Saffron milk.

Saffron milk

My friend Seti says that to “activate” saffron, you grind a little bit of it with a pinch of sugar, then steep it in hot water until the colour deepens. Then you can use the liquid whenever you make rice, or whatever you want to make taste like saffron. She brought me saffron back home with her from Iran, and this is the first saffron that has gone instantly yellow for me, like tiny droplets of yellow food colouring but fragrant. The Trader Joe’s stuff now seems like orange sawdust in a little jar, six dollars for nothing and I’ve got eighteen US dollars’ worth.

It seemed like it was worth a lot more before I knew how well saffron could bloom, and how little of it you’d have to use if you used the good stuff. Everything is fine until you learn there’s something better. Maybe I should have ground the Trader Joe’s stuff down with a bit of sugar. I didn’t know how well that could work.

We’ve finished our first full week of Kindergarten even though I am pretty sure this just happened, but what do I know? On the first day, that just-recently-a-baby and I stopped at Starbucks for hot chocolate on the way in, both of us chattering all the way about the things we’re looking forward to: reading books, writing books, fighting bad guys, flying on planes, and getting big enough for bigger adventures.

I took this week off of work, partly because I wanted to concentrate on a bit of writing in a quiet apartment for once, but mostly because we have yet to sort out the details around Kindergarten drop-off and pick-up, and because the teachers ease the kids into school, gradually increasing the number of hours they’re in the classroom until they get to a full day, even the daycare kids for whom “full days” have always meant days longer than our work-days. “Gradual entry should be optional!” I exclaim to everyone but also no one in particular. I am talking to myself.

So I’ve been walking two little boys to Kindergarten, mine and his friend who are a month apart in age and who is like a cousin or brother because they’ve been together, always for long days, since they were barely sentient. We cut through a park and on the way we stop at a pond and look at the ducks, and then they pick things up off the ground that I ask them not to, and then I shout at them for throwing things at the ducks.

I listen to the other moms with their sweet, calm voices around their children who are surely as infuriating as mine is, as I think most children can be, and I practice their tones but when I do it, it always comes off a little condescending. In the yellow light that tints these fall mornings, both kids sort of glow, their fair hair almost ginger, the bright colours of their little boy clothes somehow over-saturated. I try not to talk too much.

“Stop throwing crap at the ducks!” I have already come down with a cold.

To make saffron milk, take a pinch of saffron, just what you can grab with the tips of your thumb and forefinger, and grind it into your palm with the thumb of your other hand until the strands crumble into little pieces. Good saffron has a smell a little bit like sweet pepper, and reminds me a bit of anise, not because of its fragrance but because of the way both are sweet and bitter at the same time.

Saffron milk is an old-fashioned Dutch cold remedy, though the Dutch had trading posts in India for over 200 years so it’s likely that merchants there were influenced by Ayurveda and the medicinal use of saffron milk to improve sleep, reduce inflammation, and to strengthen the baby’s heart during pregnancy.

Dutch mothers are said to be patient people. I like the idea that someone has figured out parenting and is doing it right, somewhere. It makes me feel like anyone could do it.

Add your bits of saffron to a saucepan with a cup and a half or so of milk, and about a teaspoon of honey. Natural health proponents suggest drinking warm milk and honey as a sleep aid, as both are sources of tryptophan. What science says about this is kind of a downer, of course, but there is something soothing about a warm mug in your hands nevertheless.

Bring the milk to a boil over medium heat, whisking quickly for maximum frothiness. Remove the pot from the heat, and pour the whole thing into a mug or two teacups. It makes about twelve ounces, or the amount of a tall Starbucks latte. This is enough for one or two people.

When you sip your saffron milk, do so with your eyes closed. Think about little golden boys, and the way they shine now, the way they are like sunflowers stretching toward the yellow morning light. Do not think about those blue shadows stretching out behind them, where you stand, fretting, worrying about the time. They call out to the ducks, and the ducks swim away faster as their voices rise to be heard.

“Come on, boys. We have to go,” you say. And you hurry them along.



Medias de seda.

