions, carrot sticks or bell pepper sticks. This recipe has just the right amount of spice for average tastes, but set out the condiment bottles — horseradish, vinegar, Worcestershire, hot red pepper sauce — so your crowd can adjust the drink to their tastes.

And if cocktails aren't your thing, you're still in luck. Zippy Bloody Marys and Coconut Milk Punch are just as tasty without the booze. Cheers!

Milk Punch Gingerbread Spiced Apple Cider, Festive Holiday Cocktails

Coconut milk is a healthy substitute for whole milk in food and beverage recipes.

Coconut Milk Punch

Serves 8

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark rum
  • 6 tablespoons brandy
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 6 cups (1-1/2 quarts) coconut milk or coconut-flavored almond milk (see previous page)
  • Garnish: Grated nutmeg

Dissolve sugar in rum, brandy and vanilla in a large, heavy pitcher. Add milk; freeze until very cold or even slushy. Pour into glasses, sprinkle with nutmeg and serve.

Bloody Mary Cocktail, Holiday Cocktails

Consider pickled okra, skewered cocktail onions, whole scallions, carrot sticks or bell pepper sticks to garnish your Bloody Marys.

Zippy Bloody Marys

Makes about 6 drinks

  • 1 quart tomato juice
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 2 tablespoons juice from a large lemon
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Suggested garnishes: olives, inner celery hearts, shrimp, pickled vegetables such as onions, green beans or Giardiniera

Mix all ingredients in a large pitcher. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve over ice and garnish with any or all of the suggestions above.

AARP food expert Pam Anderson is a best-selling cookbook author and blogger at

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