Every season heralds in its signature whistle wetters to invigorate the taste buds and soothe the soul. Winter serves up a wonderland of spiced ciders and eggnogs to celebrate the holiday season. Autumn transitions in with pumpkin, cranberry and other harvest flavors infused in teas and coffees, while spring is abloom with freshly juiced green drinks and floral teas.
Now for summer, the "funnest" one of the bunch, a caffeine buzz is replaced by a brain freeze as iced teas, coffees and slushes take over; when smoothies and Slurpees are the new drinks of hydration; and when cocktails and mocktails take a tropical twist.
This summer, beverages and libations have gone bipolar bananas, whipping up oddball combinations of sweet and savory herbs and spices, juices and liqueurs and nutty-flavored milks. The oldies but goodies such as handcrafted lemonade are still around but have been excitingly reinvented.
Here's the hot list to shake things up and refresh your spirits:
A smooth operator: Before Jamba Juice hit the smoothie scene, Steve Kuhnau, aka "The Smoothie King," was a lactose-intolerant soda fountain "jerk" who pioneered the smoothie by whipping up frozen drinks with fruits and ices sans the milk.
True to its namesake, they have a smooth and creamy consistency much like milkshakes, but are targeted to the healthy-minded, and some also have herbal supplements blended in the works.
You can make fabulous berry brain freeze blasts and mango meltdowns at home. Invest in a good blender with ice-crushing features. Use a smorgasbord of frozen fruit such as blueberries, mangos, pineapple and especially bananas for a creamy, dreamy texture. Add a splash of almond, soy or hazelnut milk and serve in a chilled margarita glass with whimsy garnishes and a straw.
Smoothies can also be made savory and spicy using plain yogurt blended with basil leaves, zest of lemon and a dash of killer cayenne. Ayran, a cool, Middle Eastern refresher, simply blends yogurt, skim milk and salt served in a tall tumbler over ice.
If you have a lemon, make lemonade:
In 14th century Egypt along the Mediterranean coast, a popular medieval concoction called kashkab, blending fermented barley and mint, pepper, rue and the citron leaf, was a precursor to today's lip-puckering, all-American summer quencher.
A twist on the traditional lemonade recipe of water, sugar and fresh-squeezed lemon juice includes adding fresh raspberries, strawberries, cranberry or orange juice, honey, brown sugar, peppermint, lavender and ginger root with berries and citrus slices floating on top.
The 1904 World's Fair popularized this novelty drink along with the invention of iceboxes and commercially produced ice. Now Americans drink nearly 100 million glasses of iced tea daily. Tea, especially the green variety, is a powerhouse immune booster of antioxidants.
Try a glass of mellow summery sun tea by seeping your favorite fresh herbs such as lemon verbena or mint in spring water, and baking in the sun in a covered glass jar for four hours. Sweeten with agave syrup and pour over ice.
Wet your lips with the Arnold Palmer, which is half iced tea and half lemonade; a spiked John Daly with Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka and lemonade; or a Chris Rock, a half-sweetened, half-unsweetened iced tea.
Trendy Asian bubble tea, also called boba tea, is a blend of pearl tapioca, black tea, milk, sugar and ice. Teas come in liquor-infused, fruit-flavored or spicy versions to suit your iced tea druthers--my cup runneth over.
Brain freeze buzzes:
Purist iced coffee drinkers use a cold-drip method with 70 percent fewer bitter acids than heat-brewed coffee, making it a smoother, richer flavor than pouring hot coffee over ice and adding milk.
Joes to go like pre-fab frappuccinos are in every convenience store, but you can whip up your own customized iced coffee concoctions at home. Try a cappuccino cooler mixing cold coffee with chocolate syrup, crushed ice and a dollop of chocolate ice cream topped with whipped cream. Or simply blend almond, rice or condensed milk, cold coffee from dark roasted beans, shaved ice and a sprinkling of cardamom.
Cocktails and mocktails:
A cold alcoholic beverage will numb the sunburn pain and beat the heat. Some classics that make the A-(lcoholic) list include the peachy fuzzy navel; the iconic Kentucky Derby mint julep, which resembles a grown-up bourbon-mint snow cone; and the strawberry daiquiri, which has been reinvented in designer flavors of chocolate strawberry, avocado, pineapple, passion fruit and melon berry, but just as refreshing as the old fave.
Twists on the classic margarita include cranberry, blue agave and blood orange versions.
For your teetotaling friends, serve refreshing alcohol-free mocktails including fruity spritzers and virgin varieties of mint juleps, piña coladas and daiquiris.
Light up your mocktails and cocktails with whimsical garnishes. Swizzle sticks and crazy straw props. Strips of orange, lemon or lime zest hanging over the rim. Whole kumquats or lychees free floating. Fruit kebobs on a cane sugar stick leaning on the glass edge. Veggie kebobs for the savory drinks such as ginormous olives and pearl onions strung on a bamboo skewer. Ice cubes with frozen berries inside bobbing and chattering away. Shaved fresh coconut or pomegranate seeds scattered. A dollop of gelato or sorbet to top it all off. Just steer clear of cherries because of stray pits.
My summer contribution is a refreshing grown-up slush that resembles a frozen tequila screwdriver. Cheers!
Tequila Mockingbird (A Frozen Tequila Screwdriver)
- 1 1/2 ounces of tequila
- 1/2 ounce of triple sec
- 1/2 ounce of Blue Curacao
- 2 ounces of orange juice
- 1 ounce of cranberry juice
Fill a tumbler with ice. Add the tequila and triple sec, then the orange and cranberry juices. Add Blue Curacao. Garnish with an orange zest strip or fresh cranberries.