Agua Fresca

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Tools: Blender and serving pitcher

Preparation time: About 5 minutes

Ingredients:

1 cup fresh fruit

Juice of two lemons or limes

1/2 cup sugar

Water

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Oh, to be a summer berry.

Method: Combine fruit, sugar, and juice. Blend adding just enough water to get things well mixed. Use blender setting for at least 5 minutes.

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May I please bathe in this?

If there are large pieces of seeds, strain mixture. Transfer to a pitcher and add enough water to get 2 quarts. Let chill overnight for flavors to marry. Adjust sugar to taste.

Variations:

Paleo: Substitute coconut sugar, agave nectar, honey or maple syrup

Different Fruit Agua Frescas: cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry or anything else you can think of! You can also use the juice of four limes and omit other fruit for limeade.

Mixer ideas: I think this would be pretty fantastic with any flavored rum or fruit flavored Vodka and a little sparkling water.

Agua Fresca is what happens when lemonade gets out of that bad relationship,  finally finishes college and lands her dream job.

In Spanish, Agua Fresca means ‘fresh water.’ It celebrates fresh fruit and sugar takes a backseat. The bold contrast of lime really lets the fruit flavor sing. My Agua Fresca is being made with strawberries today, but there are so many fruits that are delicious in this. My father’s favorite is cantaloupe. Please do yourself a favor and throw out that overly sweet and sour powder in a yellow can. This will make that all seem like a distant embarrassing memory.

The summer has arrived in Georgia and it’s already hot. I am creating reasons to get in water. Recently I scrubbed our baby bathtub with dish soap and cold water. How glorious it was to fill up the bath and get in cold water up to my elbows! It reminds me of when I was pregnant. I would wait until the hottest part of the day, take a shower and let my hair remain sopping wet in a messy bun. Then I would not move until about 6 pm when it was finally cooling off.

Germany does not have air conditioners in most houses. Every summer when the temperatures would spike the community pools would be swarmed. They are so much better than our swimming pools! There are indoor and outdoor areas. There are always water slides. Often there are jetted tubs. Some even have traffic lights for children to time their water sliding safely. People would bring coolers, radios, food and towels and spend all day playing in the sun. Going to the Schwimmbad was quite the event. On a hot day like this I wish teleportation technology existed so I could go drink a beer, eat cookies, and swim it all off.

You’ll need a good blender this summer. I love my Oster because I can use a mason jar instead of the glass pitcher for smoothies and the glass pitcher holds up so much better than plastic ones. This is the first blender I’ve owned that actually breaks up ice well. You can also make your own salad dressings and mayonnaise in this baby!

Stay cool, my friends.

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Simple Sippin’ Syrup

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Tools: Saucepan and heatproof spoon, Ball mason jar

Ingredients:

1 sliced fresh peach

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Method:

Combine all ingredients, bring to boil. Allow to boil, stirring until liquid has reduced by half. (Exercise caution- the culinary world calls boiling sugar napalm!) Chill uncovered overnight in the refrigerator for flavor to develop, serve.

Variations:

Fruit syrups: This is wonderful with blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries or pineapple

Paleo: Substitute sugar for coconut sugar, honey or maple syrup.

Frozen fruit: You may use frozen instead of fresh fruit. Use at least 1 cup frozen fruit, as the flavor of frozen fruit is subdued

Mint: Prepare sugar and water, add 2 sprigs fresh mint when mixture is cooling.

Flavored Iced tea: Add syrup to any unsweetened brewed tea

Italian soda: Add syrup to unflavored seltzer water, mix, top with a splash of milk of choice (coconut or cashew would be ideal)

Lace up your corsets and hoop skirts, it’s peach season.

This is one of my culinary highlights of the year. I have only been asked to leave two grocery stores for diving headfirst into their peach displays. Not only am I lucky enough to be a Southern Belle, I am by birthright a Georgia Peach. This is one of my nicknames with my New Mexico family. There’s a lot to live up to! I have to be sassy and handy with a pie crust. I’m working on the pie crust, sass was also a birthright.

I love the golden and amber shades of a peach. They are like the most beautiful colors of a sunset captured in time. And there is nothing like the perfume of a ripe peach! Do you remember the movie where two men spend time telling each other all the ways they can cook shrimp? I do that with peaches. Peach cobbler, peach rum punch, peach iced tea, spicy peach Barbecue sauce, peach ice cream, peach preserves, peach pie…I could go on.

