Hot Toddies and Blathering

You had to drink beer. I didn't matter that you didn't like it.

I lived in the great frozen tundra of Milwaukee for seven years. I did, rather painfully, eventually acclimate to the winters, but it was slow process. The first year I was sure I was going to die. The second year I just wanted to. By the third year, I grumbled more than the natives, but could, on occasion, set foot out of the house between October and May without long johns.

Compared to the buckle of the Bible belt that is West Virginia, folks in Milwaukee drink a lot. I think by anybody’s standards, they drink a lot. The cold has something to do with it. Nevertheless, beer is a perennial favorite. No kidding, I went to a church social one time and they served beer.

Milwaukeeans drink beer year-round, but in winter, usually at the holidays, the hot drinks start appearing. Another Milwaukee passion, schnapps is poured into hot chocolate when not drunk straight. Schnapps in one guise or another will appear all year, but Christmas and New Year’s is the time for Tom & Jerrys, hot buttered rum, eggnog and assorted warmer-uppers with a buzz.

Me. Cold and liquored up on something.

I’m not a fan of eggnog, but a nice Tom & Jerry on a cold winter night is sublime. Below is one recipe – for whatever reason, the drink isn’t popular around here and I don’t know why. It’s so ubiquitous up north that you can buy the “batter” in just about any store.

6 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Directions:  Separate eggs, beat whites until stiff, add sugar. Beat yolks until foamy. Fold together and add spices. Refrigerate until serving. To serve: fill mug with hot water. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of mix per mug and 1 oz. liquor (brandy or rum).

Now folks in Milwaukee are also the biggest consumers of brandy in the nation, so anytime I had a T&J it was always made with brandy and not rum. The “not rum” part was important. I once got raging drunk on rum & cokes while eating popcorn and it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t drink or eat either for years.

In order to keep up with all that drinking, there’re a lot of bars in Milwaukee. In quiet, otherwise staid neighborhoods, there’s often a house on a corner where the owners have turned their living room into a bar. These little places were scattered all over the city and put the hop in bar hopping.

One time, on a bitterly cold night, my date and I popped into one to try and get the feeling back into our feet. I had a bad head cold and the barkeep, entranced with my southern accent, was determined to doctor me. He insisted I needed a hot buttered rum. I protested I didn’t drink rum. He insisted. I demurred. He sat one in front of me. I was new enough to the town that I hadn’t yet learned how to impose my will on strong-willed Germans. I couldn’t stand rum and the idea of putting butter in hot rum really turned my stomach. I decided to take a sip to be polite.

Hot damn, that was good stuff. It didn’t just involve rum and butter, but included spiced cider. Knowing my history with rum, I stopped at one and, later, convinced myself the head cold disguised the taste and under normal circumstances rum was not going to go down my throat without bringing up the contents of my stomach.

Years passed. Twenty-five or so of them. My boycott of rum continued.

A few years ago, I arrived in Massachusetts with a bad head cold. Between sniffles, coughs, achoos, chills and general unpleasantness, I told HMOKeefe the rum story. The next thing I knew there was a hot buttered rum in a large mug in my hands. I had several. – muchly much better than Nyquil and I slept all night.

We branched out to mulled cider, which near as I can figure is a more heavily spiced version of hot buttered rum minus the butter.

I’m a fan of mulled cider both with and without rum. The other night the first really cold snap of the year arrived and I pined for mulled cider. I couldn’t find fresh cider, but I did find an old bottle of cider in the pantry. I had a very fine rum on hand (Appleton Estates) and some old, half-stale mulling spices. I decided bad mulled cider was better than none.

I made way too much of the spiced cider and ended up freezing the leftovers in ice cube trays. This was genius! I can now have spiked spiced cider anytime I want. With the cold and rain of the past few days, I have enjoyed my less than stellar cider although freezing did much to improve it.

I'm fixin' to snuggle with Babette and read a novel.

I’m getting used to having a hot toddy in the evening. This weekend I may play around with hot chocolate and brandy (Schnapps is just hideous.)  But right now, Babette and I have a date to curl up on the sofa and enjoy some quality time together.  She’s one happy puppy these days and is no longer shy about demanding attention.

Warmth and Sun

Morning Daydreams

It’s getting to be that time of the year when I switch my living arrangements. It’s winter and in the interest of not paying Appalachian Power more than my mortgage, I’m moving upstairs.

The only way to keep the downstairs bearable is to crank the heat to 75 or 80 which turns the upstairs into the Sahara. In fact, I turn the heat down to about 55 at bedtime so that I can enjoy the cool bedroom I like while sleeping. It’s so delicious to burrow into the down comforter and feather bed without fear of heatstroke.