Pinky drinks.The weather warnings are already in effect, and I’m kicking us for not buying that goddamned air conditioner when we saw it on sale last December. It’s going to be a hot one they say, a scorcher! It’s already hot.

Summer struck the west coast before it struck a lot of places – we’re running out of berries during what would otherwise be the beginning of berry season. Cats everywhere have been wilting for weeks. Last week a pigeon flew into our apartment through one of the wide-open windows and I thought we’d have to leave everything behind and move. And the air outside is all flowers and barbecue smoke and cigarettes and wet concrete, and my neighbours on this busy apartment block are stripping down, nude or nearly nude flesh visible in every uncovered window. It would all be very sexy if I was younger, or if I had that air conditioner.

The feeling of my skin on my skin is, at times, unbearable. Now is not the time to talk about berry smoothies or fresh-pressed juice. Oh, it’s blender-drink time, to be sure, but I’m not longing for some ascetic mix of ice and fibre that’s not going to take me anywhere.

Gin me, is what I’m saying. And I don’t even really like gin.

(There was a summer, and there were four friends from high school and boys from somewhere else and Cultus Lake and gin and the feeling that I was going to live forever followed very quickly by the feeling that I was going to die of gin poisoning and my parents would have to come pick me up from an unmarked spot off a logging road where a boy named Monty who had nipple rings would have had to explain everything. In summary, gin and I have some history.)

These are sticky, sweaty times and times like these call for cold, sweet drinks. I’ve told you about my lazy go-to, my shameful sangria, but this new thing is even better. It’s called medias de seda, and it tastes like some vague memory I can’t place, a little like vanilla and malted milk and something else. It’s sweet and creamy and just the right shade of pink.

My parents brought this cocktail back from Mexico, from Puerto Vallarta maybe, and it’s as decadent as a milkshake and just as pink. I guess it kind of is a milkshake, but a very adult kind of milkshake and if you are lucky someone else will make it for you while you dip your feet into a pool of cold water. It could be a pool like you might find in Puerto Vallarta, or it could be a turtle-shaped kiddie pool filled with hose water and your naked toddler and several dozen bath toys in your parents’ back yard; the important thing is that you make this drink your excuse to sit and cool off. My dad tinkered with the recipe so that it serves two, probably to sedate my mom and me at the same time.

Here’s to your hot, sticky summer. Gin you.

Medias de seda

Serves 2.

  • 1 1/2 oz. gin
  • 1 1/2 oz. creme de cacao
  • 3/4 oz. grenadine
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • 1 1/2 oz. light cream or half-and-half

Combine gin, creme de cacao, grenadine and ice cubes in a blender and blend until smooth. Add cream or half-and-half, and blend until combined. Divide evenly between two glasses. Marvel that this is kind of like an Orange Julius. But like, with gin. A Gin Julius! Repeat yourself in case no one heard you. Find yourself hilarious while you cool your overheated body in a patch of shade with your feet in some cold water.

Drink selfie because drinks.

Sleepy tea.

sleepy tea

“You need my help,” he shouts, sans pants and full of fury as his purple marker is out of ink and he needs a “very big whale” drawn right now, please. Where any of this comes from, I hardly know. As Toddler’s language develops, his phrases are increasingly amusing – he’s an accidental and illiterate riddler. “You need my help,” he says, because he mixes up his subjects and his objects, and because he will not stand to be corrected, not by me, because what do I know.

Despite the fact that I’m now very near my manuscript deadline (October 1! It looms!), Toddler continues to insist that he be the centre of attention at all times. He is two, nearly three, and frankly doesn’t give a shit about my timelines. YOU NEED MY HELP. So, despite the pile of work I still have to do, I’m still spending an inordinate amount of time pushing Thomas and his railway friends off “bumpy” bridges to their deaths, and reading books about “very scary” animals (and mimicking their sounds, because of course I know what sound a sloth makes?), and drawing whales and rainbows and whole families of monsters (this way, not that way, not blue, not green).


If this is having it all, then out of necessity I am doing it on very little sleep. I think that is the secret to having it all: you just have it all all the time, with no breaks.

