I Love/Hate You Champagne

I have a love/hate relationship with Champagne. Ever since the New Year’s Eve dinner party I threw for my high school friends during my sophomore year in college, it’s been a long road to gain comfort drinking bubbly.

An evening of cooking, celebrating and reminiscing with friends–as we ushered in the start of 1984–turned into a memorable night of not only getting sick, but also experiencing the worst hangover of my life, during which I had to take an airplane.

I’ll never forget the waiting time in the airport terminal, where my grandmother doted on me, wiping my forehead and urging me to drink water. It’s hard to imagine a dainty 80-year-old woman nursing her college-age grandkid after a a night of too much partying, but that’s the kind of grandmother she was.

At least five years went by before I could even be near a glass of champagne, and many more passed before I could get my lips to touch a glass of it. Champagne has always been representative—for many—of New Year’s Eve, but I happily did without it.

Eventually, New Year’s Eve took on a new importance in my life. Not because I was growing more comfortable cradling a champagne flute in between my first and second fingers, but because it is the night I met my husband, at a New Year’s Eve party. It’s important to mention that he dated a friend of mine before it was my turn, and exactly one year later—on New Year’s Eve—we started dating. The rest is history.

Each year, we look forward to celebrating—not just the start of a new calendar year, but another year that we’ve been together. We’ve celebrated in some far-flung places and also in the coziness of our home. We’ve sipped wine and drank beer to ring in the New Year, and little by little, I’ve eased my way back to appreciate the flavor, glamour and buzz of a glass of Champagne. Minus the hangover.

Caren Osten Gerszberg is a co-founder/editor of the Drinking Diaries. You can see a selection of her work at www.carenosten.com, and follow her on twitter: @carenosten

Note: This post was originally published in 2010

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Cheers to All That

by Helene Stapinski

Every year it’s the same drill. Our family and friends ask, “So what are you doing for New Year’s Eve?” and we always answer, “Staying in our pajamas.”

It wasn’t always that way.

Years ago, back in the early 90s, we tried to go out. We really did.

There were the parties, where people either threw up or passed out, or both. We tried parties at our place, but people either threw up or passed out, or both.

There was the time I tried to go to Times Square, and had to maneuver through the underground subway tunnels to get by the police barricades and drunken fools lining the streets. There was the year we went for a fancy prix fixe dinner in SoHo. We got dressed up and drank champagne and blew noise makers and had a fun time. But when we got the bill, we felt like patsies.

There was the night we went out with my best friend Sara and had a good time. But on the way home, a belligerent drunk called my husband an asshole.

My husband, who never loses his temper, lost his temper. He grabbed the guy by the lapels and threw him on the hood of a car right there on Sixth Avenue, as I stood there screaming. All the guy really needed was a gentle push and he would have gone down; he was that plastered.

That was the last time we ever went out for New Year’s Eve. Sara still hasn’t recovered. And neither have I.

My husband and I like to drink. We consider ourselves professionals. Experts, if you will. We go to the oldest, most sophisticated bars and hotel lounges to sip $15 martinis. We love to make cocktails at home in Brooklyn — complicated creations involving absinthe and orange blossom water and maraschino cherries (not all inthe same drink usually).

But we know how to hold our liquor. We know when we’ve had enough, and we don’t pick fights with people on the street.

New Year’s Eve is amateur night. The streets and bars and restaurants and cabs are filled with people who don’t don’t know what they’re doing, and who don’t usually drink — or drink Schlitz out of a beer bong maybe. They’re the people who wear baseball caps instead of neckties to those sophisticated lounges and talk too loudly at the bar.

These people are not serious drinkers like we are. They don’t appreciate a finely made ice cube or a high-end, meaty olive. New Year’s Eve — much like St. Patrick’s Day — is their night. We leave it to them. Bottoms up. Cin-cin.

For the past two decades, we have refused to leave the house on New Year’s Eve. (Just as I refuse to go into Manhattan on St. Patrick’s Day). We put on our flannels, turn on some cocktail music, then have a couple of Old Fashioneds. We make kid cocktails for our children — orange juice, ginger ale and maraschino cherries in tiki mugs. Then whip up a cheese fondue, followed by a chocolate fondue, then drink a little bit more. Some champagne or an after-dinner snort perhaps.