You know I had to put my pretty syrup in a Ball jar. These are the champagne glasses of the South. We store all our finest treasures in these. Canned preserves, jams, jellies, chutneys, chow chow. I love how the contents glisten like jewels.

Please enjoy this syrup, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what you could do with mixed drinks! What will you make with it? Do you have any peach requests?

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Coconut Creamer Master Class

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Tools: Saucepan, spatula

Preparation time: About an hour for cooking coconut condensed milk

Ingredients:

1 can full fat coconut milk

1 cup milk of choice

1/2 cup vanilla sugar or regular sugar

Method:

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Liquid is 2/3 reduced and bubbles when ready.

Coconut Sweetened Condensed milk:

Cook full fat coconut milk and vanilla over medium heat, stirring until reduced by two thirds or until it coats the back of a spoon. This process takes anywhere from 45 minutes- 1 hour. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. (Some varieties of coconut milk may contain solids after cooking, a quick 5 seconds in a blender will resolve this and give you a nice frothy creamer.)

Add 1 cup milk, store in refrigerator (Mixture will thicken as it cools) and enjoy with coffee.

Variations:

Sweeteners: Use agave nectar, maple syrup, honey, whatever you like

Very Vanilla Creamer:  Add 2 turns from vanilla bean grinder or 1 split vanilla bean while cooking coconut milk. You could also add 1 tsp. vanilla extract added after mixture is removed from heat

Mounds creamer: Add 1 tbsp. cocoa powder to coconut milk while cooking on the stove

Very coconut creamer: Add 1 tsp. coconut extract once removed from heat

Thin mint creamer: Add 1 tbsp. cocoa powder while cooking coconut milk, add 1 tsp. mint extract once removed from heat

Samoa Creamer: Add 1 tbsp. cocoa powder when cooking coconut milk, add 1 tsp. coconut extract and 1 tsp. caramel extract (It’s vegan!) once removed from heat

Birthday Cake creamer: Add 1 tsp. butter extract once removed from heat. (Guess what? Also vegan!) Add sprinkles for some fun color (Optional) You can also add 1 tbsp. of yellow cake mix

Salted Caramel Creamer: Add 1 tsp. high quality salt while cooking coconut milk. Add 1 tsp caramel extract after removed from heat.

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Churro Creamer: Use honey to sweeten and add heaping tablespoon of cinnamon.

Oh, what a glorious morning! Oh, what a glorious day!

Thanks to sleep training I slept in my own bed for 9 hours. Do you know the last time that happened? Probably when I was pregnant. Well, maybe not. Pregnant sleep is not very high quality sleep. Try going to bed with a 15 pound beach ball strapped to your belly.  In light of getting actual sleep, I felt like my coffee needed something special. I used to love using sweetened condensed milk to make my own creamer. Guess what we can do now? The same thing with more control over ingredients. Please let me know if you feel extra naughty and try one of the fun variations. Don’t like coffee? I forgive you. Any one of these would be delicious drizzled over pound cake, ice cream, or fruit.

Two of my friends hail from different countries and have been giving me treats from home. (How do I keep this trend going?) The vanilla sugar here is from Germany. I love using this in baking, smoothies, and it was born to go with coffee. It’s sugar that has been stored with a split vanilla bean so it absorbs the amazing essence of vanilla. Guess what? You can get the real German vanilla sugar very affordably!

I love coffee- I’m a mom. It deserves a special place in my heart and in my bloodstream. I was telling one of my friends I wish we could drink coffee instead of water to hydrate our bodies. When I visited Italy our hotel provided us our own espresso pot, espresso coffee, and sugar. It was the only thing provided to the kitchen. I was the most energetic visitor the Vatican has ever seen. Drink up my friends!

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Back Porch Radler

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Tools: glass

Preparation time: 1 minute

Serves: 2

Ingredients:

1 can light style beer (Such as a Hefeweizen)

1 cup Simply Southern Sweet Tea

1 cup pineapple juice

2 tbsp. maraschino cherry juice

2 maraschino cherries and pineapple wedges, for garnish.

Method:

Combine all juices and tea. Stir. Divide in two glasses. Pour beer into both, splitting evenly. Garnish and sip on the back porch!

Variations: Make gluten free by using gluten free beer of choice.

