Friday, March 17, 2006

Hot drinks for cold garages

Because W. and I are living in the garage while the contractors toil in the incessant rain and occasional snow, we have learned some creative ways to keep blood circulating in our extremities:

The laptop warms up your legs; the trendy vintage good-idea-when-we-lived-in-so-cal metal desk? Cold, cold, cold.

Junk mail catalogs on the floor cut the cold of the concrete slab (and absorb mud and dirt before being easily recycled).

Socks and mittens are a mixed blessing—if our fingers and toes are already cold, wearing them is like insulating ice cubes. An external heat source is key...

... and that’s where the hot alcohol comes in. Not only does it warm us to our toes, it makes us forget about the dirt and sawdust and pet hair and mud for a while.

When our kitchen is stripped of windows and insulation, I make a quick version of the BISHOP featured in a recent Gourmet. I cut an orange into thick slices, stud each with a clove, and broil on each side until dark brown around the edges. Then I dump the orange pieces into a saucepan with enough ruby port for two generous drinks and heat. Sturdy mugs or hot toddy glasses or Mason jars wrapped in napkins are lovely, but an insulated coffee mug is the only thing that will make it across the yard to the garage without making the drink tragically cold.

When we are feeling ambitious or celebratory, we make an adapted version of our friend Mike’s wassail. A certain very lucky group in my hometown looks forward all year to New Year’s Day, the day of Mike’s annual party and the notorious wassail. I won’t lie, it looks like sludge with a film of pond scum resting on top; It is served in coffee cups that waft steam of pure alcohol—breathing in before a quaff is a dangerous proposition. But a few sips of the sweet hot spice, and the party becomes very convivial. A few more sips, and we’ve nearly forgotten the homemade bagels and gravlax, the brown bread and roast beef, the persimmon pudding.

I don’t make my wassail in bulk like Mike does, but I like to make enough to fill the Crockpot. We missed Mike’s New Year’s party this year, but made the wassail ourselves to serve before and after a rich pork chili spiked with coffee and topped with avocado, toasted pumpkin seeds, cotija, and radishes.


Combine in heavy saucepan, boil, and cool slighly:
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 T. nutmeg
1 t. ground ginger
6 cloves
4 allspice berries
1 stick cinnamon

Beat until stiff, not dry:
3 egg whites

Beat until light, about 2 minutes:
3 egg yolks

Fold whites into yolks in a large bowl. Slowly strain sugar mixture into eggs, whisking to avoid making scrambled eggs instead of a nice, thick, muddy-looking layer that will rest on top of the wassail and disgust your friends in the most satisfying way.

Heat to 130-140 degrees:
2 bottles cream sherry

1 cup brandy

Slowly mix in the egg mixture. Reheat if necessary, but not over 140 degrees. A slow cooker will keep your wassail piping hot.


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