I am trying my best to eat, bake, and drink my way through the bushel of citrus from my mother-in-law’s trees in Elsa, TX.  The oranges are so sweet and luscious, and the grapefruit is deep red and intensely flavorful. 

(The other day I was just thinking orange zest may be my favorite ingredient in baked goods.  I think this might be because we only get to taste it when we eat something homemade or specially crafted.  Store-bought breads and cakes and muffins rarely have zest.  I think this is because the only way to get zest is with two hands and a zester.  It takes a little effort.  But it does freeze well.  I love how it can brighten a waffle or cake, but not dominate other flavors.)

Last week the weatherman said we were at HALF our normal annual rainfall for 2011.  But since he said this, it hasn’t stopped raining.  And instead of Texas rain (lightning, thunder, wind) it is more like Oregon rain (constant drizzle, spitting, cloud cover).  Although we had a brief warm spell of 70 degree temperatures, things are cooling back down again.  The drink for this kind of damp cold weather is the hot toddy.

But you may be hard pressed to find a bartender in San Antonio who knows how to make one (unlike Portland, where it is in demand half the year).  I asked one to make a hot toddy the other night, at a posh little place downtown, and he said he didn’t have the liquors for it.  Problem is, it only has bourbon in it, so I am not sure what drink he was thinking of. 

Too bad– since, although our winters are mild, we do have our fair share of cold nights.  This hot drink would be great in a travel mug for a walk on the river into downtown from King William, to see the tree lights.  (Oh my, I may just have to do that this weekend!)  When I lived in Portland, I lived without a vehicle for about five years, and rode my bike everywhere.  This meant I drank more often when I went out, partly because it was easy to bike home slowly on back streets at 2am after a couple cocktails, and partly because I was younger and had a more extravagant social life.  It also meant I was always a little cold and wet from being in the elements, so something steamy and not too sweet was the perfect winter cocktail.

This is a grown-up drink, not too sweet– and you have to like bourbon.  It can be adjusted for sweetness or potency to your liking.  It is best with a good quality bourbon.  I am using my favorite, Woodford Reserve

I like a toddy with Earl Grey tea instead of hot water.  Here is a basic recipe, for a strong drink.  It was used to stave off colds in Scotland, so it has a kick to it.  You can use more tea, or more honey, if you like.   But know that if you let the finished drink sit a few minutes, covered, it will sweeten some from the oranges, and the flavors will muddle.

PDX Hot Toddy

3/4 cup hot brewed Earl Grey tea (as hot as possible)

2 oz. (1 shot) bourbon

juice of 1/2 small orange

juice of 1/2 small lemon

1 tsp honey

1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger

whole cloves

cinnamon stick

orange slices for garnish

Prepare tea and allow to steep covered while making juice and garnish.  Slice the orange in half.  Juice one half into a heavy glass mug or mason jar.  Slice the other half for garnish, and poke out the seeds as much as possible.  Juice half a lemon.  Grate the ginger using a microplaner.  Combine bourbon and hot tea with juices.  Add honey and stir.  Add cloves and cinnamon and orange slices.  If you want a more spiced flavor, use a little ground cinnamon and nutmeg as garnish as well.  Cover and let steep for a couple minutes before adjusting.