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Christmas traditions, old and new

Muffy Vhay
For the Nevada Appeal
Jim Grant/Nevada AppealDavid Vhay developed this heart-warming recipe for mulled wine recipe over years of experimenting.
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Traditions are part of the Holidays: cutting a tree, gatherings of friends and family, big snows, skating parties, hot mulled wine, hot chocolate, Christmas cookies. Some traditions fade with age, but I still vividly remember the treks to cut a tree.

When we were youngsters, our family – and sometimes a cousin or two or some friends – always went with Red McGovern to cut a Christmas tree in the mountains. Red (after whom Red’s Grade in Lakeview was named), a beloved family friend, was the “water master” for the Virginia City and Gold Hill Water Company.

Almost all of the water for the Comstock comes from the Sierras across Washoe Valley in a flume and siphon system that was designed and built between 1873 and 1877. It was Red’s job to keep the water flowing from Marlette Lake and Hobart Reservoir on the Sierra side to Five Mile Reservoir on the Eastern side of Washoe Valley, and thence down to Virginia City.

To do that, he had at his disposal two fabulous conveyances: a “weasel” – an open tank-like thing with tracks that could traverse any kind of snowy terrain, and the Unimog – one of the first multipurpose all terrain vehicles. It went everywhere and over anything. It was huge, slow, and noisy, and we loved it. Both the weasel and the Unimog were great for Christmas tree cutting. We all fit in, plus tools, food, trees and extra boughs.

My mother would make sandwiches, and fill two thermos bottles with hot chocolate – one for the kids, and one for the grown-ups. She’d put “a little something extra” into the adults’ thermos. After hours of tramping through deep snow, we’d find the perfect tree and drag it back to the Unimog. Then we’d admire our choice, eat the sandwiches and drink the chocolate, and head back down the mountain. That was a long time ago.

Today, our traditions are different, but no less special. We make hot spiced wine from a recipe that my husband David has perfected through trial and error over the years for holiday gatherings; and every year we make several kinds of biscotti to give as gifts.

HOT SPICED WINE FOR A

HOLIDAY GATHERING

Makes approximately 30 servings

This is a large recipe, and may be halved. Keep warm on a hot plate or in a crock pot. Serve in mugs or paper hot cups, with a cinnamon stick if desired.

Make a spice bag from cheesecloth with the following:

6-8 cinnamon sticks, broken up

1 heaping tablespoon whole cloves

1 heaping tablespoon whole allspice

6-8 black peppercorns

In a large stainless steel or glass lined pot mix:

4 large bottles (1.5 liters) shiraz, such as Yellowtail

3 large oranges, sliced and seeded

2 lemons, sliced and seeded

1⁄2 cup triple sec

1⁄2 cup brandy

11⁄2 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

4 cups water

Heat all of the above JUST to the boiling point, and steep at least 2 hours or more before guests arrive. Taste, and add sugar, triple sec, and/or water to taste. Enjoy.

• Muffy Vhay and her husband David own and operate the Deer Run Ranch Bed and Breakfast in Washoe Valley.