Saturday, June 4, 2011

When life gives you heat. Make Lemonade!

In pretty much the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, it's still spring. My calendar even claims it's still spring for a couple more weeks. But I swear, if you were sitting on my back porch here in Austin, Texas, you'd feel the triple-digit heat and agree with me that it's SUMMER!

When these "hotter-than-Hades" tempertures come on, it forces you to be creative to cool off. Though I have only been living here for 10 years, I have kept up on how the native Texans stay cool during these blistering days. Outside of staying in air-conditioned rooms and shopping malls, we love the water. With our cool lakes and plenty of pool options, we all manage to acclimate to this heat. A nice cold Shiner will always hit the spot after mowing the lawn. A Mexican Martini or margarita will provide liquid refreshment to that early evening snack of chips and salsa, and a tall glass of sweet tea vodka will certainly make you forget about that heat, if only for a bit. However, if you just want to find a shady spot to chill with a refreshing beverage that you can share with the kids, I suggest a glass of icy cold lemonade elixir.

Southerners all have their own personal way to make lemonade. Lemonade is cool and refreshing on it's own but if you have an opportunity to change it up a bit, than why not? I noticed the other day that even the kids up the street were selling a couple different flavors of lemonade at their stand. Good business sense if you ask me. I'm always up for trying new flavor combinations and look for inspiration in everything. This morning (while it was still only 90 degrees) I went into my herb garden for exactly that. While you can't go wrong with traditional lemonade, why not play around with it if you can. I've found the easiest way to do that is through infused simple syrups. By making and keeping your own on hand, you can change up some basic drink (and cocktail!) recipes quickly and easily. If you can let the heat dictate your creative spin, from mints and chili peppers to fruit and other herbs, you might find that you're having so much fun "creating" that the triple-digit heat you're trying to escape becomes nothing more than a great reason to pour another glass.. I'm jus' sayin'!

Simple Syrup (basic recipe)
3 Cups Sugar
3 Cups Water

Combine water and sugar in medium saucepan. Stir sugar and water over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 3 minutes. Transfer syrup to bowl and chill thoroughly. Syrup can be made and refrigerated for 2-3 weeks which means you can make it before any planned events of gatherings.

Ginger Lavender Lemonade

Ginger Lavender Simple Syrup - While making the above simple syrup, drop in 2 sprigs of lavender and 3 one-inch pieces of peeled, fresh ginger. Let cool and strain before using.

In a large pitcher, add the following:
2 cups of ginger lavender simple syrup
Juice from 4-6 lemons
4 cups cold water

Mix, taste and add more of either the lemon juice or the syrup to acquire your desired sweetness or tartness. Pour into a glass full of ice and garnish with a lemon wheel and sprig of lavender.

Strawberry Mint Lemonade

Mint Simple Syrup - to the above simple syrup recipe add 1/2 cup of fresh mint leaves to the pot. Let cool and strain.

In a large pitcher, add the following:
2 cups mint simple syrup
1 cup of fresh strawberries (crushed)
Juice from 4-6 lemons
4 cups cold water

Mix, taste and add more of either the lemon juice or the syrup to acquire your desired sweetness or tartness. Serve in a glass full of ice with a garnish of mint and a fresh strawberry. Add a splash of mineral water to give it a bit of fizz!