The barn has two temperature zones – cool downstairs and warm upstairs. During temperature extremes one floor of the house is insufferable while the other fluctuates between uncomfortable and pleasant. The reasons center on the cement slab the barn sits on along with the multitude of windows sans draperies.

By January, sometimes earlier, the downstairs carpet will be cold to the touch radiating proof that the slab is frozen. I abhor so the multitude of windows in the barn will also radiate unchecked cold. Indeed, my windows are dressed only in my dressing room so as to protect the mailman, the trash guys and the electric company’s meter readers from my brazen nudity. The airy lace panels do little to insulate. Nevertheless the dressing room is one of the rooms I will decamp to – that and the study with naps in the guest bedroom. Setting the furnace to a reasonable temperature keeps the shivering windows at bay most of the winter. On particularly frigid days, a space heater actually warms the room unlike its behavior on the first floor where the open floor plan defeats its abilities.

With the cold, dark days of winter I go upstairs not just in search of heat, but also light.  The upstairs is much less stingy with natural light than is the first floor.

Along with my dressing table, the dressing room is furnished with the completely ridiculous and much loved chaise. Oh how I dithered before plunking down a silly amount of money to buy it. I kept trying to justify the cost and couldn’t. While it was logical to think the room required something other than the vanity bench to sit on, the chaise was not the best choice.

One cannot just sit on the chaise. With its graceful s-curve, it invites a languorous and prone lounging. One is seduced by the comfort of the upholstery, there is no choice but to surrender and sprawl particularly since that s-curve makes just sitting uncomfortable. So the chaise is completely useless in facilitating the donning of socks or hosiery – my one feeble justification.

A chair would have been far more utilitarian, but much less fun.

Mmmm, sun-warmed silk.

Even with the lace panels, the dressing room is aglow with morning light. The winter sun hangs low in the sky streaming rays that make the chaise all the more irresistible. Its sybaritic splendor is further enhanced by a heavy silk kimono a dear friend gave me. There is a magic about silk that no other fabric comes close to imitating. I wrap myself in the kimono, lounge on the chaise and drink my morning coffee. I can lose hours on the chaise.

The study is also kissed by that morning light, but it’s a brief kiss. The mature oaks standing close to the house that give the room a tree-house feeling in the summer still manage to block most of the morning sun. At sunset, the study glows with the low hanging sunset sauntering in through the room’s one western window. The light is silky amber that compels the room’s furnishings to glow. The grain of the heavy oak twirls and preens while the metal of knobs, handles, stapler and ornaments shimmer. If not for the brevity of a winter sunset, I would lose hours sitting in the study’s outrageously comfortable chair.

The guest bedroom with its one window is the warmest room of the house. After the sun begins it rotation to the west, that room holds the afternoon light in clearly defined beams. The canopy draped over the bed holds the light in a web of glimmer. The bed is like being inside a prism. It’s a glorious place to nap.

In winter, I move room to room to follow the sun – the dressing room for daydreams, the study for deep thoughts and the guest bedroom for illicit naps.

Now and again I think I would love living in a small cottage – less to clean, less to maintain, and less to heat. It would be practical and free up a lot of time. It’s hard to justify one person living in this multitude of rooms.

Ah, but I am a space junkie – usually an unapologetic one. I love all of my single purpose rooms, nooks and crannies. From my son’s old bed tucked underneath the stairwell’s eaves to the tiny book nook under the stairs, each one has not just a purpose, but provides this hedonist with the pleasures of the well-defined ambiance of each.

It is winter and I’m in nesting mode. Besides a thorough cleaning, I plan to use these months to tackle the painting of the stairway and the living room/dining room. These two areas of the house are among those that most irritate my hedonistic self. While I do abhor draperies, I am thinking of installing some in the living room/dining room The planned ambiance of that room may require substantial ones that will wrap around the windows rather than covering them, yet can be pulled closed when winter sneaks up on me. It would be nice to have a winter-livable room downstairs.

Between glorying in morning sun, napping in afternoon sun, and marveling at winter sunsets I’m going to need razor-sharp discipline to excise my predilection for sitting around doing nothing for hours at a time. [I was genetically predestined to be one of the idle rich and something went terribly wrong.]

It will be a war of wills with my hedonist me waging battle with the industrious me. I’m already alternatively nagging and promising my hedonistic self that a few months of industry will provide years of sitting year-round in a room that provides splendid sunlight from noon on. A room for reading and gazing out the atrium doors. A room for fine dining on fine china with friends and family. A room to adore a Christmas tree. And a room to watch summer rainstorms and winter snowstorms. .A room in which the pleasure of those activities is not diminished by the sight of needed work.