Mix it up — The good people at Hard Luck Lounge (15410 Mack Ave., Grosse Pointe Park; 313-884-5825) don't just mix drinks; they make drinks. They're the masterminds behind Hard Luck Candy Vodka, which markets two unusual flavors of local vodka: Red Fish, which tastes like gummy fish, and Root Beer Barrel, a surprisingly true root beer-flavored drink. Now they need our help. They're asking metro Detroit mixologists to devise cocktails featuring their flavored vodkas in their inaugural drink recipe contest. Recipes may be submitted until Jan. 18, 2011, and all finalists will be notified at least a week before the finals, which will take place at Cliff Bell's (2030 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-961-2543) at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 27. Submit your drink recipes via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. See hardluckvodka.com for full recipe contest rules.
Underground eating — Over the last few months, we've begun to see one-day-a-week operations, such as Neighborhood Noodle, offer excellent, often niche food for those willing to e-mail or text their orders and pick them up. Welcome to the fold Detroit Brunch, which serves vegan food that is often gluten- and soy-free. Items rotate weekly, but selections for Jan. 2 included broccoli quiche, spiced almond waffle, a tofu scramble, herb-roasted potatoes and more. It's all made from produce bought at Eastern Market, independent community-supported agriculture and local vendors. They even use sustainable practices, such as composting food waste and using 100 percent compostable packaging. Here's the deal: You can order via e-mail up until 11:59 p.m. Friday for cash-only pickup 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at a location in Detroit's Cass Corridor. Send orders to: email@example.com. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Think big — The term "large format wine bottles" probably doesn't excite a whole lot of interest, but these big-ass wine bottles are showstoppers when they're brought to the table. We were just reminded that you can buy sizes that range from 3 liters to 12 liters from growing regions worldwide. If somebody asks you to bring "a bottle of wine" to their New Year's Eve party, lugging one of these monsters over the threshold will let everyone know the party has begun. Available at Champane's Wine Cellars, 7007 Chicago Rd., Warren; 586-978-9463; champanes.com.
Food/Thought — Whether you want to get the jump on what you'll cook this summer or simply want to visualize something summery, Recipes from an Italian Summer (Editors of Phaidon Press, $39.95) could do the trick. This compendium of warm weather recipes from various regions of Italy gives us something to look forward to: light meals, fresh vegetables and simple preparations. More than 400 recipes offer something for every taste, from salads to suppers, desserts to drinks. Gorgeous images abound.
Bottoms Up — Looking for a less costly alternative to Champagne to toast in the New Year? The bulk bubbly that shows up in all the supermarkets around this time is not the best option. Find a local wine shop where the employees know what they're talking about and ask for Cava. A Spanish sparkling wine made in the traditional method of French Champagne, the majority of Cava is made in the region of Catalonia. A good quality one will show aromas of citrus and flowers and be balanced with creaminess and acidity.
The Works — Microwave popcorn may be convenient, but it takes the fun out of getting involved in the process. With the Wabash Valley Farms 25008 Whirley-Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper, a hand crank moves an internal element that stirs the pot, preventing burning and popping most of the kernels. It requires less oil than a regular popper, resulting in fluffy crispy corn, and vents that let steam escape prevent soggy corn. Cleanup is simple: simply wipe out the pot with a paper towel. (And don't miss Detroit Popcorn, a local source for all your popping needs, at detroitpopcorn.com.)