Like perhaps most people, I'm really not a fan of most Christmas music. Traditional classics like "Deck the Halls" and "Jingle Bells" have grown stale to the point where the melodies are simply tiring, even surrounded by a hip new arrangement featuring the likes of Michael Bublé. I applaud attempts at writing new holiday tunes, but they can feel so commercial, you know? And in any case, you can't really write an instrumental Christmas tune. Without lyrics, how can you tell it's about Christmas at all?
Anyway, let me get off this soap box and introduce you to this special holiday edition of Jazz & Drinks: the series where I find the ideal cocktail pairing for all my favorite jazz albums. Some of my previous pairings include a Moscow Mule to accompany The Bad Plus's The Rite of Spring and a wine pairing for Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
One of the few Christmas albums I actually enjoy is the soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Christmas, performed by the Vince Guaraldi trio. It features an even-handed mixture of holiday classics ("O Tannenbaum," "The Christmas Song") and inventive originals ("Linus and Lucy," "Christmas Time is Here"). I think the reason this album is so successful is because it tells a story. Maybe it's sort of cheating—after all, the music is literally the soundtrack from a television special. I think, though, that the music stands on its own as a concept album filled with images of a childhood Christmas.
"Skating" is a perfect musical conception of what it's like to play in snow and ice of a white Christmas. The sustained chords of "Christmas is Coming" encapsulate the sheer excitement a child experiences as the holiday nears. Scattered among this musical scenery are a number of traditional holiday tunes, presented in familiar forms, such as the children's choir in "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing." Guaraldi's originals pay homage to existing Christmas music, especially in "My Little Drum," which is obviously a nod to The Little Drummer Boy.
By structuring the soundtrack in this way, Guaraldi gives us breathing room. There's just enough traditional material to set the stage as undeniably Christmas, but his interpretations of this material seamlessly segue into his original compositions. Vince Guaraldi, by the way, is really an excellent pianist and composer. I encourage you to check out some of his non-Peanuts recordings.
Like all good jazz, A Charlie Brown Christmas has aged like fine wine. And speaking of fine wine, let's make some eggnog!
This was my first time ever making eggnog from scratch. Most nights, I'm content to buy a carton of pre-made nog and pour in a shot of whatever I have handy (bourbon, brandy, and aged rum are all excellent). I couldn't justify writing a whole article just to tell you to mix store-bought eggnog and liquor, so I had to look up some recipes.
The disclaimer here is that you may feel free to enjoy a glass of your preferred store-bought eggnog and (optionally) add a shot of your preferred spirit to pair with your listening session of A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Having said that, this recipe isn't as much of a chore as it may seem... as long as you have a stand mixer. (The ubiquitous choice for a stand mixer is KitchenAid's version, which starts at around $300. There are other, cheaper options that are perfectly capable of making this recipe. I made this eggnog with my grandma's decades-old mixer.)
The recipe I ended up adhering to most closely is from my all-time favorite celebrity chef, Alton Brown. Here's what you'll need:
- 4 eggs (you'll need both the whites and the yolks, separated)
- 1/3 cup sugar plus a tablespoon
- 1 pint whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 ounces bourbon
- Nutmeg to garnish
Most of this recipe is working with the eggs. First, the yolks: pour them into the stand mixer and beat them for about a minute. They should lighten in color a little bit before you start to pour the 1/3 cup of sugar in. Take your time with this step, and just pour a bit of sugar in at a time until it's all mixed in.
Once the sugar is completely mixed into the egg yolks, lower the speed of your stand mixer. Here's where you'll add the milk and the cream. They just need to be gently combined with the sugar/yolk mixture. You'll also want to add the bourbon now if you are spiking this. I used Wild Turkey 101 (it's one of my go-tos), but feel free to use pretty much any bourbon you like—it's hard to go wrong here.
Note: feel free to substitute bourbon with your spirit of choice. Brandy/Cognac, aged rum, or spiced rum (like this pumpkin spiced rum my mom got me!) would all make for a tasty eggnog. If you want to keep it PG, this recipe works fine without any added liquor.
Now you've got the core of the eggnog, but to add an extra level of lightness and yumminess, you'll want to grab those egg whites. Put them in the stand mixer on a high speed until peaks form, then very gradually add that extra tablespoon of sugar. This will harden the peaks.
Now, Alton's recipe says to whisk this mixture into the rest of the nog. I wanted to preserve more of the fluffiness from the whipped egg whites, so I just gently mixed them in to the nog, and scooped a little extra into my mug as a nice frothy topping.
Garnish with some freshly grated nutmeg and enjoy by a crackling fire with a side of A Charlie Brown Christmas.