Traditions are a funny thing. So many of us cling to them as a source of comfort, as a “it’s the way we’ve always done things.” And so many of them are lovely and wonderful and important. But the truth of the matter is: times change, people change, traditions should change a little too. There has to be a spaciousness to the routine of the holidays, to welcoming new members of the family, accommodating new tastes and needs, and keeping things fresh. On my own blog recently I discussed another wonderful food blog, Remedial Eating. In talking about her family’s Halloween this past year, writer Molly Hays said, “And that’s when I remembered the important thing about traditions, that they’re only as good as the happy they bring. And sometimes that looks like repeating what was. And sometimes that looks like forgetting all that.” I think acknowledging that certain routines are no longer working is the hardest part. Elevating the happy in lieu of the stone-cold tradition.
In my own family, ever since my parents divorced (many moons ago), both my Mom and my Dad made efforts to carve out traditions of their own that were unique to each household. For my Dad, this was Cookie Night. It took place the night of the 23rd every year and my two sisters and I would each choose a cookie recipe, supply an ingredient list and my Dad would pick up what we needed along with a slew of festive cookie tins. We’d set a time that worked for everyone and convene to get our baking on.
Well, Cookie Night became inconvenient after a few years so we switched gears to Cookie Day. When three recipes became overwhelming, we limited it to two. And then one. This year, we’re not doing Cookie Day at all. Truthfully it just got old. No one really enjoyed it anymore but was too nervous to admit it to one another. Cookie Day had become a burden. We’ll still see one another on that day, I’m sure we’ll still eat our fair share of cookies, but we won’t devote an entire day to making obligation tins that no one’s all that excited about.
And so we come to cocktails. An odd transition in one sense but a perfectly logical one in another. We drink during the holidays at my house. For many reasons, some of which wouldn’t be news to you, I’m sure. But really more out of celebration than anything. And we usually drink the same thing. Champagne on Christmas Eve. Spiked Cider on Christmas Day. It doesn’t really change or waver. It’s just what we’ve always done. Until this year. I’m introducing a new cocktail into the holiday line-up, one that I think will make everyone happy as it has a little bourbon (which my sisters love), apple cider (which my mom loves) and lemon and bitters which I love. It’s a twist on a bourbon-based cocktail called The Stone Fence. Traditionally, The Stone Fence is made with either bourbon or rye and a splash of cider and soda water. Folks have dressed it up over the years with lemon, bitters, ginger, maple syrup, apple brandy, or a variety of spices. My version exists somewhere in between the traditional Stone Fence and the tarted up version. It’s not at all too sweet, and the flavors are perfectly balanced yet nuanced.
While you may not do cocktails such during the holidays, let me encourage you to think about what would make everyone happy. What would make you happy? Because sometimes change can be a good, welcome thing. And if you ask me, change in the form of whiskey is always good. Happy drinking, cookie baking, and merry-making to you and yours!
The Stone Fence
Makes: 2 Cocktails
1/2 cups hard apple cider
2 ounces bourbon or whiskey
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup seltzer
4 dashes bitters
2 cinnamon sticks, to garnish
Combine the cider, whiskey, lemon juice, and bitters in a medium bowl. Divide among two of your favorite glasses and top off with seltzer water, add a few ice cubes, and give each a good stir. Garnish with cinnamon sticks, and serve right away.