It's the time of year when people are apt to drop in unexpectedly, or when you may extend an after-shopping invitation to friends or neighbors. You need not serve food on such occasions. Often a warm, fruity drink is just right -- relaxing and not too filling.
It's a good idea to have several things in mind for quick and easy serving. Along with fruit mixtures, there are delicious shakes, ice-cream floats, and chocolate or cranberry mixes that are perfect for children's get-togethers and sleep-overs.
For the special time when a large bowl of punch is necessary, consider making an ice block, since it will melt more slowly than cubes and adds a festive touch.
To make an plain ice block, use a container large enough to fit your punch bowl. Plastic storage boxes are fine, or you can use an angel tin pan or most any size cake pan.
Food coloring adds festive color to ice blocks. Or you can fill the container half full and freeze it, then arrange flowers, greens, or fresh fruit on the ice. Carefully add about 1/2 inch of water and freeze. When the decoration has set in place, fill container the rest of the way and freeze thoroughly. To unmold an ice block, dip the container into hot water and slide the ice carefully into the empty punch bowl. Add punch to desired level.
In her book ``Drinks Without Liquor,'' (Workman Publishing), Jane Brandt suggests this hot cranberry drink for a fall harvest table, a teachers' tea, or Thanksgiving Day feast. Spicy, hot cranberry-lemon punch 1 quart cranberry-apple drink 2 cups water 1 cup sugar 6 sticks cinnamon 10 whole cloves Peel of 1 lemon, in thin strips 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice Apple slices for garnish
Combine all ingredients except garnish in a large saucepan; bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes.
Strain and set aside 15 minutes. Add lemon juice, stir, and pour into punch bowl. Place apple slices in each punch cup before serving. Makes 16 punch-cup servings.
The following recipes were developed and tested by the Pillsbury Company. Apple Eggnog 4 eggs, separated 2 tablespoons sugar 2 cups vanilla ice cream 2 cups apple juice Nutmeg
In large bowl, beat egg yolks until thick. Add sugar, ice cream, apple juice, and mix until blended. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold into apple mixture. Sprinkle each serving with nutmeg.
Makes 7 1-cup servings.
NOTE: For Orange Eggnog, substitute orange juice for apple juice and omit nutmeg.
Kathryn A. Knox of Fort Collins, Colo., has collected from her students some unusual beverage ideas that she has found to be popular and delicious. Chai Laymoon (Arabic)
In Arabic this beverage means ``lemon or lime tea.'' When fresh limes are available, put a few on your windowsill to dry. After they are brown and sound hollow, store in a jar.
When you are ready to serve an unusual hot drink, puncture the dried limes in several places with a fork.
Boil the punctured limes in a pot until water turns golden, using 1 lime per cup of water. Strain and sweeten to taste. Add cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg for an unusual tart punch for fall and the holidays. Salsa-Veggie (Mexico)
Combine 1 46-ounce can mixed vegetable juice with 1 tablespooon lemon juice and 1 cup Mexican salsa (mild, medium, or hot). Stir. Garnish with a celery stick and cucumber slice. Serve hot or cold. Party Hot Chocolate 3 ounces (3 squares) unsweetened chocolate 1/2 cup water 1/2 cup sugar Dash salt 1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped 5 cups milk
In large saucepan combine chocolate and water over low heat and stir constantly. Blend in sugar and salt. Cook 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool, then fold in whipped cream. Refrigerate until serving time.
Heat milk to scalding. Place 1 heaping tablespoon chocolate mixture in each cup and fill with hot milk. Sprinkle with nutmeg if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings. Bittersweet Ginger Drink (India)
First make a ginger syrup by boiling together six slices ginger, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup water. Simmer 1 hour. Strain and cool. Add 2 tablespoons of this ginger syrup to club soda or mineral water in a tall glass. Stir. Add ice cubes.