For my teetotalin’ friends, omit beer and double up on sweet tea for a refreshin’ drink anytime.

You will love this recipe or you will hate it.

Much like the German Radler that inspired it. Radler is Hefeweizen style beer mixed with sprite or cola. I LOVE IT! However this sentiment is not always shared. If you have an open mind and enjoy mixed drinks, give it a whirl.

This was conceived by me hanging out on my back porch, listening to the lazy drone of a lawnmower on a fine evening. I had just finished blowing bubbles for our little one and we were so enjoying the weather. Naturally the Southerner in me needed some refreshin’!

What do you think of beers in cocktails? Sweet tea in cocktails?

For German beer glasses of your very own, click here. (And help me get a small commision!)

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Simply Southern Sweet Tea

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Tools: Pitcher, heat proof measuring cup, stirring spoon

Prep time: about 5 minutes

Servings: 2 quarts

Ingredients:

Black tea bags (2 family size or 8 individual size)- decaffeinated or regular

1 cup sugar (can be adjusted to taste, of course)

good quality water, heated to boiling

Method: Add sugar and tea bags to heat proof measuring cup. Stir until sugar dissolves. Let sit for ten minutes. (What you’re doing is making a tea/syrup concentrate- it ensures the sugar distributes evenly through the pitcher.)

Pour in pitcher, continue adding water to heat proof measuring cup containing tea bags (for maximum brew.) Once the water runs clear, fill up pitcher with water to 2 quart line.

Tips: Your tea is only as good as your water.

Do NOT microwave the tea bags! They will oversteep, the bags may rupture, you increase the chance of cloudy tea. You won’t do it, right?

Variations: Use whatever sweetener you like- honey would be an excellent addition. You could also use agave nectar or coconut sugar.

Lots more variations to come as the weather heats up!

Oh my stars and garters, Sweet tea!

Our little one is teething. We spent half an hour last night clapping to distract our baby, asking ourselves, “Are we adults now? Is this what parents do?” We felt awfully silly when we didn’t feel exhausted. Raising babies is not for the faint of heart, but it might be for the hard of hearing…

When he’s particularly fussy I like to take him out on our back porch. For a few blissful minutes he is distracted by the quiet drone of buzzing insects, the wind rustling through the trees, and I can enjoy a cold glass of tea. I make mine decaf because I refuse to be limited as to when I drink my tea! Honestly it probably doesn’t matter, as I’m immune to caffeine now. I can sleep at the drop of a hat.

What tea to use? I’m partial to Luzianne. Did you know Louis Armstrong did an advertisement for them? If it’s good enough for Louis, it’s more than good enough for me. It makes a beautiful, clear tea. Nectar of the Southern Gods! (Southern Gods? You know, General Lee, Dolly Parton, Elvis…)

I justify my tea by reminding myself of the antioxidants. If ever a Southerner avoided cancer, you can bet their tea drinking had some beneficial role to play. I always thought everyone knew how to make sweet tea, forgetting it was a birthright of my Southern Belle self. This one goes to my New Mexico family- enjoy it with one of your incredible sunsets!

For a great deal on Luzianne decaf tea that I use, mosey over to my Amazon link. Every time you buy anything through my amazon links, I get a small commission at no cost to you!

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Honeyed Vanilla Chai

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Tools: Saucepan

Prep time: 5 minutes active, 30 minutes inactive

Ingredients: 1 cinnamon stick

1/4 cup water

1 cup milk of choice (cashew or coconut would be best)

2 green cardamom pods

4 peppercorns

1 cinnamon stick

1 scraped vanilla bean

1 inch chunk ginger, peeled

1 bag good quality tea or loose leaf equivalent

local honey, to taste

Method: Add cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon stick vanilla bean and scrapings to pan. Allow to toast until fragrant. Add water, ginger, and milk. Simmer for 30 minutes, until fragrant. Add tea and honey to taste, steep for 5 additional minutes. Strain and serve.

Variations: If you’re really feeling under the weather, add a shot of whiskey. That will help you sleep! You could also omit the vanilla and add a shot of butterscotch schnapps for a buttery tasting adult Chai tea.

You may also use 1/4 tsp. each of ground ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon. Add 1/8 of ground pepper. You may also substitute vanilla bean for 1 teaspoon real vanilla extract added after the tea is removed from heat.

