Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Nog Test

"Happy holidays!"
"Have a nice holiday!"

Over the years, I've made a concerted effort to wish people "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas" because in a multi-cultural environment, you never know who celebrates what, if anything. The other thing is that I love political correctness. I do. Political correctness rose to prominence when I was in college, and my friends and I were very excited about the idea of communicating with others on their own terms, instead of what we'd been taught by the previous generation.

So, truly, I prefer to hear "happy holidays" because it encompasses and embraces everyone. Now, Asheville is a very diverse and accepting community. And I've heard a sprinkling of "happy holidays" around here. But the overwhelming sentiment I've heard from store clerks, waiters, waitresses and the average person on the street is "merry Christmas." And I've honestly bristled each and every time I've heard it. But since it came from such a sincere place, I couldn't help but reciprocate. And I couldn't help be feel a little naughty every single time I said it. So, it's with that tingling feeling of doing something I'm not supposed to be doing that I wish you all a very merry Christmas. Hee hee.

Michael and I are feeling just a little under the weather this Christmas morning, and I can't remember ever being sick on Christmas morning. I think I just need a hot toddy or some nog. Which brings me to the true reason for the season: egg nog.

Because I'm always on a quest to capture the picture-perfect, quintessential Christmas promised to me by Currier & Ives and countless Coca-Cola commercials, a few years ago I decided I really should be making and drinking egg nog. So I went where I always go for instruction...Martha Stewart. Martha has an amazing egg nog recipe. It's rich and creamy and highly flammable. Yes, Martha douses her egg nog in three cups of bourbon, two cups of cognac and half a cup of dark rum. Then, a couple of years ago, I decided to add a half a cup of white chocolate liqueur to the mix, with terrific results. But here's the thing. I made my nog in Los Angeles every year, sometimes for our parties, sometimes for other people's parties, sometimes for family. But no one drank it.

I don't know if it was because it looks just too decadent. Or if people are intimidated by the alcohol content. But every year, I'd make a huge punch bowl full of egg nog, and besides what Michael and I would drink, I'd end up with a full bowl of nog. I think people like the idea of it. Like the look of it. Like the feelings it inspires and the idea that it adds something to a traditional Christmas event. So I made it every year, because not only is it delicious beyond words, but it's also festive.

So when Michael and I decided to have a party here in Asheville for the holidays, I knew I wanted to make my egg nog. In years past, I've tried cutting the alcohol down by half, then by three-quarters, to make it more appealing to revelers. But this year I decided to take a chance and go full strength. I even made this announcement to Michael the night before the party, when I was whisking together the mix. His eyes widened. "Just in case people actually drink it," I reasoned, "I want to extend it a little." Michael shook his head. "You don't usually add alcohol to extend something," he explained.

The guests were arriving while I was still beating the heavy cream into fluffy white clouds to float on top of the nog. Then with a sprinkle of nutmeg on top, it was ready. I ladled the first cup of it for myself, and I thought, "If I'm the only one who drinks it, at least that means more wine and champagne for everyone else." But then, a Christmas miracle occurred. I started noticing several people holding and drinking goblets of egg nog. Then when I went back for more, I noticed a drastic reduction in the contents of the punch bowl. Then not much later, someone told me that if I wanted another cup, I'd better hurry, because it was almost gone. What?! Could this really be possible?

Someone even sloshed a couple of more cups of rum into the empty bowl to get the last remnants of whipped cream. For the first time ever, the egg nog was a huge hit! I don't know if it was the atmosphere or the chill outside or what, but I had an empty punch bowl only about halfway through the evening. I had found my egg nog crowd. Next year: chocolate shavings on top.

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