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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

ASPARAGUS TIPS: Mulled Wine Eases Winter's Sting

Having just returned from the heat of the Southern Hemisphere, I have reviewed my romantic notions of a Northern Hemisphere Christmas.

My heating has been working erratically as the demands of a capricious winter and a stuttering economy jointly work their effect on a centralized heating system. I'm still singing Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," but now I'm focused on those things that can make a cold winter enjoyable. An open fire is out; my landlord won't let me light a cigar, let alone a warming blaze. I'm left with dressing like a character from Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," mulling over my prospects.

Mulling -- there's the cheering word. On a cold winter's day, there's nothing quite like being indoors enjoying good company and a glass of traditional mulled wine. Among its other variants, mull is defined in my dictionary as: to heat, sweeten and spice for drinking, as ale, wine, etc. I have experienced the Germanic version, gluhwein, or glow wine, as an after--ski warmer.

Mulled wine is prepared simply from full-bodied red wine, whole cloves, sliced oranges and lemons, sugar, cinnamon sticks and a little water to keep it from being too sickly sweet. The ingredients are slowly brought to a gentle simmer and kept there for 15 minutes. If you allow the mix to boil, the alcohol will evaporate. This is not recommended, though some might prefer it this way.

This is not half as simple as my first recipe for gluhwein, which called for adding large amounts of sugar to red wine, dropping in a few sticks of cinnamon and bringing it to a boil. The resulting gluhwein turned out to be a far sweeter brew.

Another traditional Anglo-Saxon winter drink is the wassail cup. The word wassail historically referred to the salutation wishing health to a person and is derived from the Old English wes hal, to be whole or hearty. The wassail cup traditionally is served on Christmas Eve and Twelfth Night. The wassail bowl or cup was a large receptacle made of wood, pewter, silver or even gold, and filled with spiced ale or mulled wine, from which a toast was drunk. Twelfth Night, apart from being one of William Shakespeare's plays, is also the 12th night after Christmas. It is celebrated Jan. 5, the evening before the Feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Men.

It once was a day of great merrymaking, for which a rich fruit cake was baked, marking the end of the Christmas festivities. Hidden in the cake were a bean, a pea and small silver coins; whoever received the slice with the bean became the Lord of Misrule or "Bean King" for the evening, in charge of the Twelfth Night revelry during which, in the Middle Ages, all manner of outrageous behavior was allowed.

The warming brew is made from brown ale, soft brown sugar, a cinnamon stick, grated nutmeg, ginger, a lemon and medium dry sherry. A little of the ale is brought to a boil with the sugar and cinnamon stick and stirred until the sugar dissolves. Then the other spices, the lemon, sherry and remaining ale are added and heated through but, as with mulled wine, usually not boiled.

Now red wine is widely available locally. The better selections can be found at the Stockmann, Progress, Diplomat or Galerie du Vin stores. All of the spices also are easily found at the major supermarkets. Soft brown sugar can be purchased at Stockmann. Dry sherry is best at Diplomat. Ale can also be purchased from Sadko, Unicor, Diplomat, Stockmann and Super Siwa.

Wes hal!

Kalinka-Stockmann, 2 Zatsepsky Val, Tels. 233-2602, 281-1924. Metro: Paveletskaya. Open seven days a week 10 a.m. to midnight.

Progress, 17 Zubovsky Bulvar (Garden Ring), Tel. 246-9078. Metro: Park Kultury. Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Sadko, 1 1-y Krasnogvardeysky Proezd (on the river near the Mezhdunarodnaya). Tel. 256-2074. Metro: Ulitsa 1905 Goda.

Unicor, 1/12 Osenny Bulvar. Tels. 413-1725/95/45. Metro: Krylatskaya.

Diplomat, 63 Bolshaya Gruzinskaya Ulitsa. Tels. 251-2589, 251-8835. Metro: Belorusskaya.

Galerie du Vin, 1/7 Kutuzovksy Prospekt. Tels. 243-0365, 243-7256. Metro: Kievskaya.

Super Siwa, 9 Slavanskaya Bulvar. Tel 445-0570. Metro: Pionerskaya. Open seven days a week 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.