I’ve never been much of a sleeper anyway, but I have heard about rest and think I might like to try it someday. I wonder what I could achieve if I had a full night’s sleep? Maybe I’d remember to turn on the dishwasher before the smell of old food and dirty dishes takes over the apartment; maybe I’d stop buying so many cans of red kidney beans – I needed one can to test a recipe one last time and somehow, over the course of a week, I ended up with five. I hope I remember to use them.

But still, we’re getting there, if “there” is a finished book and a happy toddler and dinner on the table eventually; I’m still going to work every day, and functioning as an adult most of the time. We have not yet run out of toilet paper. I did finally remember to pay the hydro bill.

Most of my work gets done after dark, and so I approach bedtime with eyes stinging from the glare of a back-lit screen. Sleep experts advise that this is not a great way to ease into bedtime, but sleep experts are probably not much fun. You are supposed to avoid screens for at least an hour before bedtime, I’ve read, or else the light tricks your brain into believing it is daytime. I like to think my brain is smarter than that; in truth, it’s probably much dumber, because it’s never not tired and if it was really clever, it would knock me out from time to time to catch itself up on some rest. YOU NEED MY HELP, Brain.

So, to sort of limp towards unconsciousness, I’ve devised a beverage that calms me down the way my morning latte picks me up. Tea lattes have become bookends to my day, and it’s kind of nice. It’s soothing, and sweet, and if you drink it in bed while you read a few pages of whatever David Sedaris book you have on your bedside table, you’ll drift happily off to sleep, with little to no fretting about all the things you still have to do before dawn.

tea and honey

Chamomile latte

  • 1 mug full of milk
  • 1/2 tsp. honey
  • 1 chamomile tea bag

Measure a full mug of milk, then dump it into a small sauce pan. Add the honey, and whisk to mix the honey into the milk. Add the teabag.

Gently warm the milk to the point where it just begins to bubble, somewhere between 170°F and 180°F. When it reaches this point, remove the pot from the heat and set your timer for five minutes.

After five minutes, pour the milk back into your mug, discard the teabag, and go to bed.

Shameful sangria.

sangria-ishHello! How are you? How has your summer been? I hope it’s warm and dry where you are, and that you’re finding the time to read books in the sunshine with cold beverages. Please tell me you’ve been enjoying long, warmly lit evenings of leisure because I need to live vicariously through you. I have been spending most of my time in front of screens, stress-eating simple carbs and not-fitting into my clothes. Writing a book is fattening, and sooner or later I am going to have to stop testing my fried chicken recipe. Or I guess I could buy a whole bunch of colourful caftans? I think waistbands are why I am so curmudgeonly in real life.

This has been an intense summer, and I am very tired. There was a long stretch of 2012 where I was very unsure of myself, as I was suddenly unemployed and had a hard time finding work while we ran out of money but still had to pay for daycare, lest we lose our spot. (Daycare in Vancouver is a pretty big issue, where the cost of daycare over four years generally costs more than a university education. There also aren’t a lot of spots.) It didn’t seem like there were any opportunities, and I felt very much like a failure as I was passed over for job after job after job. I am trying to remember that now, as just two years later I’ve recently been offered more than my share of great opportunities, and in addition to this book, which has been my goal for as long as I’ve had a kitchen and a computer, I’ve just accepted a shiny new job.

Things are going better than I could have imagined during those worried months in 2012, and though the weight of it all is sometimes unwieldy, I feel tremendously grateful for all the supportive people I’ve got to whine at and
have reassure me. Nick isn’t saying anything about the number of doughnuts I’ve eaten (I can’t say the same for the cashiers at Safeway, where I buy my deep-fried maple-bacon feelings-vehicles), which makes me think it might work out with him long-term.

It’s safe to say at this point that, if I felt shame about the usual shameful things, I would be ashamed of myself. There are many reasons why, and recently I’ve been enjoying a new one: shameful sangria. Or, “red wine pop thing oh my goodness what is wrong with me why is this so good.”

According to Nick: “That’s surprisingly good. I’m actually really surprised.” I add a lot of value to this relationship.

