hot vanilla


When I was five, I celebrated Christmas with my friend, Phoebe, and her family. My mother must have had to work that night, and, being a Jew who didn’t quite jump for holidays anyway, she didn’t have too much stake in it. But even then, I was so fascinated by Christmas as it seemed it should be. My memory of their house is only tiny lights and lots of evergreen, and, being small, I experienced every room as huge and warm and full of so much.  There were candles and gingerbread and mountains of presents, and I was at once happy to be there and so overcome with want that it would magically become part of my life, and that all the warmth, sweet smells, and promise of presents would be mine, too, year after year. In the morning we had hot chocolate, and there was a present for me under the tree. I unwrapped it slowly, making it last as long as three or four of Phoebe’s presents, and under the paper, a box held a tiny blue bag that held a book the size of my small hand. It was The Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown, and the cover was made of soft, grey fur. Thirty years later, I still have it.

Maybe it was from that time on, or maybe it was in me from even earlier, but after that, I’d convince my mom to get a tree. Every year, she’d go through it all with me, layer the tree in lights, hang a stocking from a nail under the window. Some years, I’d fill the space under the tree with presents, wrapping every crayon and book I had in construction paper with the label, “For mom. Love alana.” She would always buy me a calendar for the next year, a can of olives (a family tradition, apparently), and a few treats. But mostly, the biggest gift was that she’d go along with it all, even enjoy it. She’d let me work the holiday into our own family. I bought a cassette tape of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas with my allowance money, and she’d listen and sing along.

What is that feeling of pulling and wanting and wishing we could have that thing? That experience, that tradition, that pile of presents? Then, when I was little in my nightgown at Phoebe’s house, I felt it.  Desire was, and still is, that feeling hurts and pulls and makes my heart beat fast. Especially at this time, with all this pressure to find the gift that will mean everything to someone, to craft and bake, and create meaningful moments and traditions for our children that they’ll remember FOREVER, I sometimes forget how much, and why I love this month.


This weekend, snow finally fell. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to change the color of our bedroom walls from their usual yellow to an almost blue from the snow reflected outside.  Cold outside, warm inside, noise in the rest of the house all in a hum. I took a minute to sit there, and it was only then that I remembered this light, and how I miss it the rest of the year. The girls went out in the yard in search of a tree. I had told them to find one that sang to them, and although they both laughed and grumbled about how we should just go and buy a tree, they did indeed find the one that sang to them. And then, humming along, they dug through the box of ornaments, finding only the favorite and lightest ornaments for its delicate branches.








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11 Responses to hot vanilla

  1. Julie says:

    You do this better than anyone. Truly.

    (I have a kid who doesn’t do dairy, so I’m going to make this in that direction. But yeah, I AM gonna make this.)

    • alana says:

      Oh, thank you, Julie. It means so much to me that you’re here :)

      I had a friend suggest on FB that this would be especially good with almond milk, and I think she’s right. Of all the other milks, I’d go for that one.

  2. Lisa M. says:

    I didn’t want the story to end! You should post a picture of your Christmas tree :0)

  3. this is lovely. I’ve been making my kids something hot to drink almost every dark, cold morning before school – I think I’ll add this recipe to the list.

  4. Amy C. says:

    Hello! Just wanted to say how much I truly enjoy your writing. A friend gave me your book as a wedding gift and it has literally changed my life. I started with oatmeal, and my flour tortillas were a success this week! Still working up the courage for cheeses, but I know I’ll get there.
    Thank you for your willingness to share your kitchen and your family with others. Your work is inspirational for families like mine, searching for ways to eat real foods and spend time with loved ones, but still pay the water bill.
    If you ever happen to be in Memphis, please stop in the TIGUrS garden- we’d be so happy to have you!

    • alana says:

      Oh, thank you, Amy- this just makes me so happy. And I’m cheering for your as far as cheese making goes- dive in! And I’ve never been to Memphis, but if my husband ever has his way and takes me on a BBQ tour of the south (and I hope he does) I’ll let you know for sure.

  5. alwayshungry says:

    erhum! Sorry. I just thought you should be the first to know! :)
    I haven’t visted you here in quite some time, busy, life, blablabla… But now I have quite a few posts to read over the holidays and I know I’m going to enjoy it! Alana, your the best! :)

  6. Elisabeth says:

    OMG, Little Fur Family!! That was my little sister’s very favorite book and she loved it til the fur was all matted. And this drink looks so lovely and warm and comforting…

  7. Mychele says:

    1.5 c whole milk
    1.5″ vanilla bean’ split and scraped (mine was nice and plump from sitting in vodka)

    Let that steep together for a while. I warmed the milk in the microwave and let it steep for 45 minutes.

    Fish out the bean, rinse and reserve, of course. :) . Add two spoons of bourbon maple syrup.

    I never would have come up with this on my own. Thanks Alana!

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