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Alton Brown on the History of Eggnog

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Our resident food expert spills the history of his favorite creamy holiday libation.

• Eggnog is technically stirred custard—a mixture of dairy and eggs. It’s almost identical to ice cream, except that in most cases it contains too much alcohol to freeze.

• Although it can be cooked to kill off any possible salmonella and to thicken the mix, such thermal activity also deactivates the egg enzymes that give “real” eggnog its je ne sais quoi.

• As far back as the late 17th century, the term “nog” referred to a style of strong beer brewed in East Anglia, while a “noggin” was a small cup or mug that could be used for imbibing nog.

• Most culinary anthropologists believe modern eggnog descended from a thick, boozy, late-medieval concoction called posset that was composed of hot milk and hooch enhanced with whatever spice the lord of the castle had on hand.

• Egg-based drinks found new popularity in the American colonies, where nearly everyone had access to cows, chickens, and rum.

Nutritious and relatively stable, eggnog was our first health drink. If you ask me, sipping it is our patriotic duty.

• Although bourbon is the modern nog spirit, rum was the liquor of choice in colonial days.

• Today’s serious nogsters are into aging. After nog spends six months to a year in the fridge, a curious chemical collusion takes place as egg proteins, alcohol, and milk sugars slowly join forces. The resulting elixir tastes not of eggs, milk, sugar, or booze but simply of eggnog.

• Don’t worry too much about safety. As long as your brew contains at least 20 percent alcohol and is stored below 40°F for at least a month, any microbial nasties that might haunt your innards should be nice and dead.

Alton Brown’s Nog of Ages

Recipe courtesy Alton Brown, 2012

12 large chicken eggs (see note)
1 pound sugar
1 pint half n half (see the other note)
1 pint whole milk
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup jamaican rum
1 cup cognac
1 cup bourbon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (plus more for serving)
1/4 tsp kosher salt

• Separate the eggs and store the whites for another purpose

• Beat the yolks with the sugar and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl until the mixture lightens in color and falls off the whisk in a solid “ribbon.”

• Combine dairy, booze, and salt in a second bowl or pitcher and then slowly beat into the egg mixture.

• Move to a large glass jar (or a couple of smaller ones) and store in the fridge for a minimum of 2 weeks. A month would be better, and two better still. In fact, there’s nothing that says you couldn’t age it a year but I’ve just never been able to wait that long.

• Serve in mugs or cups topped with a little extra nutmeg grated right on top.

Note on eggs: Although my research tells me it’s very likely the alcohol will kill off any microbial baddies present from the eggs, if you have any doubts at all or if you’re going to be serving the elderly or someone with an immune disorder, buy yourself some peace of mind and simply use pasteurized shell eggs. They’re available these days at most mega-marts.

Note on dairy: I’m super picky about the texture of my eggnog and find that the combination listed gets me what I’m looking for. That said, if you don’t want to bother (or if you’re not as picky) just go with a quart of half and half and call it a day.

And one more note: Yeah, it’s a lot of booze but the longer the nog ages, the more mellow it will get.

This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Now go download our new iPad app! Or get a free issue of mental_floss magazine via mail. Want more Alton? Check out his recipes at mentalfloss.com/alton.

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Space
Google Street View Now Lets You Explore the International Space Station

Google Street View covers some amazing locations (Antarctica, the Grand Canyon, and Stonehenge, to name a few), but it’s taken until now for the tool to venture into the final frontier. As TechCrunch reports, you can now use Street View to explore the inside of the International Space Station.

The scenes, photographed by astronauts living on the ISS, include all 15 modules of the massive satellite. Viewers will be treated to true 360-degree views of the rooms and equipment onboard. Through the windows, you can see Earth from an astronaut's perspective and a SpaceX Dragon craft delivering supplies to the crew.

Because the imagery was captured in zero gravity, it’s easy to lose sense of your bearings. Get a taste of what ISS residents experience on a daily basis here.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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6 East Coast Castles to Visit for a Fairy Tale Road Trip
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Lucy Quintanilla/iStock

Once the stuff of fairy tales and legends, a variety of former castles have been repurposed today as museums and event spaces. Enough of them dot the East Coast that you can plan a summer road trip to visit half a dozen in a week or two, starting in or near New York City. See our turrent-rich itinerary below.

