Good Company for the Winter
Mid-December, and the snow pummels us not in flakes but in fat, swirling clusters tumbling heavily on the wet, grey landscape. It's a dampness that would go to our bones were it not for layers of wool and, when indoors, a generous application of the overhead heating device and certain beverages warmed over the stove. I'll share a few of those now on the knowledge that I'm but a few posts away from closing for the year.
Believe it or not, it is possible to obtain a number of varieties of this sweetish medieval beverage from a honey specialist in Tottori. Dry varieties are best drunk cold, in my opinion, but sweeter ones heated in a pot and served in mugs are a great way to take off the chill.
Hot cocoa is an old standby, but the addition of cinnamon and ground chili pepper to rich, not-too-sweet dark chocolate gives bite to the delight.
There are numerous varieties from different countries and regions, but the way I like to make it is: heat about half a bottle of cheap wine (don't waste anything good by cooking it) on very low heat; toss in the peel of one tangerine, about a half teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and about three tablespoons of sugar. (If you use a sweet wine, you might be able to omit the sugar.) Let this get hot and let the sugar completely dissolve, and serve it in mugs to your guests as they walk in the door. They will love you for it. You can keep the rest sitting on the stove for up to an hour and it'll still be good.
Despite the name, there's no alcohol in it. My wife loves it, yet for some reason no one else in her family does. It's a thick beverage made only of rice and something called kojiwhich makes it savoury without any additional sweeteners. Typically it's drunk straight and hot from a ceramic mug, but apparently there exists a recipe for mixing instant coffee powder and other things into it for a really exotic treat. (I haven't tried that yet, so I can't comment.) Anyway, in texture it reminds me of...
This may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's a hearty medieval drink made of wine, egg yolks and saffron (which was really hard to get in Tottori until recently; now all the supermarkets seem to be carrying it, maybe just seasonally). You beat the egg yolks into the wine as it heats up and then let the saffron in toward the end. Generous helpings of sugar improve its flavour.