Dick Clark is too depressing. And Carson Daly? No thanks. We watch Woody’s Allen’s love letter to 1940s New York, “Radio Days,” which ends with a touching New Year’s Eve moment on the roof of one of our favorites, the King Cole Bar. The best scene, though, is when  one of the characters runs out of the house in his boxers, terrorizing the neighborhood with a meat cleaver.

“That’s what Daddy is like when we go out on New Year’s Eve,” I tell the kids. They laugh and laugh.

We don’t wait for the ball to drop, and are in deep REM by midnight.  I go to sleep slightly toasted and listen as the fireworks and horns in the harbor blend into my pleasant dreams, ushering in another new year.

Note: This post originally appeared in 2010.

Helene Stapinski is the author of the bestselling memoir Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History, and Baby Plays Around: A Love Affair, with Music.  She has written articles for The New York Times, New York magazine, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure and Salon. To read other essays written by Helene Stapinski, click here.

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Eggnog

by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor

The truth about eggnog is–it makes no sense without rum. No one wants to admit that, especially someone who quit drinking, but it’s a fact. My husband brought home some reduced fat eggnog about a week and a half ago and it’s been sitting in the refrigerator unopened ever since. I know my husband was trying to do something nice, bringing me a tradition, a little season’s greetings, something he knew I loved, but it’s now just a reminder.

During the holidays when I would go to visit my husband’s family, eggnog was my drug of choice. Pour yourself an eggnog on the rocks, heavy on the rum, sprinkle a little nutmeg and you’ve got dessert and a cocktail all in one. It went down much the way White Russians did when I discovered them in high school–sweet and innocent but with a nice kick. You barely felt yourself getting drunk, but drunk you got.

My husband’s family was always big on the Connecticut Christmas and I just adored being a part of it. At Jon’s parents’ house where we stayed every year (in twin beds–even after we were married) there was a huge, impeccably decorated tree (the kind with ornaments that had been passed down through generations), holiday music on the stereo, home cooked meals and most importantly, regular cocktail hour.

Regular cocktail hour is important here because as someone who didn’t come from the most stable family situation, the need to fit in created a bit of internal tension and alcohol was the most reliable way I knew to melt that feeling away.

The first few times I drank too much in Connecticut, it probably seemed like a fluke. I mean, the drinks flowed steadily because we were in a festive mood without much cause to drive anywhere. It was understandable that we’d catch a little buzz, but I can’t imagine it made the best impression on anyone to have me babbling and slurring and then going off to bed by nine. I seemed to drink more and more on each subsequent trip.

The last time I was drunk at my in-laws, we’d traveled there with our almost two-year-old daughter. Yes, we’d traveled across the country with a toddler–there’s a good reason to drink right there, and now we were trying to keep her entertained in a house with breakables twenty-four hours a day. I’d gotten an early start on the eggnog that afternoon and had decided to go to dinner with my sister-in-law and her good friend while my husband stayed at the house with his parents and our daughter. I’d already had quite a bit to drink before we left and drank so much at dinner I can’t tell you much of what happened because I only see it in bits and pieces. What I do know is that I stumbled back into the house and in an effort to check on my daughter who was asleep in her pack-n-play in the basement, I fell down the stairs. I don’t have any recollection of doing this. I had to be told about it later by my mortified husband.

It would be another six months before I admitted I had a problem and another year and a half before I did something about it. I haven’t had a drink now in nineteen months and for the most part I don’t miss it. Most things I can do just fine now without alcohol. Family, Christmas trees, even spending time with my in-laws, these things are just as good–actually even better.

The only thing that will never work for me without alcohol now is eggnog.

Note: This post originally ran in 2010.

Stefanie Wilder-Taylor is the author of Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay: And Other Things I Had to Learn as a New Mom and Naptime Is the New Happy Hour: And Other Ways Toddlers Turn Your Life Upside Down, which were based on her blog, “Baby on Bored,” and It’s Not Me, It’s You: Subjective Recollections of a Terminally Optimistic, Chronically Sarcastic and Occasionally Inebriated Woman. On television, she acts as the go-to parenting expert for NBC’s “The Today Show” and has been featured on The Dr. Phil Show. Her new book, I’m Kind of a Big Deal: And Other Delusions of Adequacy, comes out June 2011. To read an interview with Stefanie, click here.

