go on, have a hot toddy


Being a lightweight runs in my family. When it comes to food, alcohol, caffeine, dust -- anything solid or liquid that goes in or near the body, anything that flies by or drips down -- we have a reaction. We get food poisoning, sea sickness, air sickness, rashes. When everyone else is smiling, we’re ducking for cover.   

When one of us travels, we ask “How’d it go?” We don’t mean did you have fun or great adventures. In my family, we mean did you embarrass yourself in front of friends, strangers. Did you have to disguise yourself in a hat and sunglasses.

I’m not kidding about this. OK, maybe a little. Recently though, my sister OD’d on a power bar and had to receive oxygen on a flight. Apparently, a protein/sugar rush.  Disappointing because power bars have now been added to our banned substances in public, reducing our choices to water and Gerber’s squash.

So with wimpy ancestry, I make a fuss when it’s suggested I try a hot toddy for a cold. I’ve never had an official hot toddy. No whiskey at all since falling dead drunk one night on a single Irish whisky in my twenties. I had no desire, again, to be dragged from a bar while dressed in hot pink, thrown into a car, and relocated to my bed where I stayed for three days. I even lost an earring.

Nope, once was enough. And yet . . . 

With another month of winter and everyone complaining of some cough or sneeze, including me, I thought this a good time to rethink if I can manage an old-fashioned home remedy without leaving an impression on every man, woman and child in the tri-state area.

I get the idea from the massage therapist who’s working on the stiff neck I get from coughing. A hot toddy, he says, is his secret weapon against clients who give him the sniffles. As soon as the day is done, he runs home (better than being carried), mixes hot tea with lemon, honey and a good shot of bourbon. “I shiver it out,” confides Joe. “It works every time and it makes me feel really, really good.”

The closest I’ve ever gotten to such a brew is a guggla muggla and it made me feel really, really bad. This unpronounceable, unpalatable Russian tonic was Mom’s super cure for sore throats, a disgusting blend of hot milk, butter and honey we were forced to stomach. Which is probably why none of us can now handle a single thing in ingestible or drinkable form.

I decide to give the toddy the old hot pink try. I search for the perfect recipe. I want the full ancient treatment in honor of the Scots who perhaps invented the concoction hundreds of years ago. Maybe in the middle of some war with nothing but charred toads to sip on. The name must have changed in translation.   

But first I ask a nurse.

Me: Does a hot toddy really work?

Nurse: Well, I don’t know if it will heal you, but it won’t do you any harm.

She doesn’t know my family.

I go with this recipe:

  • 1 wimpy shot of whiskey

  • 2 lemon slices

  • 5 whole cloves

  • Hot tea (decaf for me)

  • Cinnamon stick

I put the tea bag in a cup with the lemon slices skewered with cloves, add the other ingredients, and top with boiling water. Then I add a warm blanket, a good book and a cozy couch. I think about taking a few days off from work, suddenly decide I’m not so bad, the hot toddy must be working already.

I lie there for a very long time. I do not wear pink. But I suddenly notice an earring is missing . . .

February 16, 2017

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