Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday Libation - Mulled Wine

One of the elements of the holidays I love most are traditions, creating and upholding them to be specific. My family has a bevvy of holiday traditions that we never seem to, nor ever will shake. One of those special traditions is turning Christmas tree decorating in to a full blown occasion, not just an obligation of the holidays. Growing up, we would always venture to pick out our Christmas tree together, wearing scarves (the only time I would ever wear a scarf all year, it is California), return home to a pot of smoking hot chili, Christmas music and a night of Christmas tree decorating. Along with that would always come the "baby's first Christmas" ornament argument in which my sister would always taunt my raw wound of having zero, yes ZERO, 1982 first Christmas ornaments compared to what seemed to me as hundreds of 1978 first Christmas ornaments. My sister is the oldest and the proud owner of many, many baby's first Christmas ornaments, I however, have none. Oh, and as you can tell, I'm completely over it... Now that I think of it, in adolescence, those fights were probably the most drama our happy little family ever saw, yes, we were and are very, very blessed. This year, I couldn't wait to impose some of my family's holiday Christmas tradition bug on to Todd. I started with of course my favorite, the day of the Christmas tree decorating. It started naturally with a tree, which was not as romantic as I conjured up in my head, nor as festive as my family's old tradition but lets be real, getting a Christmas tree in Los Angeles is nothing like the hunt for one in a rural area. We packed into his car and drove around the corner to a tiny lot in a grocery market, that would do just fine, though. We immediately spotted the perfect tree, in which we both agreed, stood in line behind some sketchy characters, loaded the tree in the car with some maneuvering and viola! Project Christmas tree tradition was underway. I had a big pot of turkey chili simmering, Christmas music to boot and also a secret tool in my Christmas cheer arsenal, mulled wine. I'll be honest, I did make the mulled wine hoping for it to become a new tradition to share but I was unsure how it would turn out, it was my first time making it for that matter. I doubled the recipe, because honestly, one can never have too much mulled wine on hand. I was so tickled by the aroma the mulled wine exuded and even more thrilled when I sipped it, "this stuff is fantastic" was my inner dialogue for a few minutes. I like to think of it as winter's version of sangria, it's warm and soothing, aromatic, spicy and flavorful. One tip, is to add some brandy to it, I kept the heat on really low hoping not to burn off the alcohol content but I believe that I did. The wine had an extremely tiring effect, hinting to a lower alcohol content in my book, probably from a 12% to 6ish% is what it felt like. The brandy will help that and keep you, your family or your guests from slipping into a deep coma. Though, if you are heavy handed with the brandy, you could end up with guests getting so wild they light their hair on fire, be mindful. Also, I bought my spices at an Ethnic market which proved to be a super bargain. We had left over wine, in which we stored in airtight mason jars and actually drank cold the next day with dinner, and it was still just as much a delight as the day before. So, in sharing this story and this outstanding recipe (thank you Ina Garten, I do love you!) I hope to one: bring a lovely adult beverage in to your home but two: most importantly inspire you to start a holiday tradition with a loved one, whatever that may be. It is the traditions that bring us together to create the memories that warm our hearts, it's what the holiday spirit is about.

Mulled Wine - Ina Garten

4 cups apple cider
1 (750-ml) bottle red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
1/4 cup honey
2 cinnamon sticks
1 orange, zested and juiced
4 whole cloves
3 star anise
4 oranges, peeled, for garnish 

Combine the cider, wine, honey, cinnamon sticks, zest, juice, cloves and star anise in a large saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Pour into mugs, add an orange peel to each and serve.

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