Mixing up a tropical vacation

limesEvery time I look out my window today, I see a solid gray sky, drippy trees, and sheets of cold, wet rain. It’s time for a tropical vacation. Or a hot toddy. Luckily, I know of a beverage that satisfies both needs at once. It’s called quentão, and it’s the hot toddy served at the Brazilian harvest festival of São João (Saint John in Portuguese). I discovered it many years ago at a São João festival on Vashon Island, near Seattle. I had a terrible cough and head cold, which just about vanished when I met one of these.

Carmelizing the sugarPlace 3 tablespoons of sugar in a heavy saucepan, and heat it over medium-high to carmelize. When the sugar is browned and liquid, very carefully and slowly add 1/2 C water. Stir in a thinly sliced lime, a teaspoon of whole cloves, a 2-inch piece of cinnamon stick, and a small chunk of ginger. Simmer this concoction for a few minutes, then remove it from the heat.

If you’re the designated driver, stop here, stir in a cup of water or juice, and enjoy. Your friends are lucky to have a responsible, sober driver like you.

If you are not the designated driver, stir in a cup of cachaça and create a killer Brazilian toddy that really warms up your insides and makes you want to dance non-stop.

Mug of quentaoCachaça is Brazil’s ubiquitous cheap distilled liquor, used for all manner of mixed drinks down there. It’s made from sugar cane juice, as opposed to rum, which is made from molasses. Up in the U.S., cachaça is rare and expensive, so we substitute vodka, light rum, or even a mixture of half light rum and half tequila. Cachaça is also used to make the other quintessential Brazilian cocktail, the caipirinha.

To satisfy the need to dance brought on by quentão, look around for some rockin’ forró music from northeastern Brazil. Forró was originally played by country bands, and it only required three instruments: An accordion, a triangle, and a zabumba, the big base drum. It’s a high-energy style of music with a danceable, thumping beat. David Byrne calls it “party music.” My favorite artist is Luiz Gonzaga; many of his CDs are still available, even though he’s been dead for years.

Between the quentão and the music, you might have a party on your hands! It’s just the thing to transport you away from a rainy, gray day and down to someplace sunny and tropical.