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Late Summer Coolers

August 21, 2011

While summer may be ending, and most school districts are already back in session, the heat – at least here in Cental California – doesn’t seem to be subsiding.  And what can be cooler on a sizzling afternoon than a cool glass of something refreshing?

There are lots of options for getting a chilled glass of greatness in your hands – let’s see a few recipes.

Probably the most classic summer cooler is the good ol’ iced tea.  Whether you like it sweet or plain, you need to brew a very strong tea for a great iced tea.  Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil, and in a heat-safe, closable container, brew 12 bags of black tea in it.  Don’t be taken aback by the amount – this recipe will actually yield a whole gallon of tea; and you don’t need to use your most treasured hand-picked Darjeeling for this.  Actually, cheap, tagless bags work the best – I found them as low as $2.15 for a box of 100 bags at the grocery store!  Add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to the tea; this will neutralize the bitter, “oily” taste your tea may get otherwise.  Let it steep for at least 15 minutes.  In the meantime, if you are making sweet tea, prepare about 1-1/2 to 2 cups of sugar in the gallon container you wish to use for the tea.  When it’s done steeping, remove the tea bags, and pour the tea in the container.  If you’re using a glass container that’s not heat-safe, or if you’re unsure about it, pour at least 3-4 cups of cold water in the container before the tea.  This way the sudden heat can’t make your container explode, which may cause serious injury.  Fill up the container with cold water and ice to make one gallon of finished tea.  Just put it in the fridge, and serve it in a tall glass with ice and a slice of lemon.

For a more exotic flavor, try mint limeade – practically a virgin Mojito!  For a half gallon, use 10-12 limes that you’ve washed thoroughly.  Cut the limes into quarters, and squeeze their juice in the pitcher, then toss in the fruits, too.  Add 1/2 cup white granulated sugar and 1/2 cup dark brown sugar or 1 to 1-1/4 cup raw cane (demerara) sugar, and fresh mint leaves to taste.  With a muddler or a strong wooden spoon, mash everything together, squeezing out all the extra juice and oils from the limes as well as the mint oils.  All there is left to it is to fill it up to a half gallon with water or sparkling water.  You may need to adjust the amounts of limes and sugar to suit your taste of sweetness or tartness.  For an extra twist, use part orange or buckwheat honey instead of sugar.

And as we mentioned both iced tea and lemonade – an all-time favorite drink is the Arnold Palmer: half lemonade, half sweet iced tea.

If you wish to avoid the lines or the prices of coffee shops, make your own frappe or iced mocha.  Whir together 1 cup of cooled, strong black coffee with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of milk or soy milk and a big handful of ice in the blender, and serve it with whipped cream on the top.  For a bit more flavor, add chocolate or caramel syrup to the mix before blending; for more adventurous drinkers, I recommend these flavored syrups by Torani – I found orange, peppermint and (of course) Irish Cream to be particularly great with coffee.

A different cold coffee experience is a Vienna Iced Coffee.  Prepare a cup of coffee the way you like it – with or without milk or creamer, but with ice cold coffee.  Add a big scoop of vanilla ice cream on top as well as some whipped cream.  Decorate it with chocolate shavings, a dust of cocoa powder or cinnamon – the whole creation looks best in a tall Irish Coffee mug.  Sip it slowly with a straw, eating the ice cream in the meantime.

And last but not least, my favorite childhood summer drink…  The ingredients are not in season anymore, but there’s always next summer!  For this recipe, you need freshly picked elderflowers – the flowers of elderberry bushes.  Be sure to get your elderflowers from a place with clean air, away from traffic, as you won’t be able to really wash out all the dust and dirt traffic may leave in them.  For a 5 liter (approx. 5 quart) jar, you’ll need 7-10 medium-large flower umbrellas, a whole lemon, about 20 ounces of sugar and 2 ounces of citric acid (also called sour salt; you can probably find it at your local canning supply store or health food shop, some online stores carry it as well).  Rinse the flowers.  In a 5-quart pickle jar or glass container, combine the sugar with enough clean water to fill the jar.  Wash the lemon, and slice it to thin rings – do not peel it.  Drop in the lemon slices as well as the citric acid, then immerse the flowers.  Cover the container loosely, and put it in a warm, well-lit place that’s NOT in direct sunlight; like the back corner of your patio or just inside the kitchen window.  The flavors take 2-3 days to come together; then strain the drink through cheesecloth to remove all flower pieces, and keep it in tightly sealed bottles in the fridge.  Since the drink is not pasteurized, it does not keep very long in the fridge – be sure to finish it off in a week!


Enjoy your drinks!

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