Mugs Full of Comfort and Joy

It snowed last week and left behind a Rocky Mountain-size range of ice along the curb. Squirrels burrow through the Christmas tree in the back yard, raising bloody howls from the part-hunter dog stationed at the window. Still, the house is strung with glittering ornaments on bright golden ribbons and a ball of fake mistletoe, still a potent aphrodisiac, hangs at the most adventurous spot above the kitchen door. A plate of actually not so badly burnt cookies is placed close to the husband to fuel his week long obsession with the precise placement of at least 15 strands of lights on the tree. There are presents to wrap, blessings to add to the family’s current list. The first of many warm holiday winter drinks wait to be brewed.

Ms. Johanna started me thinking about these drinks yesterday when I checked in on her. It’s been months since we put the garden to bed and afterwards chatted over paper cups filled to the brim with her special ginger spiked hot tea. It remedied our aching backs and warmed our dirty hands, although she said it’d do a much better job if there was rum in it.

That was in October. Life intruded, then rain. The days grew cold. I worried about the effect the snow might have on her.

“I’m snug with about an inch of rum from last year’s bottle. Going to make a hot totty later.  Hot toddies with dram of rum. You can withstand anything with a dram of rum.”

She also lists it’ll keep her “blue reds” away, meaning all her troubles. They start with remembering that her best friend died a year ago but mostly land on the library being closed. That cuts off her access to a computer to research plants for next year’s garden and everything else in the world that captures her prodigious curiosity.


Ms. Johanna presses on me the responsibility to find where free computers might be offered to seniors. When the search fails, I suggest thinking about a less expensive tablet that she can afford.

“How my old eyes gonna see anything on something that tiny?”

There is nothing so humbling than being dressed down by Ms. Johanna on email. It’s slightly better than being with her because you’re spared the sight of her merry eyes hardening into a stabbing disappointment. But only slightly.

“I’ll keep looking,” I assure her.

“Don’t bother. I’ll do it.” And with that, I know I’ve given her another reason to sit down with a hot rum toddy to mellow the stupidity in the world.

I open the cabinet where the booze is kept and pull out all the bottles needed to do the same.

The following recipes are for private moments for two. But raise your glass to toast the season and the friends and family who might have to stay away from you.

One warning before we begin: These drinks are so attractive looking and delicious that you and your guests will want to drink more. But they’re potent, including the innocent sounding English Comfort especially since each contains a good measure of sweet liqueur fortified with whipped cream. Warn your guests, especially those who don’t drink.

And another thing: Two require unsweetened cocoa. Try to find the best Dutch process available. It’s not a necessity but it’ll make the drinks richer and a much fancier affair.

Almond Mocha

Serves 2

1 cup strong coffee

4 teaspoons sugar

6 tablespoons almond liqueur, such as Amaretto

2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch processed cocoa

1/2 teaspoom ground cinnamon

2/3 cup milk

Pinch salt

Cinnamon whipped cream (recipe follows)

Stir together the coffee, sugar and liqueur in a saucepan until thoroughly mixed together. Combine the cocoa, cinnamon and 1/3 cup milk in a small bowl. Add the remaining 1/3 cup milk to the coffee mixture and bring to a simmer until heated through. Pour into mugs and top each serving with a dollop of cinnamon whipped cream.

Cinnamon whipped cream

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Beat the cream until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and cinnamon and beat until stiff.

Hot Raspberry Cocoa

Serves 4

2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch cocoa

2 tablespoons sugar

3 1/3 cups milk

1 cup raspberry liqueur, such as Chambord

Chocolate whipped cream (recipe follows)

Grated chocolate and, if you can find good ones, raspberries for garnish

Stir together the cocoa, sugar and 1/4 cup milk in a saucepan until thoroughly mixed together. Add the remaining milk and bring to a simmer. Add the liqueur and pour into mugs. Top each serving with a generous dollop of chocolate whipped cream, the chocolate and raspberries.

Chocolate whipped cream

2 tablespoons Dutch processed unsweetened cocoa

1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup heavy cream

Combine the cocoa and sugar. Beat the cream until soft peaks form. Sift in the cocoa mixture and beat until stiff.

 Tea and Sympathy

(Truly a fitting drink for our times)

Serves 2

7 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier

Superfine sugar

1 cup Constant Comment hot tea, steeped for 5 minutes

2 teaspoon orange juice

1 orange slice, quartered

Extra special: Candied orange peel (recipe follows)

Put 1 tablespoon liqueur in a saucer and dip the rims of 2 stemmed glasses in it. Invert the rims of two stemmed glasses in it. Invert the rims into a dish of superfine sugar and spin once for a good coating. Right the glasses. Pour 3 tablespoons liqueur and 1/2 cup tea into each glass. Stir 1 tablespoon orange juice into each glass and garnish with the orange or candied peel.

Candied orange peel

(Recipe from Epicurious)

1 large orange (any rind fruit will work)

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cup water

Cut the orange peel into 4 vertical segments. Remove each segment (including white pith) in 1 piece.

Cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Cook in large pot of boiling water 15 minutes; drain, rinse, and drain again.

Mix 1 cup sugar in the water in a medium sauce pan and bring to a slow boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add peel. Return to boil. Reduce heat; simmer until peel is very soft, about 45 minutes. Drain.

Toss peel in the remaining sugar on a plate or baking sheet, stopping every now and then to separate strips. Lift the strips from the sugar and transfer to a sheet of wax paper. Let stand until coating is dry, 1 to 2 days. The peels may be frozen and kept up to 2 months.

English Comfort

6 tablespoons best dry sherry

1 cup hot brewed tea such as Earl Grey, steeped for 5 minutes

1/2 medium lemon

2 teaspoons honey

1 lemon slice for garnish

Divide the sherry and tea among 2 stemmed glasses and squeeze lemon juice to taste into each. Add 1 teaspoon honey to each and stir until dissolved. Garnish with the lemon.


One of my family’s favorite but the recipe makes 10 servings and, since we’re Zooming Christmas, I’ll have a dangerous amount left over. But this is truly a special drink worth keeping in your party or family celebration hat.

Potable Apple Pie

2 quarts apple cider

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground allspice

3 cinnamon sticks

1 1/2 cups apple brandy such as Calvados

Apple slices and cinnamon sticks for garnish

Combine the cider, butter, sugar and spices in a large saucepan and heat over moderate heat until hot, about 5 minutes. Add the brandy and pour into mugs. Garnish with apple slices and cinnamon sticks.