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Aquavit

By Leah Odze Epstein

Every year, I look forward to celebrating Swedish Christmas with my extended family. We’ve been celebrating with the same family friends for years, and each year we alternate homes.

At both houses, the night before Christmas, we have an elaborate, multi-course meal, and this is how it goes: First comes the cheese and herring course. My favorite part is the Wasa bread crackers topped with a thin slice of Vasterboten cheese and a few dilled cucumber slices soaked in white vinegar. I also love the hard-boiled eggs, but I take the squeeze caviar off the top. Then comes the piece-de-resistance: the meatballs with lingonberry sauce, the salami with mustard, the potatoes with sour cream and the stuffed cabbage, caramelized with molasses. Following that, the hostess brings out Swedish ham, a  casserole called Jansson’s frestelse, which I loved until I found out it contained anchovies along with the potatoes and cream, and spare ribs. If you’re not too stuffed after that, there’s dessert—pepparkakor (gingersnaps), Cardamom cake, coconut macaroons, Swedish style, and assorted cookies, plus coffee and tea.

And then we open presents.

There are benefits to being at each house, but at our friend’s house, I look forward to hearing the Jackson Five Christmas album every year (now a CD—that’s how long we’ve been doing this). My husband and sister? They look forward to the Aquavit.

Did I forget to mention the Aquavit? In between bites, little shot glasses of the chilled liquor are served, and everyone who partakes raises his or her glass and says, “Ja, skal,” which basically means “Yes, I toast you,” (Or yes, I’m toasted) as far as I can make out.

In case you don’t know, Aquavit is alcohol distilled either from grain or potatoes. It is usually flavored with caraway seeds, and can taste like rye bread, but it can also come flavored with anise, coriander, dill, fennel or paradise (pungent and peppery).

Here’s the weird thing: I’ve never tasted it.

Granted, it’s generally only on the table at our friend’s house, though sometimes they smuggle a bottle into my parent’s house. Since my mom stopped drinking back in the 70s, we haven’t had much liquor in our house. It makes my mom uncomfortable.

My husband took to the ja-skal-ing right away, joining in with gusto, clinking glasses with my sister and our family friends while I looked on, slightly envious. It’s not that I don’t like Aquavit—it’s never even crossed my lips.

So why don’t I partake? I honestly can’t say for sure, but I think it has something to do with being the daughter of an alcoholic, and being THE ONE IN CONTROL. Each person in a family plays a role, and mine has always been (at least in my eyes) to be the one who keeps it together. The Good One. The Temperate One.

Multiple shots of Aquavit can make you silly. Giddy. Out of control.

Multiple shots of Aquavit look kind of fun.

I’m thinking maybe this will be the year I try Aquavit, the year I whisper in my own ear—“It’s okay to ease up, just a little bit.” The roles we play are self-imposed. No one ever told me not to drink the Aquavit. I made that arbitrary rule myself.

“Ja, skal!

Note: This post originally ran in 2010, before I tasted the Aquavit at our table. I can now happily report that I have tasted it–but just a few sips. This year, I swear I will loosen up and have at least a full shot so I can skal with the best of them! (Update to follow). 

Leah Odze Epstein is the co-editor of Drinking Diaries and writes fiction for young adults and tweens.

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Vodka with a Splash of Co-Workers

For our holiday story series, we have invited some of our contributors to share a story, an episode, an experience that took place during the holiday season. We hope you will enjoy reading these stories as they appear each Monday.

by Susan La Scala Wood

It’s that glorious time of the year again, when spiked eggnog starts flowing, cocktail shrimp is aplenty and inappropriate comments fill the air.  Yes, my friends, ‘tis the season of the office holiday party, when we eagerly swap our turtleneck sweaters and wool blazers (in the 4th floor ladies’ restroom) for plunging necklines that leave little to those junior account execs’ imaginations. Give ‘em a few free cocktails, and who knows what could happen next. It’s likely they won’t even remember.  At least they’ll be able to count on a few co-workers to fill them in, possibly with pictures.

