Starting fresh: Madeline Bohannon harvests herbs for salad and a cooling drink / Amy Bennett Williams/The News-Press
The pour that refreshes: A glass of fresh herb-infused water / Amy Bennett Williams/The News-Press
Mayís only a bit more than halfway over, but I can already feel summerís hot breath on my neck.
For the last few weeks, my glasses have been fogging during the 20-step trip from cool office to car door, which I open to a furnace blast of escaping heat.
By midmorning, itís driven the panting dogs to seek the shade under the porch, where they dig themselves shallow beds in the cool sand.
And by midafternoon, itís slumped the sage and nearly flattened the basil.
But as long as the soil in their pots doesnít parch completely, I know my herbs will battle back overnight. Which is a good thing, because those herbs are one of my newest secret heat-beating weapons.
Now, Iím one of those fools who relishes our sweltering subtropical summers, but itís easier because Iíve picked up some solid tactical knowledge over the decades. Besides the obvious Ė bare legs, loose clothes, hair off the neck Ė my most effective coping mechanisms have to do with liquid.
And while pools, creeks and squirt guns are great short-term solutions, serious hydration is my No. 1 go-to strategy.
It helps, I suppose, that Iíve had no choice. My early post-grad school years here were spent in classic post-grad school poverty, which meant I learned to go without car air conditioning. And it also helps that the AC in our little vintage Cracker cottage has been less-than-dependable over the years as well, affording me plenty of firsthand experience of living in summerís hot maw.
The kids, too. Nash wasnít much out of kindergarten when he developed one of his first recipes: lemon-limeade popsicles. Another weíve incorporated into the repertoire came years ago from The News-Press fishing writer and Florida native son Byron Stout, who makes a bracingly quenching un-sweet lemonade, seasoned with a whisper of salt.
But my new favorite, the one abetted by my sturdy herbs, came from tropical horticulturist extraordinaire Madeline Bohannon just a few months ago.
Iíd come to watch her make chopped salad (a great warm-weather recipe, by the way) but as she readied the ingredients, my attention strayed to a glass pitcher on her counter.
Beaded with moisture, it contained a tangle of fresh herb sprigs Ė basil, oregano, spearmint ó floating in iced water. It was her go-to warm-weather drink, she told me, easy to make, with no sugar, no artificial ingredients and utterly quenching.
She poured me some and I sipped. It was a revelation, fragrant with licorice-y basil notes, the pungency of the oregano and the cool snap of spearmint. The great thing about it, she told me, is that it works with whatever fresh herbs you have on hand (well, maybe not the oniony, garlicky ones) and every pitcher is a bit different from the last.
So this year, Iím adding Madelineís herb-infused water to my heat-beating arsenal. June canít some soon enough.
1 cup granulated sugar (use less if youíre using Meyer lemon juice)
1 cup water
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon and/or Key lime juice
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon and/or lime zest
In a saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the water over medium heat. When it begins to simmer, remove it from the heat, then let it cool. Add the juice and zest, then pour the liquid into popsicle molds, if you have them, or ice cube trays, and freeze.
1 pint water
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
Stir together and serve cold.
1 gallon water
5 or 6 sprigs of fresh herbs
Snip the herbs and lightly crush the leaves to release their fragrance. Place in a pitcher and pour the water over them. Let steep an hour or more for maximum flavor, and serve cold.