Start to finish: 2 hours 35 minutes (20 minutes active)
2 cups 2 percent milk, divided
3 1/2-inch stick of 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 1 1/2 cups of the milk with the cinnamon, vanilla bean, cloves, peppercorns, ginger, cardamom pods and a hefty pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then turn off the heat and let it stand for 15 minutes.
Strain the mixture through a sieve, discarding all of the solids except for the vanilla bean. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk; discard the vanilla 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, or until they are light and lemon colored. Add the heated milk in a stream, whisking gently.
Return the egg-milk mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it thickens and coats the back of the spoon, about 4 to 6 minutes. Do not let the mixture come to a simmer or the eggs will scramble.
Quickly add the remaining 1/2 cup of milk to the pan to stop the cooking. Transfer the mixture to a pitcher and chill for at least 2 hours or until very cold.
To serve, divide the eggnog among 4 chilled glasses, stir in a dash of brandy or rum, if desired, and top with a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg.
Nutrition information 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.