over easy

My Mom Was Right About the Best Holiday Drink

Photo: Daniel Kraus / EyeEm/Getty Images

Over Easy is a weekly food column by a 20-something woman who can barely cook an egg and just wants to learn how to throw together an elegant three-course meal for her friends.

Until two weeks ago, my No. 1 fear when throwing a party was that almost no one would come. I say almost no one, because if zero people showed up, it would definitely be sad, but at least it would just be me in my house with lots of drinks and snacks, which sounds nice. If, say 4 out of 30 guests show up though, I would be forced to pretend everything were fine while watching the waves of pity and panic sweep over their faces as they realized they’d unwittingly walked into the yawning social void of a friendless lady’s home. My No. 1 fear has since changed, but we’ll get into that later. My No. 2 fear is not having enough drinks for everyone.

Ideally, refreshments at a party should feel abundant, like you could keep chatting and snacking and sipping in this cramped apartment forever, uninterrupted, without ever having to stop and restock. This is why, when my roommates and I were planning our recent holiday party, my silver medal fear reared its ugly head. Caroline was planning to make her mother’s eggnog recipe, which she said was “so good” and made “so much” (both of these things later turned out to be true). I wanted to make my own mother’s holiday beverage of choice, but I had my concerns.

Every Christmas, my mom makes mulled wine — wine which has been infused with spices and is served warm. Even before I was old enough to drink it, I associated its cozy, spicy smells with the holidays, sitting around in pajamas, piping frosting into my mouth instead of onto gingerbread cookies, and listening to my dad curse loudly while stringing lights on the Christmas tree. Mulled wine was the scent of the holidays for me, but I worried about quantity.

This recipe I found for Ina Garten’s mulled wine looked easy, fast, and festive, but none of our pots were big enough to contain more than one batch, which only yielded eight mug-fulls. Since between 0–30 people were coming, that wouldn’t be enough, and since I wanted to serve it warm, I couldn’t make batches beforehand. I would have to do it live, refilling the pot as the party went on and, more worrisome still, keeping an open flame on the oven for the duration of the evening. My apartment catching fire skyrocketed from my No. 8 party fear to No. 3. Still, I was determined to provide a bountiful, merry beverage for my guests, so I accepted the logistical difficulties and potential safety hazards, and plowed forward.

The day before the party, I bought, per Ina’s instructions, two big bottles of apple cider, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and allspice that I bought as a substitute for star anise, which I couldn’t find anywhere. For the wine, Ina recommends a red wine “such as Cabernet Sauvignon,” so I got a Black Box of Cabernet Sauvignon, and also a Black Box of Pinot Noir for people to sip on, and that could also be mulled as back up. Each box contained the equivalent of four bottles of wine, which I hoped would be enough for anywhere from 0 to 30 people.

The day of the party, Caroline made her eggnog, a couple of baked Bries, and put together a cheese platter, and I made caprese crostinis, and a paper wreath with a picture of Stanley Tucci’s face glued on top of Ryan Reynolds’s abs. We both contributed a lot.

Half an hour before guests were scheduled to arrive, I did the following things:

• First, I combined roughly a quarter of the box of Cabernet Sauvignon with four cups of apple cider, ¼ cup of honey, two cinnamon sticks, four cloves, three dried allspice berries, and a juiced orange.

• Then I threw the orange away. I mention this because my mother later suggested that I keep the orange in the mixture, and stick the cloves into the rind so they don’t just float around and end up in people’s drinks. This would have worked fine as well.

• Ina says to bring the mixture to a boil, and then let it simmer over low heat for ten minutes before serving. I did this, and then:

• I poured myself a mug, and took a sip. It was warm and spicy and sweet, like a hug from your cool aunt who travels a lot and wears silk and drapey necklaces. I loved it.

Eventually, people arrived (!) and there were more than four of them, and sure enough, the first batch of mulled wine went quickly. For the second pot, I sort of eyeballed the amounts of everything, added more spices, and again, it turned out really well. Even mulled wine skeptics were won over. “Most mulled wine tastes like stewed potpourri, which is to say extremely nasty,” my colleague Amanda Arnold said when I Slacked her for comment. “But Maddie’s was actually really good! I didn’t just drink it to be polite.”

The third, fourth, and fifth batches were equally successful, even though I got less and less precise with my measurements, and somehow, nothing caught on fire. At some point during the fourth batch, I poured a mug for our new downstairs neighbor, a cop-in-training who then informed my roommate that one should never close the door behind you after welcoming someone new into your home (“like me,” he explained), because “you never know what’s gonna happen” and “then you’re trapped inside, and no one can get inside to help you.” This is now my No. 1 party fear.

Mulled wine, in short, is extremely forgiving. It’s the perfect cozy tipple to enjoy in front of a roaring fire, or at least a video of one, to serve at a bustling holiday party, or to sip along with a good book — just throw some wine, cider, and spices into a pot and keep adding and making adjustments as needed. And please: Remember to not close your doors behind your new neighbors.

Happy holidays.

My Report Card
Preparation: A+
Taste: A+
General sense of fun and festivity: A+

Final Grade: A+++!

My Mom Was Right About the Best Holiday Drink