Yesterday when I went out to walk the dog winter became official: it was the first day I came back inside to add another layer of clothing.  This is why people invented quilting to begin with.  (I wonder, should I make myself a pair of quilted pants for dog-walking?)

Morgan doesn’t mind the cold: she’s half golden retriever and half chow, so she grows a thick undercoat at the first sign of a falling leaf.  Her favorite place to sleep in the house all winter is a bathroom with a cold tile floor where I leave the window cracked open for her.  Conveniently, it’s also right next to the front door so she can answer to her guardian instincts as well.  Her favorite walk, no matter what the season, is a park along the bank of the Hudson River; last night the wind was whipping up whitecaps on the water, but she didn’t seem to notice the cold at all.

I did, however.  And on the way home I stopped at the grocery store where I picked up the ingredients for wassail.  If the double-layer weather wasn’t enough, the wassail definitely made it official: it’s winter.  And the holidays. (The tree, for which I bartered a copy of my book, will get decorated this weekend.  Can’t put that off till after the January book deadline!)

Wassail, if you don’t already know, is hot spiced cider or wine.  (In my family recipe the cider is not alcoholic, though it traditionally is.) If you’d like to know the history of it, you can read about it here on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wassail.

So here’s my family recipe for wassail.  The name is a contraction of the Middle English phrase wæs hæil, meaning “be healthy”.  Which is accurate, because not only does it take off a chill, but it also has orange and lemon juice in it, which might be a good source for vitamin C to help ward off colds.  And it makes the house smell lovely!

Wassail

2 quarts apple juice or cider
1 small can frozen orange juice concentrate
2 quarts water
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 cinnamon sticks
15 whole cloves

Combine in a large pan and heat.  Once heated, leave it on the stove with the lid off and the heat at the lowest setting to slowly mull the spices, concentrate the juices, and scent the house.  Store leftovers in the refrigerator — save the apple cider bottle for this.  It’s better the second or third day when the flavor of the spices really permeates the juice.

And now, to those quilted pants…

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