It’s a mix of orange pop and cheap red wine, and you drink it cold and it’s enough like sangria to pass on a hot summer day when the store seems so far away and dressing your lower half seems like an impossibility. If you are fancy and have that good San Pellegrino Aranciata on hand, or a bottle of Orangina, this would be an inch shy of amazing; with Orange Crush or C-Plus, it’ll do, but in a good way. You could drink this with a bowl of Miss Vickie’s salt and vinegar chips and it would be a pretty great afternoon.

None of this was actually my idea – I don’t really know where it came from but I went to a friend’s house a couple of weeks ago to sit in the sun and watch our kids run through the sprinkler in her back yard, and she said “I heard in Spain they mix red wine and pop,” and I was like “yes, I know of this. They mix it with Coke.” “BUT NOT JUST THAT!” she declared, and soon her husband was sent off to the supermarket for a couple of two-litre bottles of pop so we could do some science.

photo 4We went with the red wine and orange pop, because of course and/or why not? And it was, as Nick says, surprisingly good. Would it be as good in December, indoors while wearing pants? Probably not. But who cares about then, we must live in the now and the now is about refreshment and simple alternatives to effort and going out. I looked it up after, and she was right – this is a real thing, in Spain, which is a place neither of us has been to. It’s called tinto de verano, and I don’t care if only teenagers drink it.

So what’s the recipe? There isn’t one, really; just pour equal parts red wine and orange pop into a cup with ice. How much? That’s up to you; I use a short glass so I feel like a responsible parent (even if I refill it six or ten times). What kind of wine? Whatever kind – a shiraz is nice, and so is whatever’s on sale or left over in your fridge from some other evening. Pour your drink, then take off your pants. Sit down outside. Put your sunglasses on your face. And just go with it. Go with it all afternoon, until the light fades and you get that wistful “forever summer” feeling and start posting heavily filtered photos of each drink to Instagram. As one does.

Relax. You’ve earned it. We all have. What are you drinking? I need recipes that don’t require a trip to the store.

Something to Read: On Booze


Cocktails before meals like Americans, wines and brandies like the Frenchmen, beer like Germans, whiskey-and-soda like the English, and, as they were no longer in the twenties, this preposterous mélange, that was like some gigantic cocktail in a nightmare.

Ugh, this week.

I’ve been busy at work, working late the first two days of the week but then showing up late this morning because Toddler was fevered and barfing. The little guy seemed like he was doing better, but that was the Tylenol talking and by the time I got home he was back to flat and sweating, watching a Thomas (the train) movie for the fifth time in a row and throwing up his warm milk. I gave him a Gravol and sang him to sleep, but he’s been stirring all evening, whimpering and breathing heavy.

Poor little guy.

So, tonight, let’s talk drinks. I love drinks. I like them to relax, I like them to socialize, I like them by myself in a bathtub with a book or in a patch of sunlight with a book or in my travel mug at the grocery store. (People do that, right? It’s not just me? I don’t drive to the store, if that helps?)

I drink an drink when it’s been a long week already and after Toddler has gone to bed sick.

I’ve always been partial to writers with well-known vices. And since so many of the good ones had them, it’s easy to call a bit of cold vodka and a bit of olive brine something akin to creative juice; a drink once in a while suggests a darkness in one’s heart that makes one crave a bit of levity. Anyone who willingly suffers the creative process has at least a little darkness, and no doubt more than some will admit.

I read The Great Gatsby a million years ago in a high school English class and it bored me to death, but I read it again in a community college lit class my first year out of high school and found it suddenly very exciting. It was among my first Serious Literature, and I got it. (I wanted to be a lawyer and Irish when I was in high school and so I read every John Grisham book and every Maeve Binchy book published before 2001. I had some stories to catch up on.)



The Great Gatsby is by no means my favourite book, nor is it anywhere near my top ten, but it’s like an old friend who shows up to charm me every so often. For that reason, On Booze jumped out at me when I was wandering my local bookstore aimlessly one rainy weekend afternoon. On Booze is a collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing on the topic of booze (excerpts, letters and essays), and as it’s 86 pages it’s the kind of thing you can finish off with a few glasses of wine and some cheese on crackers some night when you don’t have anything else to do.

“Perfectly respectable girl, but only been drinking that day. No matter how long she lives she’ll always know she’s killed somebody.”

