Having drinks and nibbles with friends after work came into its own during the Prohibition years in America (1920-1933) when the production, transportation and sale of liquor was banned. People would host secret ‘cocktail hours’ at home or a speakeasy then visit a restaurant where alcohol was not served.

The term ‘Happy Hour’ can be traced back to the early 20th century when the United States Navy offered personnel a weekly entertainment programme to alleviate boredom. This ‘Happy Hour’ involved a variety of activities in including music, dancing and wrestling matches. Over the years it became more about drinking than organised entertainment.

As we know ‘Happy Hour’ didn't die with the end of Prohibition. Bars began offering discounted drinks and food as a marketing manoeuvre to increase business. Just as many bars and restaurants still do today worldwide.

However, in these unusual times many of us have to create our own ‘Happy Hour’ in our own little bubbles. With the festive season upon us it’s time to enjoy the company of friends either in reality or virtually. Here are some enjoyable suggestions.



The great thing about this cocktail is it can be made alcohol-free by jettisoning the gin. Same look, different taste.

Strawberry Syrup: 1 cup chopped strawberries
1/2 cup each: sugar, water
Cocktail: 1/2 cup ice cubes
2 tablespoons gin
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 large strawberry, sliced
chilled lemonade or soda
mint and sliced lemon to garnish

Place the strawberries, sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring. Simmer until the strawberries have softened. Cool. Purée with a stick blender. Pass through a sieve. Refrigerate until required.

Place half the ice cubes in a cocktail shaker. Add the gin, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the chilled strawberry syrup. Shake for 30 seconds. Strain over the remaining ice cubes in a glass. Top with the lemonade. Garnish with the sliced strawberry, mint and lemon slices. Makes 1.


Use a sushi mat to help roll. Or use a clean, dry tea towel. Great served with Strawberry Gin Fizz.

1 1/2 cups sushi rice
2 cups water
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons sushi vinegar, warmed 
3 fat asparagus spears, trimmed
2 sheets black nori
3 sheets nori
1/2 cup kimchi, chopped
100g smoked chicken, thinly sliced

Wash the rice well in a sieve. Place in a rice cooker or saucepan. Add the water and bring to the boil.  Cover, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes or according to the rice cooker instructions. Remove from the heat and stand for 10 minutes, until the water is absorbed by the rice. Dissolve the sugar in the warm sushi vinegar. Fork it through the rice. Cool.

Blanch the asparagus in boiling water until crisp-tender. Cool and chill.

Place a nori sheet — shiny side down — on a sushi mat.
Spread about 1/3 of the rice over the top leaving about 5mm at the furthest edge. Gently press down the rice evenly. Place a line of chopped kimchi, an asparagus spear and 1/3 of the chicken across the centre of the rice. Roll up and seal firmly. Repeat with the remaining nori and filling. Cut into 2cm rounds. Makes about 20. 



Genuine maple syrup could replace the sugar syrup.

Sugar Syrup: 1/4 cup caster sugar
2 tablespoons water
Cocktail: handful ice cubes
1/3 cup vodka
1/4 cup espresso or other very strong coffee
3-4 tablespoons coffee liqueur

Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Heat stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Cool.

Place 1 tablespoon of the syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add the ice, vodka, espresso and liqueur. Shake for 30 seconds. Strain into two martini glasses. Serves 2.


These unusual bites marry well with espresso martinis.

1/2 long baguette
2 small ripe bananas
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon vodka (optional)
4-5 drops Tabasco sauce
100g tasty cheese, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 180°C. 

Cut the baguette into 2cm-thick rounds. Place on a baking tray. Bake for 4 minutes then turn over. Continue baking for another 3-4 minutes or until golden and crisp. Cool. These may be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Peel and mash the bananas. Add the lemon juice, vodka and Tabasco and mix well.

Preheat the oven on fan grill to 190°C.

Place the crostini on an oven tray. Spread with the banana mixture. Top with the cheese. Fan-grill for about 3 minutes until the cheese melts. Can be garnished with marigold petals or chopped parsley. Makes about 20.


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