Countdown to Christmas! Unlike last year —locked in and shutdown — I planned to fly to see family in New Jersey and Connecticut. I’d wrapped and packed my gifts, and had my United app ready for check-in. Like many friends—both here and far—I’d taken a covid-19 test as part of my trip prep. “Better to be safe than sorry,” we all told ourselves, not wanting to infect anyone.
I did everything just right. A nice young woman at IndyCare had swabbed my nose, taking care to circle each nostril four or five times. And then, just like that, she was done and sent me on my way.
The next day I went about my business, so ordinary, that I can’t tell you where I went. That is, until 3:30, when I met up with my friend, Dale Edwards (who happens to be the editor of this paper), to catch up on all the important comings and goings in town (a k a gossip) and to exchange small holiday gifts. Dale’s a great editor but I was really hoping he’d give me another bag of his award-winning homemade Chex-Mix.
We walked and talked down Riverwalk, both of us wearing our masks, although truth be told I would have taken mine off since we were outside. But Dale had his on, so I followed suit. Forty-five minutes later we returned to our cars, his Chex-Mix securely in my little paws (and some nice chocolates for him, too). We gave each other a bro hug and then, that was it. As graceful as Dancer or Prancer I got into my car and instinctively reached for my iPhone to check email.
And then I saw it: One whose subject line read: “Test Result Summary.” I opened it: “Positive For SARS-CoV-2.”
Dang, I had coronavirus. After 17 months of washing my hands, keeping my distance, wearing my mask — and getting both Pfizer vaccines, plus the Booster — I had covid. “What should I do?” Pick up some groceries at Weaver Street? Finish my Christmas shopping at Purple Crow? Or go directly to jail, which is to say home.
I called Dale. Not that it really made sense but since I’d last been with him, it felt like I should start my disclosure there. I garbled my news, although he got the point. I could hear a thread of anxiety in his voice.
Then I went home. I called, texted, and emailed a few friends, telling them my news. “Oh no!” I heard time and again. (“Would I lie about this?”) followed by a meeker, “Do you think I should be tested?” (“Uh-huh.”) And finally I texted my family, “I’m not coming home for Christmas. Again.” And attached a photo of my test result.
“Welcome to the club,” replied my eldest niece, who already had tested positive for covid.
Word quickly got around town, and soon the offers began to roll in. No, not to star in “A Covid Christmas,” but to pick up groceries from Weaver Street Market (yes, please!), to walk my cocker spaniel, and to bring over meal after meal, which included meatballs and pasta, hake and broccoli, and a big chicken pot pie, not to forget the chocolate covered pretzels, sugar cookies, Italian biscotti, and fruitcake. My front porch looked like an open buffet!
Hillsboroughians, as I’ve come to know having lived here for eight years now, are kind and caring, and willing to go out of their way to help each other. It’s almost as though compassion and empathy are in our water. Many neighbors knew how disappointed I was not to be able to join family in New Jersey, and they fretted that I’d be alone on Christmas Day (which would have been Day Three of my quarantine). Throughout the morning and then the afternoon, a parade of friends and neighbors stopped by (masked and very distanced), and I came to the door (sporting my trendy black KN-95). My next door neighbors, Bartow and Molly, invited me to join them for Christmas Dinner. But how? I didn’t want to take even the slightest chance of infecting them. Thanks to the warm weather they decided to eat on their front porch with Molly setting up three small tables, each with a candle, mine about 20 feet away from their two. And then we proceeded to eat the Christmas feast: cappelletti in brood, roast duck, jeweled white rice, steamed asparagus, braised greens, assorted “weird” southern pickles, green salad, and LOTS of desserts!
By the time we’d finished, I thought about what Giada De Laurentis, the chef and cookbook author, once said, “Food brings people together on many different levels. It’s nourishment of the soul and body; it’s truly love.”
But earlier in the afternoon, the wonderful Jane Holding stopped by with a mason jar filled to the brim with her homemade egg nog. Before the sun had even set, I poured myself a glass of her intoxicating brew, so good that I then passed on the rest to two other friends to enjoy. I asked Jane for the recipe and she quickly replied yes, explaining it was her grandmother’s recipe. “I’ve improved on many of her recipes but this one, I observe to the letter,” she emailed, giving me permission to include here. And so, as a thank you to those I know and those not yet, here’s the recipe for what I think is the best egg nog recipe of all time. Consider it a regift, if you will.
Steven Petrow is a journalist who lives in Hillsborough.
Separate nine excellent eggs, putting the yolks in one big bowl and the whites in another.
Beat the yolks until light and thick. I use a handheld electric mixer. Gradually add one scant cup of sugar, beating until stiff.
Stir into the yolks and sugar: 3/4 of a fifth of Canadian Club (about 20 ounces) and 1/2 cup Bacardi’s golden rum.
Let this sit for at least an hour.
Stir in: 5 cups of cold whole milk and 1 cup of half-beaten whipping cream.
With completely clean and dry beaters, beat the egg whites in their separate bowl until stiff and dry. This may take a while. Fold the beaten whites into the mixture above.
Put the nog into the refrigerator and let it get very cold before drinking. Grate nutmeg on top of each serving.