Season's spice

I have no idea where the first part of December has gone, but all of a sudden, I look back and the last I've posted was Thanksgiving. A quick blink of the eye sees me wrapped in my eskimo coat and thanking my lucky stars for a nice warm fire to sit beside. As busy as we all are at this time of year, it's easy to cut a few corners just to stay above water. If I break down my holiday to-do list, I end up savoring every little chore- even writing and addressing cards. I can remember several years when my own Mother did not send out Christmas cards (shock/horror) and she was rewarded with a case of shingles the other side of New Year's Eve.

Having learned from that lesson, I decided that in order to tackle the holiday properly, one must start early and take your time. There's no reason to work yourself into a tizzy right before you're supposed to be relaxing and enjoying yourself.

Two years ago, I started making homemade Christmas gifts for close family and friends as a way of sharing a little bit of my kitchen with them during the festive season. As usual, I have referred to Nigella Lawson and her excellent gift ideas. Homemade gifts may seem like an extravagance, but I've found it ends up saving money and is so much more thoughtful than the obligatory bottle of booze (which isn't to say that booze isn't welcome during the holidays.)

2007 was my last Christmas in London and I made chutney delivered in little mason jars with a cheese knife and a block of mature Montgomery cheddar from Neal's Yard. If there is one place I miss most in London, it is Borough Market with its vibrant food stalls and delicious smells wafting from every direction. At Christmas time, there are carols being sung and vin chaud available to sip until you have no choice but be moved into the holiday spirit.

2008 saw a return of the chutney as I had moved state-side and all of my family had heard of it, but had yet to taste it. This time, my then very-pregnant sister sipped tea from my sofa while I dolloped the chutney into jars and she tied them up in pretty tea towels as packages.

This year, I have strayed from the edible gift and moved to the drinkable, which I feel will go down a storm among those around me. This spiced chilli vodka will not only dazzle when presented to the lucky receiver because of its floating cinnamon stick and red chilli, but it will be welcomed when a festive tipple is ready to be poured.

By all means, this is made to be the base layer of a well-rounded bloody mary (see last post for bloody mary inspirations.) You may also find it goes well with a little tonic and a squirt of lime. Please let me know how you use it!

I ordered my glass flasks from the Container Store but if you can't get them there (or you're in the UK), then I would just recommend getting something that holds a 1/2 liter of vodka. I also purchased a small funnel, so keep that in mind if you don't already have one. In order to sterilize the bottles, I put them in my dishwasher (without soap of course) or you can follow these instructions.

Chilli Vodka
Adapted from Nigella Christmas by Nigella Lawson
Makes enough for one 1/2 liter bottle

2 cups of vodka (I use Svedka)
1 dried red chilli
1 tsp coriander seeds
3 cardamom pods, crushed
1 cinnamon stick

Sterilize the bottles (see above). Drop all of the spices into the bottle and pour the vodka in. You may need a little extra vodka to fill to the bottom of the neck of the bottle. Close the container and let it sit in a cool place for about a week.

You'll notice in this picture that I made the one on the far right last. They'll become a darker auburn color as time goes on, mainly from the cinnamon stick.

Serve with tomato juice (and all the fixin's) for a festive bloody mary!


  1. that chilli vodka looks delicious! i made nigella's edible christmas decorations for my tree and they look amazing - am now contemplating her christmas chutney for gifts, but not sure i can be bothered. have you tried making it? x

  2. Hi Henri! hope all is well with you and Simmy in London! the edible decorations sound fantastic and yes, her Christmas chutney is the one I made the last two years. It is soooo easy to make! Liz and Claire loved it :)

    What are your plans for the holidays?

    xOXO, LiSAbELL


  4. just staying in london over christmas, can't wait. gutted that you made that chutney for liz last year, don't think i can give her the same thing this christmas! maybe i'll give her your chilli vodka instead (if you are reading this lizzie, now is your chance to let me know if you don't like chilli vodka!!) x

  5. Lisa...love your etsy site...it's brilliant!

    Henri- definitely do the vodka- who doesn't like spiced vodka??