Dirty Vodka* Martini

(Makes one. Perfect to conclude long work-weeks and to soothe the tired mind after dealing with a sick cat or kid. Don’t use fancy vodka – you’re just going to stank it up with the olive juice.)

  • Ice cubes
  • 2 oz. cold vodka (I store mine in the freezer so it pours like syrup)
  • 1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. brine from a jar of olives
  • 1 tbsp. dry vermouth
  • As many olives as you want for garnish and as a side-snack

Put ice, vodka, olive juice, and vermouth in a shaker, put the lid on it, shake it 23 times, then strain the mixture into a chilled glass. You can use a martini glass but those things are stupid impractical and prone to tipping; I am a classy lady who uses a tumbler because it doesn’t spill.

*You can use gin if you’re a purist, but gin and I have troubled history and are incompatible so my preference is vodka. Make the choice that best suits your needs on any given evening.


Something to Read: I Like You (Hospitality Under the Influence)

30daysTomorrow I’m going in to have my wisdom teeth removed. I was supposed to do it ten years ago, when they first poked through my gums, but I didn’t have dental coverage or very good dental coverage – I can’t remember – and also I’m a big fat chicken. So, I let them hang out in there, in the back of my mouth, becoming increasingly inconvenient and now it’s a decade later and the oral surgeon is using phrases like “older than would be ideal for this” and “fused to your jaw.”

The worst part is that I’m not allowed to eat for six hours before the surgery, and the surgery is at 10:45 tomorrow morning.

I don’t know when I’m going to get to eat again. This is the part I’m most nervous about.

(I’m lying. I’m pretty nervous about the tooth-to-bone fusion thing, but I’d rather you think I’m tough.)

Anyway, it’s day three of my little plan to tell you about a new book every day for 30 days, and it’s 11:00 p.m. and I’ve already nearly failed. I had planned to tell you about this book I bought on a whim one day at a used book store and it turned out to be a rare edition of a Hungarian cookbook from the 1970s, and that it turned out to be worth $250 on AbeBooks, but I need a little levity today. I needed a Sedaris.

Have you ever read anything by David Sedaris? He’s wonderful, a bona fide freak of nature and I love every word he puts down. If there is darkness in your heart and you love a short story, pick up Me Talk Pretty One Day and laugh until it hurts.

But this is not about David.

This is about Amy.


I bought I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence off a clearance table some time after it had come out thinking it would probably be funny and it only cost five dollars so I had very little to lose. I brought it home, cracked it open.


It’s like she was singing my life. Photographing it, at least.

This book manages to be a lot of things all in one – comedy, cookbook, DIY for the half-assed and DIY-disinterested. The recipes are pretty reliable, and seem to come from actual recipe boxes; many of the recipes are just scans of hand-written, food-splattered recipe cards. Like real life! I’ve made a few of them, and I don’t know why I am pleasantly surprised each time. Of course they’re good. Amy can do anything!

Anyway, I liked the book so much I went out and bought a copy for my mom for Mother’s Day, and by that point it was no longer on the clearance rack and I had to pay full price. As far as I know, it’s only available in hard-cover. That’s serious commitment.

You cannot read a section without finding something bizarre and potentially useful. The section on alcoholic punches is followed by a section on pantyhose crafts, which is handy as you may not think to do pantyhose crafts without having had a large amount of punch first. I have been led to believe that I will be sedated and then sent home with a baggie of pain-relieving prescription drugs after my surgery tomorrow, and I have a drawer full of snagged pantyhose I always forget are full of runs and holes; maybe I’ll brighten my afternoon with a pantyhose plant hanger (page 268).

If you won’t be heavily sedated, why not grab a copy of the book, a couple of cans of juice concentrate, and make yourself a bowl of punch? Surely you have some well-worn hosiery kicking around. If not, I’m sure you could find some pretty easily.

Amy Sedaris’ Rum Punch Dazzler

  • 1 x 12 oz. can lemonade, frozen concentrate
  • 1 x 12 ox. can limeade, frozen concentrate
  • 1 pint rum
  • 7-Up (or alternative)

Create a ring mold out of some 7-up or water. Put it in the freezer. I don’t have anything to make a ring mold, but you can make one by lining a bundt pan with plastic wrap, pouring your liquid in, and freezing it that way. Just pop the ring of ice out when it’s frozen solid, and put it into a punch bowl.

