The libation: The steaming mug appears in front of you without warning, the clear glass rippling with condensation. The night is glittering, frosty; you accept the mug gratefully from the hands of the smiling vendor with the ivory hair. She waves you off as you reach for your billfold. “Our compliments,” she says, and her eyes flick down to the crimson silk scarf tucked tightly under your chin. You smile and tip your hat, turn back to pick your way through the first-time visitors, eyes turned towards the Menagerie, where you plan to stay until dawn.
She watches you go. She loves serving the rêveurs, enjoys the intimacy of shared knowledge, enjoys passing the mulled cider from her hand to theirs, a flash of red granted to the devotees from the object of devotion. It’s a silent acknowledgement of the symbiosis between the entertainer and the entertained, an unspoken thank you.
She stirs the cider, inhaling the fumes. It’s simple, but she takes pride in her recipe, which she’s been adjusting here and there ever since the rêveurs started visiting. One quart apple cider plus one quart cranberry juice (for tartness), simmered over low heat with 1/4 cup maple syrup (she stocks up when the circus travels through Canada). For the spices, a cheesecloth packet of whole cloves, allspice berries, star anise, cinnamon sticks, the zest of a lemon and an orange, and a handful of tea leaves - she finds that the visitors like the caffeine to help them get the most out of their night. She adds a cup and half of spiced rum as well, to increase the warming effects of the cider. Each mug she serves is garnished with a cinnamon stick and fresh cranberries - and if you look closely (very closely) - you’ll see she’s enchanted dancing figures in the silvery steam, two lovers entwined until they vanish into the night air.
Photo © BLS
A very exciting thing, readers - erinmorgenstern herself made mulled cider tonight!