Dirty Chai: Add a shot of espresso to this. Enjoy the fireworks.

Everyone I know is sick right now.

If you plan on visiting the South, as much as we love you, come back later. The extreme temperature fluctuations have thrown us all for a loop. Coughing, sneezing, and generally an all over crummy feeling.

I fully believe in the restorative healing power of spices and honey. I also believe in the powers of a hot toddy, more on that later. The first time I had Chai tea in middle school I was in heaven, inhaling the spicy aroma of the overly sweetened brew. It became a ritual for my sister and I to go to the local coffee shop on Saturday mornings. She would drive us and I would feel so special that my high school aged sister would spend time with me.

A couple tips: I love to cook with fresh ginger and keep it on hand at all times. I peel it with the back of a spoon and keep it in the freezer. I set it out to defrost just a little if I need to cut off a chunk. It will grate or shave easily even when frozen solid.

Have a difficult time keeping your honey jar from being sticky? Can’t open the jar from sugar crystals gumming up the lid? Add a couple layers of plastic wrap between the lid and your honey jar. It will open easily every time.

Has your honey crystallized? Microwave for 5 or 10 seconds. Remove very carefully, as it will be very runny and hot! It will return to regular consistency when cooled to room temperature.

Don’t throw out those spices when strained! Simmer them in water to perfume your house with sweetness.

My version will soothe the tickle in your chest and coat your sore throat.  Peppercorns add a little tingle, local honey and ginger have very special anti inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying even if you’re feeling well! This one’s for you, under the weather friends.

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Pumpkin spice hot chocolate (Vegan)

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Tools: Saucepan, whisk

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Ingredients: 1 cup milk of choice (I’m using original cashew milk)

4 tbsp. water

4 tbsp. sugar

2 tbsp. cocoa powder

pumpkin pie spice: 1 tsp. dried ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. ginger, 1/8 tsp nutmeg, 1/8 tsp clove

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Garnish: Marshmallows

Method: Whisk together sugar, water,  spices, and cocoa powder over medium heat. Once mixture has come together uniformly, add milk. Whisk together until milk has warmed, remove from heat. Finish with vanilla extract. Garnish with marshmallows.

Variations:

Butterscotch hot chocolate: omit pumpkin pie spices, finish with 1 shot butterscotch schnapps after removed from heat

Peppermint hot chocolate: Omit pumpkin pie spices, finish with 1 shot peppermint schnapps after removed from heat

Traditional hot chocolate: Omit pumpkin pie spices

Mayan hot chocolate: add 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper to spices

Use any sweetener you wish- honey, maple syrup, agave nectar…

Want to know a secret? I love rainy days.

Growing up, I lived in very sunny, hot places. There was almost never snow, and rain became a sought after occurrence. When I went to college in New Mexico the first thing I did was spring out of bed (okay, stumble) and look out my window, hoping for a cloudy day to break up the relentless sun.

Sunny days obligate me to do things like put on real pants. Leave the house. And when I don’t there’s a consuming feeling of guilt. Why didn’t I make the most of this beautiful weather?

Give me a rainy day anytime. I can snuggle with my warm baby, his gentle snores chuffing away. We can linger in the warm bath while he joyously splashes.

I thought the European classics were written with ‘mood weather’ included. Frankenstein’s monster skulks in damp castle corners. Sherlock pulls up his collar to keep out the wet as he researches clues. Heathcliff haunts the misty moors in agony for his lover.

It turns out, it’s just what the weather is actually like.In Germany, Britain, and Ireland, it is cloudy and rainy 70 percent of the time. There is of course, a balance to my rain appreciation. Trudging through sludge day after day could get monotonous, and Vitamin D deficient.

When we visited Ireland the first greeting we got was , “Isn’t it lovely weather we’re having?” Outside it was all clouds and threatening rain, imagine our confusion. Over the course of the week anytime it wasn’t raining, cloudy or sunny, this was the standard greeting. Ireland is so green because it is almost always raining. I love the relentless, dogged, optimism of the Irish people to enjoy every moment even if it their pleasure can be snuffed out at any moment. Theirs is a spirit forged by hardship where they have come out determined to be happy.

When you snuggle up with this hot chocolate, enjoy the lovely weather you’re having. Even if it might not be what you have chosen for yourself. Take a lesson from the Irish and choose to be happy for whatever you do have. And maybe don’t put on real pants.

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