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The History of Your Favorite Holiday Drinks

So who thought it was a great idea to mix raw eggs with alcohol? Ho ho ho for eggnog, but with recent salmonella scares, this classic holiday drink seems unfortunately risky. Back in the day in jolly old medieval England, the luxury of dairy-based cocktails implied wealth; the poor common folk had to forego the milk and eggs and head straight to the hard stuff because refrigeration remained the domain of the rich. Nowadays, in lieu of the traditional warm eggnog mixed with brandy, Madeira or that British fave, Sherry, we increasingly find products like soy-based, dairy-free, non-alcoholic eggnog on the market. As devotees of the White Russian like The Dude can attest, this might well be a positive progression – while I appreciate that some people love dairy with alcohol, I have always found this to be a dangerous combination on many fronts.

Let’s get Dickensian for a moment and talk about one of the classic holiday warmers – mulled wine. I remember my mother doing a great (albeit non-alcoholic) version of this with amazing fresh apple cider from a farm near our childhood home. Spike up an orange with some ginger, nutmeg and anise, toss in some cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods and simmer over low heat; depending on your preference, both the softer apple juice version or the more classic red wine recipe are easy holiday treats that will have your house smelling festive. Because wine was notoriously unstable prior to refrigeration, boiling it with spices was an easy way to mask the crappy stuff. For the record, if you too have some modern-yet-dubious bottles of red squatting in your precious wine real estate, this is a great way to use them up outside of percolating some pasta sauce. Open up a couple of older, el cheapo red wines and get them simmering on your stovetop this holiday season – you’ll feel so very Bob Cratchit, and recession-proof to boot.

Then there’s the hot toddy. Spend a decent amount of time in London and you’ll cultivate an intuitive, climactic understanding of British drinking habits – they’re always about warmth and community, and this is a prime example. Recently, I picked up a wracking chest cough from a certain little preschool colleague of my daughter (let’s call her Typhoid Mary); I rarely if ever take over-the-counter medicine but after too many repeated Nyquil nights with zero relief, I spontaneously decided to whip up my very first hot toddy. I learned that there’s a reason that a moderate amount of alcohol with warm milk and honey produces soporific effects. Forego the pharmaceuticals and try this ancient remedy; it worked for me!

And let us not forget the contributions of our Italian friends, who perfected the art of the friendly Sunday brunch. The Venetians are easy-going, and blending some great sparkling Prosecco with freshly squeezed orange or peach juice is a healthy way to toast the New Year or the new week. Lower in alcohol and with a dollop of vitamin C, these classic bubbly cocktails echo the era when citrus was considered an exotic luxury. While this is a classic “hair of the dog” recipe for the morning-after holiday festivities, too much holiday alcohol, whether at the office party, your neighbor’s soirée or on New Year’s Eve, speaks to a broader holiday issue: excess. Keep it healthy this holiday season and enjoy that Bellini or Mimosa on Sunday morning without regretting the Saturday that preceded it. That we can sip OJ with or without the bubbly anytime we choose is one of the many beverage blessings (among other types) we take for granted nowadays. Cheers!