More than once, when writing about the holidays, I have quoted Oscar Wilde: “After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s relatives.” There is no question that good food is important – tempers are generally running a tad high after all, and an overcooked rib roast or the wrong kind of pie can be the potentially dangerous last straw. One year, my grandmother’s Christmas rolls were so hard that my grandfather threw one down the table at her, sending it splashing into the gravy boat instead. You can imagine the drama that ensued. I have learned to hedge my own bets with Sister Schubert’s fail-safe frozen yeast rolls, along with copious amounts of milk punch (made with both bourbon and brandy), a tactic I’m sure  the wise Wilde would have whole-heartedly supported.

The point is that if there is enough punch, people tend not to care, or even notice, that the rolls have not risen, that little brother’s girlfriend has a nose ring (or five), that Grammy and Gran haven’t actually spoken a civil word to each other in more than thirty years. This is the theme of Robert Earl Keen’s infectious (and spot-on) anthem, “Merry Christmas from the Family,” which starts out with the line, “Mom got drunk and Dad got drunk at our Christmas party.” Of course they did. The song is populated by ex-wives and irritating cousins, and the rest of the kind of extended clan most of us try to avoid until the holidays inevitably roll around. In the song, Keen’s crowd drinks Champagne punch, homemade eggnog, margaritas, and Bloody Marys. I am not that ambitious. Punch, followed by the best wine you can afford, should do it. For one thing, an elegant punch bowl (or silver pitcher) puts the sheen of propriety on the fact that what you’re really doing is serving up a big batch of holiday denial. It is also a genuinely festive vessel. I was reminded of this when I saw William Yeoward’s gorgeous glass bowl with cups at Corzine & Co. on Taigan the other day. It would be perfect for my milk punch, and for Robert Earl’s Champagne punch too. Either concoction will provide a merry little lift to the day even if you already like your relatives.

The recipe for the milk punch is below; for the Champagne punch, I’d go to Brooks Reitz’s excellent French 75 recipe from last week’s Fetch and expand the measurements for a crowd (don’t bother to shake – just stir it all up in a pitcher, and pour into a bowl if you have one.)


Milk Punch

Yield : 30 Serving


For the Simple Syrup:

1½ cups sugar

¾ cup water


For the Punch:

2 quarts whole milk

1 quart vanilla ice cream or heavy cream

4 cups brandy

2 cups bourbon

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

whole nutmeg


To make the simple syrup, combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and stir to dissolve sugar. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is boiling. Let simmer until the mixture is clear, about 8 minutes. Pour into a jar and cool. Refrigerate until cold.

To make the punch, whisk the milk and the ice cream or heavy cream together in a large bowl until it is blended. (If using ice cream, and you are serving from a punch bowl over a period of time, you can leave some fairly big lumps so it will stay cold longer.) Stir in the spirits and the extract and simple syrup to taste. To serve, pour into highball glasses and grate nutmeg on top (or grate it over punchbowl).

About Julia Reed

Julia Reed is a columnist at Garden & Gun magazine and a contributing editor at Elle Décor. She also contributes to The Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, and The New York Times, and makes frequent appearances on MSNBC. She is the author of five books, including But Mama Always Put Vodka in the Sangria, Adventures in Eating, Drinking and Making Merry and One Man’s Folly, The Exceptional Houses of Furlow Gatewood.

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