Seasonal Pantry: Refreshing sips for the summer
It is quite possible that it is going to be a long, hot summer, with the county receiving its first Red Flag warning of the season a few days into June. Some of us have been rubbing our eyes as we look to the sky to try to determine where the smoke is from (Yolo County).
This will mean a lot of things when it comes to our gardens, farms, vineyards, and ranches. When will there be no more pasture for grazing? How many days over 90 degrees before tomato plants and grapevines shut down?
Hot weather is nearly as tricky a time as a freeze or rains that come at the wrong time.
Combine these considerations with the likelihood of power outages when it's windy and the ever-present fear of fire, and it seems that summer could be a tricky time, rather than a season of leisurely barbecues, swimming parties, and afternoons spent sipping beer and wine.
Paying attention to your diet and making a few seasonal adjustments can help you navigate whatever Mother Nature has in store for us until fall or winter rains finally come.
If you regularly drink soda, including diet soda, now would be a great time to reconsider that indulgence. Unless you are drinking a boutique soda from a small producer, you are either taking in a lot of sugar or the metabolic destabilizers in diet soda. Both have a negative impact on health and, in hot weather, we tend to drink more of whatever our beverage of choice is.
The same is true with alcohol. A glass of cold white wine, sparkling wine, or beer feels refreshing when we drink it, but the alcohol has the opposite effect on our bodies. When temperatures soar and you really want a drink, it is best to go with something lower in alcohol than something that weighs in at 14, 15, and even 16 percent. I prefer Vinho Verde, an effervescent white wine from Portugal that is usually about 9% alcohol, when there's a heat wave.
There are, of course, many options that involve neither sugar and chemicals nor alcohol. Flavored waters, which were promoted by the state's 2012 “Rethink Your Drink” campaign, are your best bets, with shrubs and agua fresca the second and third best options, along with ice tea, ice coffee and lemonade.
Today's recipes are those that are best right now. As different crops ripen, it will be time to move on to other ingredients.
Water flavored with a wide range of herbs, spices, fruits, and even vegetables have become so popular that there is now a big retail market for them. But, honestly, it's rather foolish to buy something so simple that you can easily make at home. And homemade will be better than what you buy, too. Certainly, if you need to snag something when you're out and about, a commercial flavored water is probably your best choice. But keeping a jug in the fridge, rather than a bunch of bottles and cans, is a good idea, too.
Makes 2 quarts
- Flavoring agents (see list below)
- High-quality tap water or spring water
Put the flavoring agents into a 2-quart glass jar or similar vessel. Fill water and let macerate in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours before drinking. Strain into glasses, with or without ice, and top up the jar with fresh water. Most flavored waters will stay bright and flavorful for up to a week, depending on how many times you top them off, of course. You'll be able to taste when the flavorings are exhausted.
1 thinly sliced medium cucumber, 4 or 5 sliced radishes, 2 or 3 lemon slices, sprig of lemon verbena (optional).
1 whole lemon, thinly sliced; several large basil leaves.
1½ cup thinly sliced strawberries, several turns of black pepper
Several fresh lavender flowers, 1 or 2 orange slices
3 celery stalks, thinly sliced; 1 sprig Italian parsley
4 apricots, pitted and quartered; 3 cardamom pods, crushed; 1 or 2 fresh ginger slices
¼ sliced small pineapple, two cilantro sprigs, several turns of black pepper
2 or 3 Cara Cara Orange slices, 1 tablespoon rose water
Of the 20 or so shrubs that I make throughout the year, this is one of my favorites. If you want to make it, do it right away, as apricot season does not last more than a few weeks. If you have trouble finding dead-ripe apricots, check your farmers market or visit Imwalle Gardens (685 West Third St., Santa Rosa).
Makes about 2 quarts
3-4 pounds dead-ripe apricots, pitted and sliced
¼-½ cup granulated sugar, if needed
5-6 cardamom pods, cracked open
½ vanilla bean
4 cups, plus more as needed, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
Put the apricots in a large stainless steel, glass, or porcelain bowl. Taste a slice or two. If they are very ripe, they should be quite sweet. If they are too tart for you, add ¼ cup of the sugar, stir, and taste again. Add the remaining ¼ cup sugar as needed.