Add the ring mold to a to a bowl with the ingredients listed above, and some maraschino cherries if you have them.

No time for a ring mold? Ice will work, but drink quickly so as not to water down your punch.

Wish me luck tomorrow. My life insurance policy is through work and not very good, so I’ll need to survive at least until I’m in a management position.




Guest post: Vegetable pulao and fruit lassi.

Today’s guest post comes to us from Sandy of mango on an apple. Sandy and I were a year apart at the same high school, and somehow reconnected after ten years, despite a distance of 3,400 kilometers, via the Internet. She’s now travelling India and having grand adventures, and graciously offered a recipe from a cooking class she took along the way. I’m making this tonight for Meatless Monday.


On our year off to find the cure for quarter-life crisis, we began in India where in addition to sightseeing and avoiding cow poop, we took a cooking class in Udaipur at Shashi’s Cooking Classes. We learned lots of Indian cooking methods for rice, naan, and curries, plus how to make a delicious cup of masala chai. Check out mango on an apple to see more of our trip so far!

DSC_4769In keeping with the theme of cooking healthy and staying low-GI, I thought the vegetable pulao would be great here, along with a nice fruit lassi to finish off the meal.

Pulao means more vegetables, less rice. Biryani, on the other hand, means more rice, less vegetables. The vegetables used in this recipe are flexible – use what’s in season, but make sure to include something crunchier in texture, like cabbage, to give the dish more personality.

Vegetable pulao

  • 2 tbsp. oil
  • 2 shallots, sliced*
  • 2 tsp. dry anise/fennel seeds
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced julienne
  • 1/2 cauliflower, sliced into long strips
  • 1/4 small cabbage, sliced julienne
  • 1 carrot, sliced julienne
  • 1/2 tsp. – 1 tsp. chili powder, to taste
  • 1 tsp. coriander powder
  • 1 generous pinch of turmeric
  • 1 generous pinch of garam masala
  • 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup water, depending on the vegetables you choose
  • 3 small firm tomatoes
  • 2 cups cooked basmati rice
  • 2 tbsp. cashews, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp. sultana raisins, soaked in water for about 5 minutes before using so they’re nice and plump
  • Salt to taste

*Shashi used red onions, but they were really small and flavourful, so I’d suggest using shallots if cooking this in North America

DSC_4721  DSC_4725
DSC_4726  DSC_4728

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan until hot, and then add anise seeds and onion. Cook until onions become translucent and start to caramelize.
  2. Add in the sliced vegetables and green onions, chilli powder, coriander powder, turmeric, and garam masala. Correct with salt to taste.
  3. Add the water, stir, and then cover and let simmer for about five minutes.
  4. Add in the chopped tomatoes, stir well, and simmer for another five minutes.
  5. Once the vegetables are cooked through (not necessarily mushy, but if you like softer vegetables, give it a little longer), add in rice and combine.
  6. Add in the cashews and raisins, toss together, and correct again with salt.
  7. Serve with freshly chopped cilantro and perhaps a bit of grated cheese if you have some on hand.

DSC_4729After a meal in India, with all the spicy tastes lingering in your mouth, the best dessert is often a lassi. Lassi in India is a milky drink, although depending on the fruit used, sometimes it is a bit more like a smoothie. The best kind of lassi we found was plain, sweetened, and sold in terra cotta cups that you throw out when you’re done!

Fruit Lassi

  • 1 cup pureed fruit (banana and mango are typical choices in India, and I think peach, when in season, would be delicious as well)
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • Pinch of cardamom powder, or open up two cardamom pods and crush the seeds between your fingers and a little bit of granulated sugar
  • 2 – 4 tbsp. of milk or water, depending on the thickness you’d like, the thickness of the yogurt you use, and the fruit in question

Whisk everything together, and serve. If you’re feeling extravagant, top with one tablespoon of finely shredded coconut.


