"Oh, the weather outside is frightful…"

See, I thought that New Orleans’ being defined as located in a semi-tropical climate latitude meant something completely different than we have been experiencing. How else except as a tropical zone to explain all the palm trees and bananas?

But, no, thanks to Al Gore, we seem to be having some pretty cold temperatures. OK, maybe it’s not really Mr. Gore’s fault, but he did promote global warming, and now we know that the entire movement was merely to sell DVDs of college PowerPoint lectures with minimal special effects that will never see the light of a 3D production conversion to Blu-ray.

Still, usually around here about this time of year we see some pretty cold temperatures. Yes, I know that to our good friends in New York or Chicago, what we have here now is known as “spring” to them. Yet it seems to me that in past years, after a day, two at the most, the temperature climbs back into a respectable 50 or 60 degree level. Now we seem to be staying with low, even freezing, temps for three and four days at a crack. Yikes, we all may actually have to go out and buy a few more sweaters. I planned on having four sweaters serve as a lifetime supply.

So while the natural gas suppliers are sleeping with visions of sugar plums dominating their dreams (I actually have no idea what visions of joy natural gas suppliers dream about), we Southern types are layering our wardrobes. Unlike the layering that goes on in Aspen, Colo., once we put our layers on, we leave them on. 

For many of us the ways to stay warm make up a short list. We can try to heat our homes to a high degree, but with so few New Orleans homes being anywhere near “tight,” that creates some challenges. We can stay by a fire. Hopefully that leaky, drafty home has a fireplace. We can heat up some gumbo.

Or, and this is my personal favorite, we can enjoy a hot beverage suitably flavored with an adult spirit, and I am not talking Twilight here.

Spirits, such as rum, vodka, gin or bourbon, are like thermos bottles. They can cool you down in summer and warm you up in winter. Versatility always going in your favor: How many items in your life can make that statement?

I’m not certain if warm drinks laden with alcohol can truly make you feel warmer. But they seem to. And in the final analysis, who cares? They taste good, and anything temperature-warm in cold weather works fine from an aesthetic viewpoint. So carry on.

Flaming Brandy Punch
1 1/4 cups water

1 1/4 cups (packed) dark brown sugar

2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half

4 whole cloves

1  4-inch-long strip orange peel
2  750-milliliter bottles dry red wine

1 cup fresh orange juice

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
4 cups brandy

Whole nutmeg

Bring the first five ingredients to a boil in a large pot, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add wine; stir to heat through. Pour mixture into a large heatproof glass, ceramic or metal punch bowl. Mix in orange juice and lemon juice. Hold a ladle over the punch bowl, fill the ladle with brandy, and carefully ignite. Pour into the punch bowl, and allow the flame to burn out. Mix in the remaining brandy. Grate some nutmeg over the punch.

Tom and Jerry
2 large eggs, separated

2 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon Jamaican rum

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Small pinch ground allspice

Small pinch ground cloves

Large pinch ground cinnamon

2 2/3 cups whole milk

1 teaspoon freshly grated whole nutmeg or ground nutmeg

In a small mixing bowl, whisk the yolks briefly. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon rum, vanilla extract, allspice, cloves and cinnamon, and whisk again. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in another large bowl until stiff and glossy. Fold the whites into the yolk mixture, and set aside. In a medium saucepan over low heat, bring the milk to a simmer, and remove it from the heat. While the milk is warming, briefly stir the egg batter, and then add 1 1/2 tablespoons to a mug. Slowly add 4 tablespoons of the remaining rum, stirring constantly to prevent curdling. Fill the mug with hot milk, stir, sprinkle with nutmeg, and serve.

Mulled Red Wine
8 whole cloves

4 whole black peppercorns

4 (3-inch-by-1/2-inch) strips fresh lemon zest

4 (4-inch-by-1/2-inch) strips fresh orange zest

4 cups dry red wine 

1/2 cup kirsch or other cherry-flavored brandy

1 1/2 cups water

3/4 cup sugar

1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise

Garnish: cinnamon sticks

Special equipment: A 4-inch square of cheesecloth, kitchen string

Put cloves, peppercorns and zest on the cheesecloth, and then tie it closed to form a bag. Combine wine, kirsch, water, sugar, cinnamon stick, vanilla bean and cheesecloth bag in a 4-quart saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring. Simmer for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Hot Cranberry Toddy
(can also be made nonalcoholic)
1 48-ounce bottle cranberry juice (6 cups)

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 cups water

3 1-inch-long strips lemon peel

3 inches stick cinnamon

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1/3 cup bourbon, rum or orange juice

Lemon peel strips (optional)

Special equipment: A 6-inch square of cheesecloth, kitchen string

Combine cranberry juice, sugar, lemon juice and water in a 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven. For spice bag, tie lemon peel, cinnamon and cloves in a 6-inch square of cheesecloth. Add the spice bag to the saucepan. Bring just to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Discard the spice bag. Add the bourbon, rum or orange juice. Transfer to a heatproof serving carafe or pot. Serve with a lemon peel strip in each cup if desired.

Special thanks to Bianca Posterli and the Web site, www.thefrisky.com, for the recipes.

The Wine Show with Tim McNally is on hiatus until Jan. 8, when it will air from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WIST-AM 690. Thereafter, it can be heard every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.


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