Sunday, May 31, 2009

Summer Drinks

Picnic season is officially under way around here. We've had several in the last couple of weeks, and are looking forward to eating out many more times this summer. I've got our picnic assembly streamlined pretty well, making picnics an easier way to entertain than cleaning the house and squeezing everyone into our too-small dining table. Basket by the door with tablecloth, napkins, picnic blanket, flatware and dishes. Simple recipes and cold meals for hot days. And drinks. Well, that kind too, but since I'm in nursing mode and that makes 4/5 of our family unable to drink alcohol (and the other fifth is usually headed back to the office) there's not much point in experimenting with grown-up drinks.
These are our standard family drinks: agua de jamaica, iced coffee, iced tea, orange delicious, homemade fruit sodas, and lemonade.
Agua de Jamaica is a standard of Mexican restaurants, and unlike all of my awful attempts at horchata, it always turns out delicious! I added cinnamon and orange on a whim last week and, well, it's our new favorite! Who cares if it's not traditional? To make 2 quarts: bring 4 cups of water, 2 cups of dried hibiscus flowers, the peel from an orange, and a cinnamon stick to a boil, then cover and set aside 20 minutes. Strain into a pitcher, press the flowers to get all the flavor out, stir in 1 cup of cane sugar (or to taste- less would be fine, or honey is good, too). Add ice cubes to 2 quarts, and chill. Serve over ice. Hibiscus tastes something like cranberries- tart, though the more sugar you add the more like Hawaiian Punch it becomes. The cinnamon and orange help it from being too cloying.
Iced coffee. The boys are coffee fiends. I imagine they got to be preschool coffee snobs from their parents, and the fact that we read The Story of Coffee by Sultan Mohammed (the son in law of some local friends of ours) at least once a week. Even though Avery and Miles both know how to make stove top espresso for me with the Bialetti Moka Express stove top espresso maker (well, Miles doesn't do the stove part, but he does know how to grind the coffee just right, load the water and coffee, and fasten it all up) in the summer I cold brew coffee every day. Because nothing could be simpler, the coffee is smooth and tasty and already cold (so no ice-dilution problems). I pour 4 1/2 cups of water over 1 cup of coarse coffee grounds, put the lid on the jar, and let it sit overnight, or 12 hours. Then strain the liquid through a mesh strainer, pour over ice, dilute with milk or water (or sweetened condensed milk and water, for that Thai iced coffee effect the boys especially like). Yum. And before you give me any grief about children drinking coffee please know that I hardly ever let them drink more than a sip or two. And children used to drink coffee as a matter of course (I guess they used to drink ale and hard cider as a matter of course, too, but we won't go there....) I know I'm a bad Mom, really. You don't have to say it.
Orange Delicious. This is a drink I made up, when Avery wanted one of those mall-style frothy orange drinks. We have this regularly, usually when we have burgers and carrot-apple salad for supper. Crush a blender full of ice, blend in 1/2 cup orange juice concentrate, 1/4 cup honey, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 cup yogurt, and coconut milk to the top. Pour into tall glasses, preferably with colorful graphics and bendy straws, and slurp it down!
Water of course is our real standard drink. My friend Nancy has a old school-style drinking fountain in the kitchen, which all the kids love. Think of all the glasses NOT getting dirty in the house with a drinking fountain! And no bullies to smash your face into the spray! Sometimes I put out a big bucket of ice water and an old fashioned ladle, and let the boys drink that way, when we're playing outside all afternoon and I'm sick of running in and out and up the steps every three minutes. Of course, the water ends up seeming a little bit... hmm... old fashioned? Like, un-filtered old-fashioned. Sort of dirty, with bits of leaves and twigs and stuff. Is that a problem? Maybe we need a water fountain outside!

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