Teri O'Connor knows a lot about flexibility and balance.
During the summer, the 47-year-old Marmora woman leads yoga classes on the beach in Sea Isle City. During fall, winter and spring, she's not only teaching yoga classes, she also is an assistant track coach, helping runners at Ocean City High School with flexibility and injury prevention. She also teaches spin yoga at CK Pilates in Marmora.
So, when the busy mother of three has some free time at night, she doesn't mind relaxing with a good drink.
"My focus is on balance. That's why I think a good Irish coffee is a balance to all this exercise," she said. "If you do exercise and take good care of yourself, then everything in moderation is OK."
And O'Connor is flexible. If she's not in the mood for an Irish Coffee, she might whip up one of the specialty martini recipes she's developed for her and her friends over the years.
Janice Annarelli knows just what an impact yoga and balance have had on her friend's outlook. She knew O'Connor when her friend worked as a dental hygienist, cleaning people's teeth but not really having a good time.
"She started enjoying life a lot more when she started doing yoga. That's when she started experimenting with drinks. I guess she thought, 'Hey, why not?'" the 51-year-old Marmora woman said.
O'Connor said yoga wasn't her first lesson in the benefits of a balanced life.
She learned a lot from Peggy O'Connor, her mother-in-law, and a woman who not only knows a good Irish coffee recipe, but also knew how to live life to the fullest.
"She's an amazing golfer. She was always healthy, always took care of herself, but she enjoyed a nice party and a good cocktail, too," O'Connor said.
Teri O'Connor always has been a Jersey girl. She grew up in the seaside community of Lavallette in northern Ocean County and spent summers working in Seaside Heights "before it was taken over by reality TV."
When she married Jim O'Connor, she was welcomed into his large, Irish family.
"Being one of eight siblings, it's no wonder his mother and father knew how to party and liked to enjoy a delicious drink on special occasions," Teri O'Connor said. "She always called me her seventh daughter."
Peggy O'Connor took the newest addition to her family under her wing, teaching her how to cook and how to make some of her specialties.
"We refer to these special lessons as "Camp PEG" - where you always are ready to serve a big crowd," Teri O'Connor said.
One of those specialties is Peggy O'Connor's Irish Coffee, now a St. Patrick's Day tradition in Teri O'Connor's house.
But, like many an Irish tradition, it's both joyful and poignant.
"After we lost a close friend who loved the coffee, we decided to dedicate our St. Patrick's Day parties to raising money for the American Brain Tumor Society. So, if you want to come for the Irish Coffee, you need to place a donation in the Pot O'Gold and each year the party has grown with more and more funds raised," O'Connor said.
St. Patrick's Day isn't the only celebration wheN O'Connor brings out a specialty drink.
She and her husband do a lot of entertaining, and O'Connor likes to concoct special martinis or other drinks for the occasion.
For Halloween, there is a pumpkin-tini. For Independence Day, there is a flag-tini, garnished with red raspberries, white marshmallows and blue berries. Another favorite is O'Connor's Tang-kini, made to taste like the powdered breakfast drink.
"People who are over 40 enjoy remembering what Tang taste likes. It's fun and it's refreshing," she said.
O'Connor started acting as her own bartender a few years ago, when cosmopolitans were popular and she set out to try to make them taste better.
"The problem with that is once you do it, when you go out you can't find one that tastes as good as the ones you make," she said.
She got into making martinis when she started looking for special drinks to help a friend celebrate his birthday. The special occasion drinks just seemed to grow out of that effort.
"I really love to make these wonderful different cocktails to the theme that we seem to have going on," she said.
Annarelli, who lives 10 houses away from O'Connor, frequently serves as her taste tester. She recalls O'Connor's Lucky Charms martini, with pieces of the children's cereal crushed and stuck to the rim of the glass, and her chocolate martini - one of Annarelli's personal favorites.
"I am almost her guinea pig. If she has some kind of event and she wants to try something, she'll say 'Come on down and try it for me,'" Annarelli said. "There might have been some we needed to tweak a bit, but in the end we usually get it right."
O'Connor doesn't only experiment with drink recipes. She's constantly trying new dishes and serving them to family and friends.
"I try to do mostly healthy cooking, but stuff that tastes good, too," she said. "My husband doesn't like vegetables, but I try to sneak them in when I can," she said.
And, even though she posts the food recipes on her website, njbeachyoga.com, that's not what students ask about during class.
"In some of my personal training classes they ask if they exceed their goals, can I reward them with one of my drinks," she said.
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
Mom O'Connor's Irish Coffee
•2 shots Jameson Irish Whiskey
•1 shot Kahlua
•Fresh brewed coffee
•1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
•Fresh whipped cream
Rim a big wine glass by dipping rim in Kahlua and then coating with brown sugar. Place a heaping teaspoon of brown sugar in the glass. Pour in whiskey and Kahlua and then fill the glass with coffee. Top with whipped cream. Don't stir. Enjoy the layers and savor the warmth.
•1 part ZEN Green Tea Liqueur
•2 parts Stolichnaya Citrus Vodka
•1 part simple syrup
•Squeeze of lemon
•Instant ice tea mix
Rim glasses with instant ice tea mix. Pour liquid ingredients into shaker. Add ice. Add lemon. Shake.
Tang-kini - a summer delight
•1 part Peach Stolichnaya Vodka
•1 part Citrus Stolichnaya Vodka
•2 parts Tang
•Fresh orange or lemon
Make Tang first as directed. Pour liquid into shaker. Add ice. Shake so it's icy and pour. Drink a glass of water after, this goes down very smoothly!
(For a tasty rim, coat the top of glass with a mixture of Tang and raw sugar.)