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The Grinch is tempered with a holiday treat

The last month of the year, already? Did someone request to have the end of this year kicked into high gear, pedal to the floor, tires squealing and smoking on the start of August and screaming headlong into the Christmas?

It sure feels as though I’m in the passenger seat, gripping the dashboard to hang on for dear life, eyes wide open and my mouth agape with a look of sheer terror frozen on my face as December rushes towards me in what appears to be an inevitable collision.

There is no way to predict anything but a spectacular disaster.

It’s not that I didn’t see this coming at me in all its supersonic, 3D, in-my-face, blood red technicolor extravagance. As long as I can remember (which, at my age, means as far back as last week), the Christmas season sneaks up on me with a belled and sequinned red-and-green blackjack and, after whacking me soundly across the Occipital Lobe, nudges me with the toe of a Santa boot into positions I would never normally find myself.

Fortunately, I dodged a bullet on Black Friday, electing instead to nurse a 25-pound hangover while staring blankly at boxes and boxes of Christmas decorations. Navigating a Big Box or shopping mall parking lot was so far off my Christmas wish list, I assume it became part of Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan.

Last Friday may have bought me a few precious hours but the Santa boot continued its nagging tap to my ribs. Try as might to will strings of lights to slither out of boxes and make their way up the siding (with every single bulb working, of course) or for my mailbox to be filled with goodies from Crate and Barrel or Amazon, it just wasn’t happening.

I blamed my Olympian overindulgence from Thanksgiving for fogging my imaginary powers of telekineses and the resulting stack of holiday doo dads cluttering up the living room.

The empty mailbox I attribute to the zero-balance bank account compounded by being distracted from online shopping by music and video downloads that seemed more imperative than so-called lightning deals.

Look, I’m no Grinch and, aside from the fact that the holiday season tends to make everyone around me into a colossal tool (usually a nutcracker), I hold no unusual enmity towards this time of year. I would never go to the extremes of the woman last Friday who pepper sprayed other shoppers (although I applaud her can-do attitude), having found that knobby elbows and a psychotic glare are usually sufficient, I usually try to exercise a degree of empathy during my annual 6 p.m. Christmas Eve shopping melee.

The carols playing in the supermarket THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN no longer set my teeth on edge (although Slayer at maximum volume on my iPod is a great help) and long lines at the checkout have been made tolerable with the invention of text messages, Kindle, and various, mindless phone apps.

However, my new-found tolerance for long lines is apparently not shared by my fellow queuers. My last round of Angry Birds in a store line brought to mind the Jack Handy classic, “As the light changed from red to green to yellow and back to red again, I sat there thinking about life. Was it nothing more than a bunch of honking and yelling? Sometimes it seemed that way.”

In short, I’m no Grinch during the holiday season; I just tend to measure my enthusiasm for the festivities with a modicum of alien rationality, the threat of violent outbursts and the steely determination to remain in some state of inebriation.

Thus, faced with the potential of a blue Black Friday, I was forced to reach into my meager bag of resources to determine how best to give Christmas 2011 a solid kick, through the uprights and between whatever legs the year had left. Whatever faculties I retained that day— fully aware of the flaming death I’d experience in a few weeks — responded to how I could best pad myself against my headlong rush into merry oblivion.

And, with Grinch-like clarity, I saw the answer: more booze.

Specifically, mulled wine.

Now, mulled wine is a perfect tonic for the season. Egg nog, while potentially delicious (whether made with brandy, rum, scotch or, best of all, a bit of all three), tends to make one overly phlegmatic. After two and I’m dripping goo from my jowls like a St. Bernard. I can tolerate many types of inebriated behavior in myself but I draw the line at drooling.

No, mulled wine was the perfect elixir for what was ailing me. More than that, it was bound to raise the spirits of the intrepid shoppers who had braved the throngs to snatch a scrap of Sam Walton’s morsels.

So, while everyone was at the mall, pepper spraying, tazing and stampeding over the rest of the crowd, I took my holiday sojourn to the liquor store which, prior to noon on Black Friday, exhibited a civilized air of not being too crowded.

The cure for a lack of Christmas spirit is, of course, more spirits.

Indeed, as I left the store with my bundles overflowing, I felt a spring in my step, a fire in my heart (and my belly). We would soon be raising a toast to my holiday ingenuity.

Still reeling from my rush of holiday spirits, I share my mulled wine recipe with you.

Of course, recipes are usually the domain of another columnist in these pages but I don’t think I’m doing anyone a disservice by sharing the particulars of this bit of holiday ambrosia.

Best of all, it doesn’t require a kitchen wizard to whip up this Christmas concoction.

Put 16 whole cloves and a dozen cardamom into a little bag of cheesecloth then tie it up with cooking twine (enough to keep the bag submerged while tied to one of the pot’s handles). Next, thinly slice two whole lemons to set aside with a dozen or so cinnamon sticks.

OK, time to get busy with the booze. Pour two magnums (almost a gallon) of inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignon into a large pot and heat on medium low. Hey, you’re going to be mulling this, so there’s no reason to throw the good stuff in a pot; $13 or $14 per magnum is quaffable enough for this budget wino and certainly adequate for a mulled wine.

Next, add in two quarts of fresh orange juice (strained). If you’re feeling really ambitious I guess you could go to the trouble to squeeze your own oranges but really, a half gallon of store-bought juice is good enough.

After that, keep an eye on the heat. You don’t want it to boil (and cook off a huge amount of alcohol) but you need it warm enough to take the spices. Once you see a few whisps of steam rising from the surface of your wine/OJ mixture, add 2 1/2 cups of honey and mix it in well. Just generic honey will do — fancy honey will of course, add a little extra flavor to the mix, for better or worse.

Throw in your bag of spices, lemon slices and cinnamon sticks and cover the pot, allowing it to simmer for at least a half hour.

Keep a close eye on the temperature (remember, no boiling) along with a small coffee cup to occasionally dip into the brew to taste how things are coming along. No harm in getting a head start on the proceedings.

While your dipping and sipping, dunk your seasoning bag a little bit, swirl it around. There’s no real reason for that (I guess it could infuse the wine a little better but I’ve never verified that) other than to give everyone the impression that you really know what you’re doing.

After simmering for a half hour, your wine should be nice and spicy. But, eh, a little weak. Although most recipes call for 16 ounces of brandy, that’s going to leave you with about 8 ounces left over.

Like the wine, there’s no reason to waste a bunch of money on really good brandy but what are you going to do with a third of a bottle of bargain brandy? Let it sit in the cupboard until your juicehead brother-in-law discovers it (prior to his challenge of an all-night cribbage tournament)?

I just pour in the entire bottle. First of all, no one notices the difference (until after they’ve had several cups) and secondly, that extra kick will guarantee raves from everyone.

Indeed, after making a pot of this mulled wine, everyone will be your new best friend.

It worked for me and all those I shared it with. By the time we’d polished off that big pot of mulled wine, we were arm in arm, singing, dancing, wrapping ourselves up in garland and falling on the floor laughing.

And isn’t that the true meaning of the season? To get as lit as a Christmas tree and fall down laughing?

Hey, it beats a snoot full of pepper spray.

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