2 cups 2 percent milk, divided
3 1/2-inch stick cinnamon, smashed using the side of a knife
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
10 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
4 cardamom pods, crushed (or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
Brandy or rum, for flavoring (optional)
Grated nutmeg, to garnish
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine 11/2 cups of the milk with the cinnamon, vanilla bean, cloves, peppercorns, ginger, cardamom pods and a hefty pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let it stand for 15 minutes.
Strain mixture through a sieve, discarding solids except vanilla bean. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into milk and discard pod.
Wipe out the saucepan and return the milk to the pan over medium heat. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl beat the eggs with the sugar for 2 minutes, until light and lemon colored. Add the heated milk in a stream, whisking gently.
Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it thickens and coats the back of the spoon, 4 to 6 minutes. Do not let it simmer or the eggs will scramble.
Quickly add the remaining 1/2 cup milk to stop the cooking. Transfer to a pitcher and chill. To serve, divide among 4 chilled glasses, stir in a dash of brandy or rum and top with a grating of nutmeg. Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 140 calories, 40 calories from fat, (29 percent of total calories), 4.5 g fat (2 g saturated, 0 g trans fats), 100 mg cholesterol, 16 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 16 g sugar, 7 g protein, 210 mg sodium.