Epson Hammer ("On Modern Time")
It's hard to believe that my vacation is almost over. These days have flown by; it seems like just yesterday that the Greek and I were frantically packing in the new apartment, lugging the bags down the stairs we've come to know only too well (all we've been doing is moving things up and down them and, as they say, familiarity can breed contempt), worrying about missing our flight to Pennsylvania and then sitting on the floor of SFO for a good five hours. And can you believe that it's taken 14 days of our being here for it to finally snow? As I revised, reformulated and practiced reading my conference paper aloud today (it's been sent off, but I still worry that the Salome/geisha connection is not as strong as it could be; however, in 7 double-spaced pages, it's hard to make a point), the snow was violently dancing its way through the neighborhood with the help of its overly gusty companion, the wind.
Even if only a dusting, I'm glad to get to see some snow while I'm here. I had hoped for a snowy Christmas miracle, but Mother Nature was not at all obliging this year. On New Year's Eve, it was 50 F! I should mention that this didn't stop me for fulfilling my New Year's Eve fantasy--making a Hot Apple Cider Nog that I had found in an old Southern cookbook (from 1984, which is almost as old as me!) of my grandma. Much of my vacation has been spent looking through cookbooks and I shouldn't even have to say that this has been not only lovely, but also like a walk down a geographically vast culinary memory lane.
You see, I've often felt that half the battle with cooking is finding recipes that you want to try--and knowing what to do with them to make them work for you. Some people say that following recipes is a fairly robotic process--that people just copy mindlessly and without any innovation. But you do need to know your palate, understand the potential limitations of your kitchen appliances and time constraints and feel some kind of connection to the recipe. Usually, when I see something that catches my eye, I get this feeling of excitment and, before I know it, I've mentally written down the ingredients and am two steps from putting my shoes on and running out the door to go to the grocery store because I can already taste what awaits me.
This is exactly how I felt about this recipe. The thought of drinking a hot, spicy and creamy nog with a crisp apple cider as its base seemed ideal for a quiet New Year's Eve at home with the Greek, my family and my favorite queenly dachshund, Zoey (aka the Bug). Call me old fashioned (perhaps as old fashioned as this recipe), but I just wasn't in the mood for a New Year's with alcohol. I wanted to start the year off feeling happy, healthy and perfectly hydrated.
After all, I have a big week ahead of me. It's not often that, by the end of the first week of the new year, I'll have already been in three different states. But, come Friday morning, Seattle (and MLA) here I come! Just the thought of it, as well as the snow that is still whirling around outside the window, makes me long for another cup of this noggy cider...and with extra whipped cream, but only if it has orange zest in it (as a lover of condiments, I can safely say that the orange zest really sets off the flavor of the frothy and tangy cider and it would be lost without it).
Hot Apple Cider Nog
Yields about 7 mugs of spicy delight
Adapted from Southern Living: 1984 Annual Recipes (yes, this is a retro recipe, but one worth revisiting--much like the miniskirt)
For the Cider Nog:
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup apple cider
3/8 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
4 1/2 cup scaled milk
For the Spiced Orange Whipped Cream:
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 Tbsp. orange zest
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
a splash of whiskey
a few pinches of sugar
-Scald the milk, either in a microwave or in a pot. For those of you not quite sure what scalding is, it's when you heat the milk to 180 F (82 C); the milk will not be boiling, but a froth will appear on top. This practice was generally done for health purposes (to kill possible bacteria) and is not really necessary today because of pasteurization, but it added to the "retro" feel of the recipe. Also, it sped up the heating process of the nog.
-In the meantime, combine the first 6 ingredients in a medium saucepan and whisk to combine.
-Stirring constantly, add the scalded milk.
-Cook over low heat until heated all the way through and just below boiling.
-While the nog is heating, make the whipped cream, adding about a tablespoon of orange zest, 1/4 tsp. of both ground nutmeg and cinnamon and a splash of whiskey (for a little punch) and a little sugar for good measure (adjust to your taste).
-Ladle into mugs and top each with a more than ample dollop of whipped cream.