Brian and I were in Mexico today. Drove across it in about five minutes. We saw the sign for China and we’ll be there on Saturday. Should take us about five minutes again to drive through it, too.

No, we have not had too much chocolate. I’m in Maine and the small towns here have amusing names. There really is a Mexican restaurant in Mexico, Maine.

We are here for the Kneading 2010 Conference, an international conference for bread makers. We’ll be giving you some baking insights gleaned from some of the foremost bakers in the world. We have a small wood-fired pizza oven in our upstate house and we make great pizza and bread in it. But managing the fire and controlling the temperature are very, very difficult. We have sessions over the next two days that will help us solve those issues.

We drove to Skowhegan, Maine for this conference. We try to take the backroads, not the interstates. So today’s 260 mile journey from Burlington, Vermont to Skowhegan took us 7 hours. We doddle. We visited the Cabot Cheese factory and the world’s largest plant making maple syrup. More on that later.

How do I stay awake? We listen to audio CDs, and are in the midst of 1776 by David G. McCullough. We are at the part where Boston is saved from the British in early 1776 by cannons pulled 300 miles through winter snows from Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain to Boston. So yesterday we were driving, listening to history, and pulling into the fort itself to see it. Talk about reinforcement!

The simple truth is that the American troops in the Continental army had a very difficult life. Poor clothing, often no pay, food issues, no shoes in the winter, lack of gunpowder, … It was nightmare. They lacked almost everything.

What didn’t they lack? Booze. They averaged a bottle of rum a man per day. Some of them may literally have not noticed the lack of shoes.

Officers were a bit more sophisticated. Here comes the food part. They drank slings. You’ve heard of the famous Singapore Sling? Well, a sling is by definition a hard spirit, combined with water, lemon, lime and sugar. The officers enjoyed gin slings, rum slings, slings galore …

Limes in Boston in the winter? No, there was no early outbreak of global warming. By then, the antidote to scurvy had been discovered: citrus fruits. So one of George Washington’s major food expenses was importing thousands of limes from the Caribbean to keep his troops healthy.

And apparently happy.

When I return to New York City, I’ll find some original sling recipes, patriotically sample them, and pass on the best to you.

If you are ever in upstate New York or in Vermont, then I hope you can visit the Champlain Valley. Tucked between the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains, this noble valley is all that you could wish for.