Friday, November 30, 2007
It's getting to be that special time of year again. I will leave the reasons behind its specialness open to interpretation. Holiday party invitations start showing up in one's mailbox the moment the turkey baster has been dried and tucked away in a drawer. Concurrently, this is the time of year when egg nog starts to muscle its way into your local supermarket's dairy case.
Egg Nog. It's a heart-stopping, cholesterol-laden, alcohol-spiked, phlegm-producing cup of Holiday goodness. And I'm a huge fan. I always have been.
As a child, the appeal was obvious; what eight year-old is going to say no to a sweet, creamy dairy product? I imagined I was drinking melted nutmeg ice cream. Given the ingredients, I didn't know how close to the mark I was. I would drink several glasses at holiday gatherings. If I accidentally got into the rum-spiked nog for adults (which was understandable since the crystal punch bowl full of alcoholic nog looked exactly like the cardboard carton that contained the booze-free liquid), so much the better. Open a container, pour out its contents, mix in a little rum, and get the party started. Egg nog punch is that simple. Or was, until I had my first taste of the real stuff.
It wasn't until I was well into adulthood that my family would pay a call on my stepmother's friend Charlene and her family, who had a sort of open house party every Christmas Eve. The house was always dressed to the teeth in holiday drag, complete with a sort of Christmas-on- Main-Street, U.S.A. recreation in miniature spread out over the tables in the living room and onto the grand piano. I'd peek into the tiny cellophane windows looking for any signs of domestic unhappiness or violence, but was invariably disappointed in my search. Booze-spiked cocktail wieners, prawns, and every kind of dip imaginable were there for the taking, and our hosts were always warm and in a festive mood, which is just the thing my family needs during the holidays. For me, the two main attractions of the party were the Presentation of the Egg Nog, and the Wheeling-in of Grandpa. This quiet old gentleman was missing one of his legs and an eye. At least, I assume he was missing an eye since he wore an eye patch. This in itself is nothing unusual, since it it very likely that he suffered from diabetes, though I never asked. What I always found interesting was the fact that he was always parked against the wall near the center of the main room, slightly to the right of a parrot cage, which hung near (but wisely not over) the dessert table. He was, to me, a sort of pirate centerpiece to the party.
The Presentation of the Egg Nog was not a heralded event, but one I always watched with interest. Charlene and her husband Bill would be in the kitchen fussing over the bowl, stirring in something here, adding a little nutmeg there. They'd do a little tasting, adjust favoring, do a little more tasting, add more booze, then Charlene would pick up the enormous bowl and walk it to the buffet table very carefully, the whitecaps of stiffened egg white gently rising and falling against the sides. When her mission had been successfully accomplished, people would grab their cups and huddle around the bowl, waiting their turn to dip in. It was a revelation, in terms of my nog-drinking experience. It was fresh and frothy. I finally understood where the egg part of egg nog came in-- the subtle yellow coloring from yolks beaten without mercy, the foam of egg whites folded in for body. It ruined my enjoyment of store-bought nog forever.
I won't assume that all three of you reading this have ever tried homemade egg nog. If you haven't, and you don't have problems consuming dairy, cholesterol or alcohol, I say go ahead and try it. It's really, really good. And you only get it once a year, so drink up.
The rumor behind the word "nog" is that it derived from the English word "noggin"; a small, carved, wooden mug used to serve drinks in various taverns. The full name of this beverage might have been "egg and grog in a noggin", which does not sound especially appetizing. There also seems to be some disagreement as to whether the beverage is spelled as one word or two. I like two, it sounds more important that way.
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
1 pint whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup rum, bourbon, or whatever poison you prefer
4 egg whites
1. Beat egg yolks until pale yellow in color. Gradually add 1/3 cup of sugar until it is totally dissolved.
2. In a medium saucepan, over high heat, combine milk, cream, and nutmeg and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and temper the hot milk mixture into the eggs and sugar. Return everything to the pot and cook until mixture reaches 160 degrees F. Remove from heat, stir in alcohol and extract, pour into a medium-sized mixing bowl and chill in your refrigerator.
3. In a medium bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually add one tablespoon of sugar as you beat until stiff peaks form. Whisk egg whites into chilled mixture.
4. Put your now fresh and somewhat safe beverage in the noggin or vessel of your choice and drink up.