My lemonade fix
I’ve got to tell you something, guys. I don’t have much of an attention span at the moment. I’m so sorry. I can’t really write. I can’t really read. I can’t do much at all, save for clutch my cell phone and the folder containing our wedding plans. I sit down and try to write something, or maybe have a conversation with someone, but lo and behold, like it or not, my train of thought choo-choos straight to the wedding. I’m like a horse with blinders, only less obedient. All I can say is this: watch out. It’s best to keep your distance unless you’re prepared to discuss the following topics:
a) veils [I decided last Wednesday not to wear mine, and I feel so rebellious and free!],
b) party favors [ours are recipe cards for some of our favorite dishes, bundled with brown ribbon],
c) rented tables and chairs and linens [how does anyone keep track of all this crap?], and
d) the pesky Final Head Count, which eludes me still.
Oh, friends. I’m a total bore. I used to scoff at stories of wild-eyed brides, running amok with checklists and fabric samples, but now I think I get it. It’s sort of embarrassing to admit, but I know how they feel. Even though I like to think of our wedding as less of a production and more of a big party, it’s still, you know, a lot of work. It just is. It’s work for a good cause, but still, it’s work. The kind of work that involves such things as 39 yards of grosgrain ribbon. The kind of work that ties knots in your shoulders. The kind of work that gets you thirsty. Like, lemonade-thirsty.
When I was a kid, I had a special thing for lemonade. If I was lucky, my mother would buy a tub of Country Time® pink lemonade mix, the kind that came in a little cardboard cylinder that was supposed to look like a wooden barrel. I’d load up my glass until it was hot pink, sugared to the brim, sweet enough to make my throat burn. It was heaven. But it didn’t happen very often. More likely, I was on my own with lemon juice, sugar, and water. This being the mid-80s, however, our lemon juice came from a squeeze bottle, and our sugar was Equal®. I devised a standard formula. Into one hi-ball glass I would squeeze ten squirts of bottled lemon, three packets of sweetener, and water to fill. It was exquisite – a garish yellow, wildly sour, wildly sweet, the type of thing that, I’m quite certain, removes tooth enamel on contact. Luckily for all of us, I have since learned a better way to get my lemonade fix – sans dentists, sans mix.
The recipe in question comes from this month’s Gourmet, and with only a few minor tweaks. It starts with a simple syrup – water and sugar, boiled briefly to dissolve – infused with strips of lemon zest. Into that goes the kicker, a whack of fresh basil, and then it’s left to steep. Then you strain the syrup and mix it with doses of fresh lemon, cold water, and ice cubes. It may not be instant, per se, but once the syrup is made, it’s lickety-split to assemble whenever the mood strikes. (Which, if you’re me, is every day, around lunchtime.) It’s the lemonade we all know and love, only more sophisticated, with a sweet, herbal whiff of basil. I worried that it might be too fussy or fiddly, a good thing pushed too far, but I needn’t have: it’s still lemonade, only a little smarter. It’s lemonade with, say, a college degree. It’s just the stuff for a summer afternoon – preferably, if I may say so, alongside a salad of tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh basil.
And not to, you know, uh, bring it back (choo-choo!) to the wedding, but it’s just the stuff for that, too. Our caterers will be pouring two types of infused lemonade: a raspberry version for the rehearsal dinner, and a rosemary one for the reception. And thank goodness, since at this rate, my own supply will be long gone.
Adapted from Gourmet, July 2007
I used tap water in both stages of the recipe below, but that’s only because ours tastes pretty decent. If you don’t like the flavor of your tap water, use spring water instead.
2 cups Basil Lemon Syrup (see below)
2 cups cold water
2 cups ice cubes
1 ¼ cups fresh lemon juice
Stir together all ingredients in a large pitcher; then pour into tall glasses half-filled with ice.
Yield: about 6 cups
Basil Lemon Syrup
I love the combination of basil and lemon, but you could also make a tasty syrup with mint, or rosemary. If you use mint, you could probably use the same amount, or maybe a bit less. If you use rosemary, I imagine you’d need much less – maybe only one medium-size sprig for an entire batch of syrup. If you used any more than that, it might taste too piney.
Or, hey, if you want to take things in a different direction, you might try tossing in a fistful of fresh raspberries, instead of an herb. I haven’t yet tried it, nor do I know exactly how our caterers make their raspberry lemonade, but what’s the worst that could happen? Really.
Also, Gourmet says that you could combine some of the syrup with vodka and fresh lemon juice to make a summery gimlet. That would be for those days, of course, when lemonade just doesn’t cut it.
2 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
4 (4- by 1-inch) strips lemon zest
2 cups packed fresh basil sprigs
In a medium saucepan, combine the water, sugar, and zest. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, add the basil, stir to combine, and let stand at room temperature, covered, for 1 hour. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and chill until cold, about 1 hour. Strain the syrup through a sieve into an airtight container, pressing hard on and then discarding the solids.
Note: The syrup will keep, covered and chilled, for up to five days. The recipe can also be easily doubled.
Yield: about 2 ½ cups