Okay, perhaps I’m vaguely remembering my own office holiday party, circa 1997.  I’m sure your company party is a much more dignified affair.  Still, it seems like a good time to remind everyone of a few rules to follow when mixing alcohol with a roomful of officemates.

The first one is simple: Pace yourself.  This rule is so simple, in fact, it shouldn’t be surprising that so many people with above-average intelligence manage to completely forget it.  Perhaps they need a more challenging rule: Drink one glass of Perrier per every two vodka martinis and shot of tequila, followed by three olives, a whole lemon and a scotch on the rocks.  Seriously, I don’t know what it is, but offer free drinks to a group of people who spend the majority of their day in a swivel chair and somehow you’ve got the cocktail version of a cruise ship buffet. Sure, they might not spend a dime, but they’ll pay for it later…and all the next day.

Rule #2:  Wear dark colors.  It’s inevitable.  If you are wearing anything lighter than charcoal grey, red wine will spill on you – even if you’re drinking vodka straight up.  Not only will this glaring red spot take your fabulous quotient down a few notches, it’ll also make the biggest teetotaler in the room look like a clumsy drunk.  Not the look you’re going for as you await your holiday bonus.  Which brings us to:

Rule #2A:  Be especially careful if you’re a hand talker.  I was once at a meet-and-greet party for the parents of kindergarteners when I was telling a story with a glass of wine in my hand.  Needless to say, my Italian heritage kicked in and the next thing you know, my arms went from telling a story to splashing Chilean merlot right in my face. I wish I were kidding. The one saving grace: I was wearing black.

Rule #3: The more you drink, the more you should question your urge to dance.  I know this rule is particularly challenging as the more people drink, the more likely they are to bust a move.  But remember this, while you’re feeling like Britney Spears out there, you’re more likely looking like Elaine Benes [of “Seinfeld” fame].  That’s why I’m going to suggest that before the vodka fountain starts flowing, it might be wise to choose a “designated dancer.” This should be someone who actually does possess some impressive moves (preferably with hip hop abilities) who can steer the attention away from you in your moment of weakness.

Rule #4:  Don’t try to get chummy with the boss.  I know, I know, you’re thinking, “But what better time to get to know the person who’s responsible for my employment.” Actually, I can’t think of a worse time.  In this sort of setting, it’s easy to imagine the hierarchical wall has suddenly come down.  The boss is laughing, he’s nearly done with his fourth Belvedere and tonic.  You can’t help but see it as your invitation to get honest with him. So you talk about the office and life in general and eventually, because you’re feeling so darn comfortable, you decide to ask if the rumor about him and his 23-year-old secretary is true.  See where I’m going?

Rule #5:  Don’t go in a closet.  I know this one sounds obvious.  I mean, who would go in a closet during an office party, right?  Well, let’s just say, you’d be surprised.  In fact, 79% of juicy office gossip involve closets.  Okay, I made that fact up.  But let’s just say I’ve heard a story or two.  And no matter how cute the guy or gal next to you suddenly looks, or how persuasive they may be, heading into a closet with them is a surefire way to become Monday morning’s water cooler talk.  So please, if you remember anything, remember this:  good things don’t happen in closets.

Speaking of Monday, here’s Rule #7:  Keep Monday in mind.  It will arrive. And only you can decide whether you will be able to approach it with your head up or down.  I love having fun with my co-workers.  And I love free drinks.  But I know (partly through experience), that you really do have to be careful mixing the two.  Believe it or not, there is something worse than remembering what embarrassing thing you said or did…and that’s not remembering what embarrassing thing you said or did.  At least with the former there’s the ability to do some damage control.

And finally, we’ve come to Rule #8.  The most important one of all:  Have fun. Honestly, even if you do drink a little more than you should, or you get a little too chummy with the boss, or you do somehow end up in a closet, don’t let yourself worry too much. After all, you’ve been working hard the whole past year; you definitely deserve to have a good time.

Susan La Scala Wood is a freelance advertising copywriter who’s currently working on her first novel.   She does not have an office holiday party to attend this year, but she remembers them well.  Sort of.  Not at all.

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