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Hot Toddy

The first time I met Andrea, she was smoking an American Spirit cigarette in front of the dilapidated singlewide trailer we would soon share as farm interns. I was on my way out the door to work, and she had just arrived from Colorado. Her boyfriend drove her from Denver in his touring van and left her in nowhere North Carolina to work on a goat dairy.

I think they had second thoughts when they saw the trailer. I know I did. But we were both hungry for the experience and were willing to overlook a lot, including holes in the floor big enough for a raccoon to crawl through, missing or stuck windows, and a resident black snake that was easily six feet long and liked to curl up beneath the stove. When you turned on the oven, you could hear it slither ominously away.

We were really good at making it work. Particularly Andrea, who, armed with a flask of Bulleit and her signature cat glasses, was completely unfazed by most anything that came along. She was improvising and stoic and funny, a combination not unheard of but rare enough to hold your attention.

She taught me a lot of things--how to make killer pickled eggs, the restorative value of miso soup, and how to work like a dog and keep your sanity. But the lesson that is particularly apt in this case is how to cure a cold...or at least give it a run for its money.

I don't remember exactly what went into Andrea's toddy, but I do remember its ritualistic nature. For her, a toddy was medicine, and when I developed a bad sinus infection, she gave me specific instructions. I was to take a hot shower--as hot as I could stand it--then wrap up in a big, warm blanket. Meanwhile, she made my toddy, and as I remember, it was heavy on the bourbon and ginger. I had to drink the entire toddy while wrapped up, sweating, in the blanket.

No one here is a doctor, and so any medicinal value this has is purely anecdotal. I will say, though, that I felt noticeably better after my toddy/pseudo sweat lodge experience. I also slept better that night than I had in a long time.

So while I won't tell you that this is curative, I will say that a momentarily clear head and good night's sleep are more than enough reasons to make the toddy a sicktime staple for us.

This winter has provided us with plenty of opportunities to test our hot toddy recipe (whether this is fortunate or unfortunate, we're still not sure), and we think we've hit on a good method. There are lots of toddy spin-offs on the cocktail scene right now. They're all very creative and interesting, and I appreciate the thought that went into them, but I feel that they overlook simplicity in favor of a gimmick or some off-the-beaten-path ingredient. But the times when you are most in need of a toddy--think gnarly February head cold or sinus infection--the last thing you want is a frilly recipe that requires you to drop $40 at the liquor store. And you most certainly do not want to trek down to the local cocktail bar to have a suspendered, bespectacled hipster make a $12 toddy for you, as you blow your nose loudly and can barely see the menu through swollen, watery eyes.

Fortunately, the best toddy we've tried is also the simplest. After making it over and over again to soothe our stuffy heads and weary souls, I can candidly say it's almost perfect. In any case, it clears the head and warms you down to your boots. Just think of it as really yummy medicine.

Other articles you might enjoy: Spring on the Mountain, Elderberry Liqueur, Canteloupe Agua Fresca

Hot Toddy
Serves 1

           An approximately 2-inch long by 1-inch wide piece of fresh ginger, cut lengthwise into thin "slabs" (no need to peel)
           4 ounces very hot water
for about 5 minutes. Cover the cup with a saucer to keep the liquid warm.
           1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1/2 a lemon)
           2 ounces (4 tablespoons) bourbon
           Honey to taste (we like about 2 teaspoons)

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Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 10 × 2-inch round cake pan or 9-inch square baking dish.
Prepare the streusel topping...