Year after year I am thwarted from realizing my most grandiose holiday hostess fantasies. I never get to be the hostess. There's no parking on my extremely urban street, and even if there were, who am I kidding? I live in a two-bedroom apartment with two children, two adults and 4,000 books, and there's no room for anybody else. I also have what is euphemistically referred to as a "blended" family -- at the high water mark my son had 11 grandparents -- and I'm low on the totem pole when it comes to dictating Christmas festivities, over which several senior members of the clan are, understandably, territorially protective. My typical contribution to holiday hoopla is that I get to bring an agreed-upon embellishment to someone else's already strategically orchestrated ritual.
But I can dream, can't I? Every year around daylight-saving weekend I start conjuring up my plan for a children's cookie decorating party, which I imagine would commence on a cold Saturday afternoon in mid-December, when all the friends and cousins would come over in their pressed corduroy pants and plaid dresses and slather frosting on my grandmother's-recipe sugar cookies, and the grown-ups would listen to Irish carols in the living room while eating lasagna and getting quietly smashed on eggnog, the Christmas lights on the tree atwinkle all the while.
I have another holiday hostess dream: to throw the kind of loud, sloppy cocktail party you remember from movies like "The Apartment" or "Breakfast at Tiffany's" or "Auntie Mame" or "All About Eve" -- you know, the lampshade-on-the-head, secretaries-doing-the-Watusi type of party. In my version, "James Brown's Funky Christmas" album is blaring from the stereo and drunken couples are frugging in the hallway, the rugs are rolled up and stuffed into closets and decimated platters of finger foods, collapsed like defeated soldiers, line the buffet and the kitchen countertops. Somebody genially dumps the contents of a rum-filled flask into the already potent punch bowl of eggnog and I, in a sleeveless velvet dress and stocking feet, am inching my way through the lurching, leering crowd picking up dirty napkins and abandoned plastic cups when I find myself momentarily pinned between the refrigerator and the water heater by some ignoble friend of my husband's, who won't remember the next day what he did.
Maybe the fantasy I like best is the Christmas Eve one, during which the whole extended family comes to our house (which is, as I said, an apartment) around sunset for a supper of crusty bread and mussels stewed in garlic and white wine (which nobody likes but me). The rooms would be glowing by candlelight and there would be garlands of pine boughs and holly festooning the bookshelves, and after dinner we'd sip eggnog by the crackling fire (which in our apartment is bricked up) and listen to Bing while watching the kiddies pick gingerbread ornaments off the tree and squash their faces against the steamy windows, scanning the darkening skies for the fat man (who is known to be a fraud by every child in the family except my own).
But alas. I spend every December distractedly working and feverishly shopping and wrapping and wistfully attending the parties of people with parking on their streets, and the crowd of glowing affectionate faces I imagine milling around happily at my own house is limited to the little one I see there every day -- a dear, beloved, appreciative crowd, but only one of its members can drink my boozy eggnog, which has become the liquid totem of my dashed hostess dreams.
Lord, how I have tried to get an audience for my eggnog. A couple of times I've offered to bring a big vat of it to my mother-in-law's annual family party. "But you're a young working mother with lots of responsibilities," my mother-in-law said one time, or something like that. "You're already bringing a dessert. Don't worry yourself about making eggnog." Another time my father-in-law put the kibosh on my eggnog offer. "But if it's got alcohol in it, Kate," he said, sounding alarmed, "the kids can't drink it! Not to mention the raw eggs. You better let us take care of the eggnog." Meaning, of course, the store-bought, unctuous eggnog in cartons -- safe for all and perfect for children, moderately drinkable by adults with a good stiff fortification of hard liquor and a sprinkle of nutmeg, but not in the same league as my homemade eggnog. Which I defiantly make every other year or so despite social rejection, maybe cutting the recipe by three quarters if I'm in a realistic frame of mind. I'll have a cup late at night while I sit on the living room rug by myself trying to disentangle ornament hooks after everyone else in the house has lost interest in decorating the tree and gone to bed.
My eggnog, I must confess, isn't really my own recipe but is instead a modified, personalized version of the esteemed Irma Rombauer's. It goes by the truthful if unromantic title "Eggnog in Quantity" and what it lacks in lyricism it makes up in sheer quantity of alcoholic ingredients. In fact, what I like second best about this recipe is Irma's introductory note to the cook (this is the 1964 edition -- who knows what if anything is said about eggnog in the new "Joy"): "Some people like to add a little more spirit to the following recipe, remembering Mark Twain's observation that 'too much of anything is bad, but too much whiskey is just enough.'"
What I like best about this eggnog is that it is absurdly, extravagantly rich and delicious and it takes a whole year to recover enough to want it again. You can feel your arteries seizing up as you drink it -- which you can't do exactly, because it's too thick. You have to sort of eat it, swirling your cup around a bit to loosen it up, and after you take a sip you have to discreetly wipe the foamy mustache off your face. Even the most rabid eggnog fiend will only be able to down two cups of this without falling into a slurring cholesterol stupor, so you have to make it with a large group in mind, and one that isn't eating an obscene, sit-down feast at the same time. Eggnog to accompany the unwrapping of presents would be nice, or to warm up a caroling party, or as one of the desserts (served in a cut glass punch bowl, of course) at a buffet. That's what I'd do if I could. And it would be glorious, a triumph. I just know it.
Eggnog in Quantity
Adapted from "The Joy of Cooking"
serves approximately 20
12 eggs, separated
1 pound confectioner's sugar
4-6 cups bourbon (or rum)
2 quarts whipping cream
pinch of salt
freshly grated nutmeg
1. Strain the egg yolks through a sieve and beat until light in color. Gradually add the sugar. While continuing to beat, slowly add 2 cups of the bourbon. Cover the mixture and let stand for 1 hour to dispel the "eggy" taste.
2. Add 2-4 more cups of liquor and the cream, beating well. Cover and refrigerate the mixture for 3 hours.
3. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold them into the other ingredients. Grate nutmeg to taste into the eggnog and fold it in. Serve with an additional sprinkling of nutmeg over each serving.