A few weeks ago my mom and I went on our annual holiday outing to Christmas shop and eat and generally be merry, and we went to the Vancouver Winter Market beside the Queen Elizabeth Theatre downtown because the ad said there would be food and festivity and because this was the first time we’d ever heard of the thing.

When we got there, the first thing we saw was a kiosk dispensing something German we couldn’t pronounce, but it smelled good so we put a deposit on a pair of mugs and had our first round. Feuerzangenbowle, the thing we got, is mulled wine with cinnamon, cloves, star anise, orange, and rum, and when I did a bit of research I discovered that it’s also something that involves fire, which stirred my mild pyromaniacal urges in the best possible way.

The most important thing about feuerzangenbowle is zuckerhut, a sugar cone which is doused repeatedly in rum and set on fire above the heated wine mixture. The sugar caramelizes and melts into the wine, and the result is magic. I wanted to create this on Christmas, so I asked Brigitte, a German lady I work with, how to spell the thing I wanted to make (I still can’t, and pulled the name from the email she sent me, which also included this recipe for “rumtopf,” which I also must make) and where to buy the zuckerhut. I ended up not being able to find it in town, but she would be going to Greco’s Specialty Foods in Surrey and she had called and found that they had some, and she would pick one up for me. And she did.

To find zuckerhut, visit your local German deli; if they don’t have it, they may be able to order some in for you.

And so, on Christmas Day, we poured two bottles of cheap, off-dry red wine into a Crock Pot, and set it to heat for an hour. We added strips of orange and lemon peel, and two cinnamon sticks and two cloves to the pot and let it simmer with the lid on; next time, we’ll add two star anise pods and slice the orange and lemon into the pot so that the fruit flavour is more pronounced. Our adapted recipe comes from this one from WikiBooks, but deviates significantly enough that I’m okay calling the recipe below an original interpretation – we wanted it to taste like the drink we had at the Winter Market, and I think we made it work.

After an hour, we placed the zuckerhut in a wire mesh strainer and held it over the pot. We poured rum over top, and then lit the cone on fire. It was awesome. We ended up using about a cup and a half of rum; the cheap white stuff worked better than the good amber stuff for burning. When there was no more rum and we couldn’t light the sugar on fire anymore, we stirred the remains of the cone into the pot and let it dissolve. We served it in mugs immediately, and felt very warm and delighted and then had naps.


(Serves six.)

  • 2 bottles of off-dry red wine
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 zuckerhut
  • 1 1/2 cups rum

Heat wine with cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, orange, and lemon slowly. If using a Crock Pot, set on high heat and let sit for about an hour. Do not bring to a boil. If heating on the stove, heat over medium-low heat, covered, for 30 to 40 minutes.

Suspend zuckerhut in a wire mesh strainer (one that has no plastic on the edges of the strainer). Pour two tablespoons of rum over top, ignite, and continue feeding the flame with small amounts of rum until no rum remains. Do not pour rum directly from the bottle.

Stir any remaining sugar from the zuckerhut into the pot, test temperature, and if it’s warm enough to serve, ladle the drink into mugs.

Moon Chai.

Ugh December. I have a bijillion things to do and am way too easily distracted. On the one hand, my holiday shopping is just about done; on the other, my apartment looks like a crime scene.

Last night I had macaroni and cheese for dinner. From a box. Which I ate on the floor while watching the cartoon channel and wrapping presents while simultaneously attempting to defeat the cat. It’s her first Christmas and she doesn’t mean to be annoying, I’m sure, but to a tiny wild-eyed beast nothing is more thrilling than scissors cutting Iron Man-themed wrapping paper.

It’s easy for me to think that my life is real life, but I can’t imagine how overwhelming this would all be for someone with more people than I have to buy for (I’m shopping for 14) and a family who cares about folded laundry to impress. I had a temper tantrum the morning after laundry day and there’s still a pile of socks beside my front door and that’s embarrassing and it’s been that way since Tuesday. And then there are all the events, and I noticed as I was getting dressed for this evening’s party that these tights aren’t controlling a goddamn thing up top anymore.

