There’s plenty about the holidays that might drive you to drink, from being stuck in the middle seat on a flight that’s unmoving on the tarmac for an hour due to bad weather to houseguests who take “Make yourselves at home” a bit too literally to endless bouts of wrangling wrapping paper and ribbon.
Luckily, author and “therapeutic concoctionist” Valerie Peterson has the cure for what ails you all season long, from Thanksgiving through the turn of the year. Her book Peterson’s Holiday Helper: Festive Pick-Me-Ups, Calm-Me-Downs, & Handy Hints to Keep You in Good Spirits will cheer you up the moment you crack its cover, even before you’ve mixed a drop.
Nostalgia, Cheekiness, and Booze
Part of what makes Peterson’s book so charming is the design, with its riot of vintage holiday photos of families, decorations, barware, and festivities. Flip through the pages and you’ll find it hard not to feel like there’s a glittery tinsel tree or footie pajama-clad kid just over your shoulder.
Also amusing are Peterson’s (mostly) tongue-in-cheek tips for holiday survival, including suggestions for what to say if you forget a co-worker’s name at your company Christmas party, pointers on successful re-gifting, and suggestions on which holiday movie to watch based on your mood. (Feeling homicidal? Go for Lethal Weapon.)
But, of course, the heart of this book are the drink recipes. All of the nostalgia and cheekiness would be for naught if the recipes were duds, but luckily that’s not the case.
From Holiday Chore Chasers to Socializing Spirits to Aftershock Therapies
Peterson divides her recipes into seven chapters, each focused on a particular holiday ritual or activity. Full-of-Tradition “Toasts,” for example, takes common seasonal traditions and tweaks them into modern cocktail form, while Present-ation Potions runs with the theme of drinks to sip while dealing with all things gift-related.
But really, the best way to use this book, in my opinion, is simply to flip through and find a recipe that grabs you.
Many of these drinks fall on the sweeter end of the spectrum, with the kinds of richer ingredients you might be more likely to sip during the cold months, but these aren’t just sugar bombs. By and large, the recipes balance out the sweetness with citrus, brandies, and other ingredients that offer structure and backbone.
Of the recipes from Peterson’s Holiday Helper I’ve tried, my favorites are the Emergi-Gift Coffee Liqueur and the Fruitcake Fizz. The coffee liqueur is just what the name suggests: a formula for mixing up your own java-based sipper, using fresh ingredients (strong brewed coffee, vanilla beans). I’ve made and gifted this liqueur several times, and it’s always delicious. Plus, by making your own, you can experiment with different kinds of coffee, different levels of sweetness, and so on.
The Fruitcake Fizz takes the flavors of that beloved/reviled (depending on your perspective) holiday baked good and translates them into a tall drink based on cherry and regular brandies. Not too sweet and not too tart (and also not actual fruitcake you have to pretend to like), this is a delicious, easy-sipping drink.
One for You, One for Them
This sweet book is reasonably priced enough that you can easily pick up a copy for yourself (which you should definitely do if, like me, you love cocktails, irreverent humor, and midcentury nostalgia) and grab a few as gifts for the hosts/hostesses you’ll encounter this season, or for anyone else who might need some boozy support over the holiday season.
Pair the book with a bottle of something festive, and/or some charming vintage seasonal barware, and you’ve got an awesome gift that’ll keep you from being the reason your gift-ee goes running for a Dark and Snowy or a Snubbed Reindeer during “the most wonderful time of the year.”
As always, whether you’re sipping a delicious cocktail to celebrate with friends or to unwind after a traumatic encounter with the line to see the mall Santa, please tipple responsibly.