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Winter Warmers, part 1

It’s easy to love Northeastern winters during the festive holiday season, but once we un-deck the halls and head into austere January, the bitter temperatures and the landscape’s icy shades of grey often color our mood bleak.

To counteract that sensory unpleasantness, we prescribe a heavy dose of soul-soothing experience. Start with a lovely boozy beverage named canelazo (a traditional warming drink from the Andean highlands of Ecuador), then slip into the ultra-cozy state of hygge (a gentle, restorative way of living from the people of Denmark).

Cinnamon
Blood oranges.
Although equatorial Ecuador experiences little variation in both daylight hours and yearly temperatures, the climate varies tremendously by altitude. Evenings in the highlands can get cold at night, especially during the rainy season. Enter canelazo.

This satisfyingly sweet, spicy, hot, often alcoholic beverage is the popular Ecuadorian way warm up on cold nights. Street vendors often sell the drink during the holidays: spiked canelazo is the cocktail of conviviality, the perfect excuse to gather outdoors with family and friends.

The origins of the drink are unknown, and variations abound, but the basic ingredients are water, spices, and panela. Cinnamon is king, but other warming spices like cloves, allspice, and even star anise make cameo appearances in each region's version of this favorite beverage.

Fruit versions are also popular, especially naranjilla, blackberry, and passion fruit. All are the happiest of flavors, but their tropical out-of-season nature puts them tantalizingly out of most northerners' reach.

Instead, we opt for blood oranges for our mood-boosting creation. Juicy, tart, and sweet, this deep orange-red winter citrus is perfectly suited to chase winter blues away.

Canelazo can be enjoyed as is (and preferably in the company of others), but a spike of boozy, grassy aguardiente provides that deliciously cozy glow needed during the coldest of times.

Sip slowly, savor the spicy steam, and enjoy feeling everything right in the world.

Canelazo Sanguinello

Serves 6-8

A hot toddy with a South American twist, our version features seasonal deep-toned sanginello blood oranges from Spain. This winter warmer can be enjoyed with or without alcohol — simply omit the aguardiente and drink as a spicy tea.
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/4 cup light brown sugar, cane sugar, or grated panela
  • 6 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 cup fresh blood orange juice
  • aguardiente (or cachacha, or white rum), for serving
  • blood orange slices (optional), for serving
To make the canelazo tea: combine water, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves in a medium pot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in blood orange juice; transfer to a thermal carafe for serving.

To make the drink: pour 1 ounce aguardiente into an Irish coffee mug. Top with 5 ounces of canelazo tea, squeeze an orange slice into the glass and serve. For a stronger drink, add 1-2 more ounces of aguardiente and proportionally less canelazo tea.

Panela (“little loaf”; piloncillo “little cone” in Mexico) is a flavorful, unrefined, whole cane sugar found in many Central and Latin America markets. Panela comes in granulated, liquid, and solid forms. The solid block and cone shapes reflect colonial practicality: a grater is used to scrape sugar off the block. Substitute natural cane sugar or light brown sugar.

Granulated panela.

Aguardiente (“firewater”) is a broad term used for several types of high-proof spirits. Ecuadorian aguardiente is made from cane sugar and no added flavorings, while Colombian aguardiente is usually flavored with aniseed. This recipe calls for unflavored, so if you can't find aguardiente substitute unaged cacha├ža or white rum.

Naranjilla (“little orange”) is a bright orange fruit about the size of a large cherry tomato with tart, acidic green pulp. The flavor is reminiscent to pineapple-and-lemon. A member of the nightshade family, this fruit is seldom found fresh in US markets, but frozen concentrate is sometimes available in Latin grocery stores.