Keeping Hold Of That Festive Spirit

Is it really true, is another holiday season has come and gone? So much anticipation, preparation, anxiety or eagerness, and then once again time plays its disappearing trick

and we find ourselves in January.

Whether you love the Christmas/Chanukah/New Years/solstice season , or hate it, it seems to whizz by.

Well , I refuse to let that plop me in the doldrums (or the January blahs as I’ve heard some snowbirds call it). Though I am in no way advocating drink (or food) as a panacea, remembering that there is always something to celebrate is a way spread out the heights , and subsequent depths , that accompany many people while they holiday.

Raising a glass has long been a way of honouring someone; the tradition likely originated in prehistoric times, with pouring libations to the gods. These days, we are likely to drink to the health of a mortal friend, but loquacious toasters seem to be a reminder of the origins of the custom.

The term ‘toast’ is derived from a time when an actual piece of stale bread, sometimes spiced, would be placed in the wine, and possibly the first reference is found in none other than Shakespeare. Whether this made the bread or the wine palatable is up for debate, but remember , these were once staples; not all were fine baguettes and merlots.

Some claim that ancient Greeks toasted guests in order to assure them their wine wasn’t poisoned (this would be the raucous vessel-clinking that leads to spillage from one cup to another), but most research I read dismisses this as a myth, if a fun one.

So, now you have an answer to the most pressing question, that I’m sure has been weighing heavily upon your waste-not want-not shoulders: Oh , what to do with that leftover heel of Christmas cake, gone stale and hard under its loose covering of cellophane on the counter? Not to mention those almost-empty bottles of wine that you’ve found in the most unlikely of places after the departure of your guests.

Why not drink the health of your now-absent friends , and know that not only are you refraining from waste, but carrying on a tradition with links to the bard himself?*

And , if you are among those who scoff at the idea that there is any leftover food or wine in your house, then hopefully you stashed away some herbs in the fall and can make some delicious digestifs to share with friends and keep the spirits high as we wait ever so patiently for the light to return. If you prefer sticking to recognized occasions, Robbie Burns day is approaching!

*Disclaimer: Be safe – the line between food worth-resurrecting and that best given to the chickens may be fuzzy, but it is there. 

Making Spirits High

The simple art of infusing herbs in alcohol provides a personal touch to the sacrament of sharing a drink. Simply crush the stems and leaves (fresh or dried), place them in a jar and cover with spirits. I use Yukon vodka for both its locality and the clean taste that allows the flavours of the herbs to really come through. The jars may be left for two weeks to many months, shaken often, and eventually strained. Serve (in moderation!) over ice, or use in cocktails.

Suggested combinations:

Mint & Anise Hyssop (Sweet and licorice – y)

Lemon balm & Wild Sage (Pungent citrus)

Juniper Berries & Wild Sage (Gin!)

Blackcurrants & Cranberries (Tart and fruity)

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