Thursday, June 25, 2009

Keepin' Cool

It's been hot here. We started off June all gray and cool and gloomy, and everyone was complaining "where is our summer?" when all of a sudden, wham, it was in the 90s and humid. Ugh, too much summer, thanks! Our weather around here is rarely perfect, and I could go on and on about how annoying that is, but I'll spare you. Instead, I'll tell you how we cope with the heat.

One way is to drink! Water is yummy, but can get kind of boring, so in the summer I like to try new drink recipes. Last year we made Watermelon Mint Cooler, and that was a hit, although it's not very practical on a regular basis. One tried and true recipe I go back to regularly, though, is Citrus Mint Cooler, pictured above. It's based on a simple syrup, very easy to make, and keeps for up to two months in the fridge.

Citrus Mint Cooler

1.5 cups sugar
1.5 cups water
3 oz frozen orange juice concentrate
3 oz frozen lemonade concentrate (is there a version of this without high fructose corn syrup?)
1 cup whole fresh mint leaves

Combine water and sugar in medium size pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add orange juice concentrate, lemonade concentrate, and mint leaves. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit for one hour. Pour through strainer and discard mint leaves. Store syrup in an airtight container (I find a quart canning jar works nicely) in the refrigerator. Will keep refrigerated for about two months.

To make a drink, mix 2 T of the syrup with one cup of ginger ale (you can adjust amounts of either to taste), add ice and enjoy. I have also tried the syrup alone in plain seltzer water, and it's very yummy that way, too (and fewer calories than in ginger ale!).

Another new way we keep cool is to take out the kayak. We headed to a county park beach on Wednesday evening, when our thermometer was reading 102 F outside and 91 F inside. Unfortunately we arrived at the park only 30 minutes before watercraft had to be out of the water (who knew they had hours for something like that?), so we only had time for a quick paddle around the shore. Even though swimming hours ended 30 minutes after watercraft hours, by the time we all had turns in the kayak, got it out of the water, and loaded back onto our van, the beach had closed, too. So, we were hotter and sweatier than ever, with no way to cool off. We drove home in the early evening with all the car windows rolled down, and stopped to buy a watermelon at the grocery store (because the road side fruit market was, you guessed it, already closed! Man, we timed things badly that night!)

Our third way to cool down is to have a humongo thunderstorm roll through in the late afternoon on Thursday. That broke the heat, and we amazingly enough did not lose our power!

Today was much more pleasant, but I still set up the sprinkler for my daughter and her friend to run through.

Flower at my neighbor's

I have no idea what kind of flower this is, but I am completely smitten by it. My neighbor at the end of the street has a corner lot with a southern exposure. Before she bought the house, it was just an ordinary house with a very plain yard, but once she got her hands on it, she transformed the whole thing into a place of sheer beauty. She started small: a rock here, a tree there, a flowering shrub over there, but she kept adding and changing and adding some more until the whole place just blossomed. Every season at her house is gorgeous. She gets the first crocuses of the spring with that southern exposure of hers, and every year in the summer she amazes me with some new plant. Every year I think surely she can't fit one more thing in her yard, but by golly if she doesn't always find space to squeeze in one more new thing. I don't know how she does it! This year she has added this flower.

Look at the buds!
And the foliage! It twists and curls and looks almost like a sea shell.

Here is a bud about to open:

The flowers don't always bow down like that, but we had a torrential downpour this afternoon that lasted at least an hour, so everything got a little knocked down. I'll try to get another photo of the flowers some time when they are a little perkier.