But the party was fun, and filled with the kind of geeky people I love so much, book people, and we talked about reading and writing while sitting on my friend Tracy’s kitchen floor while her pug Penelope snorted all over us, bounding from lap to lap like the excited little monster she is. Evenings like these are why I am so excited about December.

When we came home, I made Nick and I mugs of moon Chai. Moon Chai is a tea we used to get at this place on Broadway. It’s a Middle Eastern restaurant that’s filled with chaises and awkward tables with tiny little stools, and for awhile I really liked it but now it annoys me to have my knees bump the table I’m eating from, and I don’t particularly enjoy their prices these days. These must be signs of aging. It’s just that I feel a buffet should be reasonable, and that the price should reflect the quality of the food, you know? But anyway. The thing I took from there was their Moon Chai, which is really just hot hot hot Chai tea spiked with brandy.

I don’t know Chai’s recipe, but I’ve adapted and interpreted and made up my own, and this stuff is a sedative if you use decaffeinated tea. I’ve never had it before 8:00 p.m. So you can see how it would be perfect for the holiday season.

Moon Chai

(Serves two.)

  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 1  tsp. fennel seeds
  • 10 green cardamom pods
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 2 cups unsweetened almond milk (or real milk, if that’s what you have/prefer)
  • 1/2 vanilla bean pod
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1 bag black tea, such as orange pekoe (bonus points for decaf)
  • 1/4 cup French brandy (not the stuff that tastes like paint thinner)

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, toast cinnamon, peppercorns, fennel seeds, and cloves until fragrant, stirring frequently, about five minutes.

Pour almond milk into the pot. Add vanilla bean (seeds scraped plus pod), and honey, and tea bag, and reduce to medium heat. Bring to a boil, then turn off heat. Add brandy, cover, and allow to steep for five minutes.

Strain into mugs and serve hot. I guarantee instant relaxation. And possibly a slight buzz.

Stout hot chocolate.

We put up the tree a week or so ago, and the cat is just thrilled. It was cute at first, the way she’d clamber up the middle and make a nest of her own legs and tail in the branches. We didn’t put ornaments on at first, because we thought that we could get her used to the tree so she’d ignore it, but it turns out she intends to do no such thing.

Irritating as she is about the tree, the cat has had a calming effect on our holiday season. This will be our third Christmas married to each other, and so far it has not been marked with the usual bickering, moping, or scrambling to get everything done once we’ve decided we can save the fighting for February because we’re bored then anyway. It’s still early, but I’m optimistic. We’ve committed to fewer events this year, and we’re not spending so many evenings and weekends running around. We’re spending our time eating comfort food and entertaining friends and petting the cat, and it’s working out pretty well so far.

And with the exception of the dinner I ruined tonight, which was not salvageable and which I and subsequently pouted about for an hour and a half, this evening was fairly relaxing. We watched a holiday movie, and I made hot chocolate.

I love hot chocolate, but don’t make it very often – it’s a treat, and the last time I made it was this time last year. Tonight’s batch was made with stout,  just enough melted dark chocolate, a bit of milk, and cream to fill the whole thing out. It was rich and dark like coffee, and its effect verged on sedation. Nick was in bed by 9:45, suddenly overcome by feelings of warm snuggliness and a desperate need for his pillow.

The recipe will make enough for two to four people, depending on how big your mugs are. It’s rich, so you will not need a lot. It’s not too sweet, but pleasantly  bitter with that dark chocolate and beer. We drank it as dessert after Nick finally made grilled cheese sandwiches to make up for dinner.

Stout hot chocolate

  • 1 1/2 cups stout or your favourite dark beer, at room temperature
  • 4 oz. chopped dark chocolate
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Put chocolate into a saucepan over medium-high heat, and pour over stout, whisking briskly to knock out any bubbles and to ensure the chocolate melts without burning. When chocolate appears to have melted, add milk. Stir occasionally until the whole thing comes just to a simmer – you don’t want it to boil, but it doesn’t hurt to have it come close.

Taste. Depending on the beer you use, you may find this a touch too bitter. If that’s the case, add a tablespoon of granulated sugar (or to taste).

Whisk in cream and vanilla. Serve in mugs, with a dollop of whipped cream if you’re feeling saucy (or sulky).