STOP 1: BANNERMAN CASTLE // BEACON, NEW YORK

59 miles from New York City

The crumbling exterior of Bannerman Castle
Garrett Ziegler, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bannerman Castle can be found on its very own island in the Hudson River. Although the castle has fallen into ruins, the crumbling shell adds visual interest to the stunning Hudson Highlands views, and can be visited via walking or boat tours from May to October. The man who built the castle, Scottish immigrant Frank Bannerman, accumulated a fortune shortly after the Civil War in his Brooklyn store known as Bannerman’s. He eventually built the Scottish-style castle as both a residence and a military weapons storehouse starting in 1901. The island remained in his family until 1967, when it was given to the Taconic Park Commission; two years later it was partially destroyed by a mysterious fire, which led to its ruined appearance.

STOP 2. GILLETTE CASTLE STATE PARK // EAST HADDAM, CONNECTICUT

116 miles from Beacon, New York

William Gillette was an actor best known for playing Sherlock Holmes, which may have something to do with where he got the idea to install a series of hidden mirrors in his castle, using them to watch guests coming and going. The unusual-looking stone structure was built starting in 1914 on a chain of hills known as the Seven Sisters. Gillette designed many of the castle’s interior features (which feature a secret room), and also installed a railroad on the property so he could take his guests for rides. When he died in 1937 without designating any heirs, his will forbade the possession of his home by any "blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” The castle is now managed by the State of Connecticut as Gillette Castle State Park.

STOP 3. BELCOURT CASTLE // NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND

74 miles from East Haddam, Connecticut

The exterior of Belcourt castle
Jenna Rose Robbins, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt designed Belcourt Castle for congressman and socialite Oliver Belmont in 1891. Hunt was known for his ornate style, having designed the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, but Belmont had some unusual requests. He was less interested in a building that would entertain people and more in one that would allow him to spend time with his horses—the entire first floor was designed around a carriage room and stables. Despite its grand scale, there was only one bedroom. Construction cost $3.2 million in 1894, a figure of approximately $80 million today. But around the time it was finished, Belmont was hospitalized following a mugging. It took an entire year before he saw his completed mansion.

STOP 4. HAMMOND CASTLE MUSEUM // GLOUCESTER, MASSACHUSETTS

111 miles from Newport, Rhode Island

Part of the exterior of Hammond castle
Robert Linsdell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. built his medieval-style castle between 1926 and 1929 as both his home and a showcase for his historical artifacts. But Hammond was not only interested in recreating visions of the past; he also helped shape the future. The castle was home to the Hammond Research Corporation, from which Hammond produced over 400 patents and came up with the ideas for over 800 inventions, including remote control via radio waves—which earned him the title "the Father of Remote Control." Visitors can take a self-guided tour of many of the castle’s rooms, including the great hall, indoor courtyard, Renaissance dining room, guest bedrooms, inventions exhibit room, library, and kitchens.

STOP 5. BOLDT CASTLE // ALEXANDRIA BAY, THOUSAND ISLANDS, NEW YORK

430 miles from Gloucester, Massachusetts

It's a long drive from Gloucester and only accessible by water, but it's worth it. The German-style castle on Heart Island was built in 1900 by millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt, who created the extravagant structure as a summer dream home for his wife Louise. Sadly, she passed away just months before the place was completed. The heartbroken Boldt stopped construction, leaving the property empty for over 70 years. It's now in the midst of an extensive renovation, but the ballroom, library, and several bedrooms have been recreated, and the gardens feature thousands of plants.

STOP 6. FONTHILL CASTLE // DOYLESTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA

327 miles from Alexandria Bay, New York

Part of the exterior of Fonthill castle

In the mood for more castles? Head south to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where Fonthill Castle was the home of the early 20th century American archeologist, anthropologist, and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer. Mercer was a man of many interests, including paleontology, tile-making, and architecture, and his interest in the latter led him to design Fonthill Castle as a place to display his colorful tile and print collection. The inspired home is notable for its Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles, and with 44 rooms, there's plenty of well-decorated nooks and crannies to explore.

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