Holly Ebel: Beat the heat in simple style
We expect July and August to bring hot, steamy days. It's summer, after all, and as Shakespeare said, summer has a short lease.
We can seek refuge in air conditioning, but an additional cool-down can be found in a tall, cold beverage, one minus alcohol since that can add to your body heat. (Forget the gin-and-tonics for now.) Old standbys are iced tea and lemonade, but there has also been an uptick in what goes in to a cooling, refreshing non-alcoholic beverage.
Think herbs — not just mint, but basil or thyme add interest to the glass.
Pureed fruit — pineapple, watermelon, strawberries, peaches or blueberries — poured over ice with the addition of some fizz make wonderful cool-down beverages.
Those same purees can be augmented with simple syrup (that's a mixture of 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 cup water, boiled and cooled) with soda water or 7-Up added for sparkle.
Simple syrups can also be infused with mint or basil, then poured over ice and soda water, or whatever other ingredients you like.
Juices, too, are excellent additions and bring color to the drink. Pour grapefruit, orange, tangerine, cranberry or pomegranate juice over ice, add fizz, drink. Try mixing different juices for new flavors.
Want something even colder? Slushies, smoothies and ice cream drinks should be on your list. (But beware: Drink these slowly, or you'll get a freezer headache.)
My complaint about ice cream drinks is that they seem more like dessert to me — thick, sweet and filling. The exception is a root beer float, a summer-time beverage that has been a favorite and around since at least the early 1900s. One of those makes me a 10-year-old again.
Iced tea has undergone a makeover in recent decades. Remember when it was brewed with just orange pekoe and left to cool and poured over ice? Now there are any number of flavored teas, green teas and diet teas. You can buy that Southern favorite, sweet tea, in a bottle or make it yourself adding 1/4 cup simple syrup to regular tea.
Let's not forget iced coffee. What could be easier than pouring cooled coffee over ice and adding flavor. Or go to Starbucks or McDonald's for their fancy versions.
One of the rules of summer drinks is that they should be complex, but not so much that the flavors get muddled. Most of us want to know what goes into what we are drinking.
There are those who suggest sticking with just three ingredients to keep things simple. And always over ice, lots of it.
Also important to a summer beverage: garnishes. Whether it's a wheel of lemon or lime, a strawberry or a thin slice of cucumber, that little final touch makes it special and more appealing, even if it's just atop a plain glass of ice water.
Local bartenders are doing their part to make non-alcoholic drinks available. At 300 First, Nikki Adams turns out a smokin' martini using pineapple, cranberry and orange juice with a splash of Sierra Mist. It's served in a martini glass, just like their signature drink, and garnished with an orange wheel and a cherry.
Sara Klink, who tends bar at Chester's Kitchen and Bar, has come up with several popular beverages.
"We make a mojito using a brown sugar simple syrup with lime juice, mint and club soda," she said. "We also have virgin daiquiris, juice mixtures made from fruit purees and our own home-made lemonade."
LaVetta, the new rooftop hot spot, offers drinks including a strawberry mojito. Casey Gorman, a bartender there, described a peach fresco made with chopped peaches, 7-Up, lemonade and simple syrup over ice. Garnished with lime and mint, it, too, is a refreshing drink.