My friends from New York and Chicago think we are all a bunch of wussies down here. Whenever the temperature heads below the 50-degree mark, they get a big kick out of us moving into panic mode about what we are going to wear, do we really want to go out, and should be just pack it in and wait for the cold to pass.

I chillingly point out that I don’t see a lot of them around New Orleans when we are at 85-percent humidity and 95 degrees in August. However, that is a column for another day.

Today, we are in the “grips” of our winter. And that means it may be 45, then tomorrow we will see 75. Long stretches of cold, wet weather are not our style, thankfully. I know our wintertime guests from already snow-bound locations appreciate a few rays of sunshine and the “warmth” of a New Orleans winter day.

But no matter where your personal threshold of cold is, there is always room for a nice hot toddy, if for no other reason than that the calendar says we should. And because we like drinks with alcohol in them. Got a problem with that? Thought not.

The definition of a "toddy" is a drink with distilled spirit(s), sweetener, and water. When you make a hot toddy, well, you … er … warm up the liquid. If I really did have to explain that, maybe you should go make yourself a drink before you read further.

In the days of public houses that served ales and toddies, the bartender/innkeeper/appointed drink-maker would stick one of the pokers from the fireplace directly into the fire, wait just a moment, then take it out and stick it in the drink to warm it up. I guess the ashes and the soot from the fire added their own bits of flavor and roughage to the drink. Yummy, love the flavor of burnt oak.

Probably the first thing you are going to notice is that toddies are incredibly easy drinks to make. They involve a minimum of ingredients and the most labor-intensive prep work is boiling the water. Sure, there are ways to complicate the situation, but why would you? You have plenty of other important time-consuming matters during this busy season.

A few thoughts here, presented in the interest of public safety. First, let’s avoid open flames. Flaming drinks are another category, best left to professionals who have already lit their shirts on fire and singed their eyebrows. Okay, let’s agree, no open flames around alcohol.

Secondly, be certain you have glassware certified for hot drinks. Watching some fine piece of your lovely crystal explode into a zillion pieces in your hand is never a good holiday show.

If you want to heat the drink in the microwave, don’t. Heating water on the stove is the way to do this. Sticking alcohol into a microwave may not yield the results you desire. Unless you are all about stoking the home fires away from the fireplace. In that case, this holiday season I will be grateful you are not my neighbor.

The Classic Hot Toddy

1  oz. brandy, whiskey, or rum
1  Tbsp. honey
¼ lemon
1  cup hot water
1  tea bag

Heat water and add tea bag to strength desired.
Coat the bottom of a mug or Irish Coffee Glass with honey.
Add alcohol and the juice from the lemon.
Pour steaming tea into glass. Stir.

Then there’s a little variation on the toddy, which is to make gin the base spirit. This one has the added benefit of enhancing the aromatics of a fine gin while also offering a bit of citrus which may assist in bringing some relief to a winter’s clogged nose.

Gin Toddy

1 ¼ oz   London dry gin, such as Tanqueray or Beefeater’s
¾ oz.     lemon juice
2 oz.      boiling water
1 tsp.     sugar
Cinnamon stick for garnish

Build the ingredients in a sturdy wine goblet
Stir well with cinnamon stick, which remains in the drink.

Rum makes for an excellent toddy, and with this recipe we have addressed what Grand Marnier, an orange-centered liqueur, can do to enhance the sweet cane character of the rum. As in all toddies, you must use the finer spirits because you are asking them to stand up to hot water, which is not their normal serving environment.

Grand Rum Toddy

1 ½ oz   dark rum, like Old New Orleans or Myer’s
¾ oz.     Grand Marnier
¼ oz      lime juice
Hot water to fill
Lime wedge for garnish

Into an Irish coffee glass or glass mug, pour liquors and lime juice.
Top with hot water. Stir. Add lime wedge to rim.

 Let’s say that, at this point, you are feeling just a little bit guilty because the drinks are so easy to make, delicious and absolutely hit the mark on a cold day. Here’s something that requires a bit more work.

Hot Baked Apple Toddy

2 oz.   apple whiskey, either Leopold Bros. from New York, or make your own:

     ½ oz whiskey
     ½ oz. apple pucker
     ½ oz cranberry juice (not cocktail product).

     If neither of those appeals to you, the last suggestion is to use apple brandy.

¼       baked apple:

Core and clean apple(s), lightly sugar some butter, place a bit into the core holes and cover the holes with the stem pieces. Place the apple(s) into a buttered baking pan; lightly sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 minutes at 360°. The skin holds the cooked product together, but it is your choice whether to remove the skin or not. Also depending on how sweet you like your drinks, the choice of apple is up to you. Green baking apples are probably best.)

1 tsp. honey
Hot water
Cinnamon stick for garnish

Place the baked apple into a warmed Irish coffee glass or mug.
Add whiskey and honey, then add hot water. Stir and garnish with cinnamon.

Creating fun drinks does not have to be overly complicated, leaving behind unused products and more dishes to be cleaned than you wish to have. Also the time spent creating the drinks is minimal, except for baking the apples, but I had a feeling you wanted to put more work into the project because you were starting to feel guilty with the ease of construction.

Or maybe not. Maybe you are just as happy to have something quick to chase away those cold weather chills. That’s the smart way to go.

My thanks to Colleen Graham for her suggestions and recipes, and to About.com for publishing them.

Now get that water boiling.