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I would like to offer you some very luscious beverage ideas from three wonderful books.  But first, …

Mint.  I grew up in a Brooklyn suburb.  Concrete in front and grass in the back with standard flowers and shrubs.  No herbs.  No mint.

During the week I am still a city girl.  From my Manhattan loft, my windows give me a view of a vanishing species.  I look out on a parking lot.  Each year, there is a threat that the lot, and my view, will be lost to a new mega-boutique hotel.  In the meantime, with my windows open, I can hear the rush of traffic down West Broadway.  Even with the windows closed, I can feel the rumble of the 1, 2 and 3 trains just a half block away.

On weekends, my husband and I live in the Catskill Mountains.  With my windows open, I can hear the rush of wind through the trees.  Even with the windows closed, I can detect the murmur of the stream that runs just outside our home.  Although I’m technically still a city girl, when it comes to sound, the stream beats the subway.

Our land is heavily forested.  That is surprising.  Take a shovel, dig anywhere and you get the same result: two inches of topsoil, a foot of clay, then rocks, then bedrock that apparently extends directly to China. Getting things to grow here, given the soil, the deer, and the cold, well, it’s been challenge. A few years ago, I tried four small mint plants.  Apparently, they thrive on bedrock.  What do you do with thirty square feet of mint soaring upwards?  It’s summer.  Mojitos.  But not just any mojito recipe.

Mittie Hellmich wrote Paradise on Ice in 2002.  I’ve used it ever since.  This collection of tropical cocktails is perfectly suited to hot summer days in the mountains.  I don’t have a beach but I do have a stream.  Mittie included a short section on flavored syrups.  I make her luxurious mint syrup.  And with that mint syrup, my husband Brian has developed the perfect mojito recipe, one that improvises over the classic formula:

Brian’s Double Mint Mojito

Muddle a handful of mint leaves in 4 oz of lemon juice and 4 oz of mint syrup.  Shake with 8 oz of white rum.  Serve over cracked ice. Yes, the mint leaves and mint syrup are a double dip, but you are using lemon juice instead of the traditional lime.  Mittie’s syrup is dark, viscous but not overpoweringly sweet.  The beverage is perfect.

What if you want something a little less potent?  Ah, Mittie crafted another wonderful book in 2004: Sangria. Yes, we all know how to make sangria: inexpensive red wine, some sliced apple, some other fruit perhaps, and you just chill.  Well, Sangria takes you to distinctively higher, more delightfully complex levels.  Of course, Sangria begins with a bevy of red sangrias. Then comes a wonderful collection of white sangrias, which are lighter and fruiter. And then, there is the simple wonder of this book: a section of sangrias made with sparkling wine.

The Pink Grapefruit Sparkling Sangria, made with Proseco, is distinctively terrific. A pitcher of this can support an entire summer meal, from appetizer through the main course. Ah, I do like to improvise. In Mittie’s recipe, I substitute 2 oz of homemade grapefruit vodka for the Grand Marnier.  See, I’m doubling up again: grapefruit with grapefruit.

And how do you do homemade vodkas?  Try the gamut of ideas in Infused by Susan Elia MacNeal.  This charming book begins with recipes for homemade flavored spirits then adds dozens of drink recipes that feature her intriguingly fragrant ideas  I’ve made grapefruit and lemon vodkas and I have peach brandy that will be ready in another two weeks.  Flavored vodkas have been the rage and new ones pop onto the shelves each week.  The critics are unanimous: most of these concoctions are terrible with chemically flavors that distract rather than satisfy.  The best commercial ones can be quite good and are pricey.  But take one of the recipes from Infused, compare it with the best store brand, and you’ll be hooked.

The grapefruit sangria calls for sectioned grapefruit.  As you prepare the grapefruit, the peel is right there to be used for the next round Susan’s vodka.  You might even section off an extra grapefruit or two, add some berries, chill, and have an ideal summer fruit salad.  You could top it off with some finely chopped herbs.

Say, mint.

Mint Syrup from Paradise on Ice by Mittie Hellmich

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup fresh spearmint [or other mint] leaves

In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil.  Add the sugar and stir slowly until dissolved.  Reduce the heat to low, add the mint leaves, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let cool completely, about 30 minutes.  Strain the liquid to remove the fragments of mint leaves.  Pour the strained liquid into a clean glass jar, cap tightly, and store in the refigerator.  Yield: 2 cups.

Pink Grapefruit Sparkling Sangria from Sangria by Mittie Hellmich
[with Brian’s modifications suggested]

  • 2 small pink grapefruit, zest and pith removed then sectioned
  • 2 ounces lemonade
  • 2 ounces Grand Marnier or Chambord [or 2 ounces of grapefruit vodka]
  • 2 tablespoons sugar [or 2 oz of simple sugar syrup]
  • 750 ml botte of sparkling wine, chilled
  • About 3 cups of ice cubes [optional]

In a large [2 quart of larger] glass pitcher, combine the grapefruit sections, lemonade, liquor and sugar.  With a long-handled wooded spoon, muddle the mixture to release the fruit juice and stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Refrigerate for about 2 hours.

When ready to serve, add the sparkling wine, stirring gently with a long-handled wooden spoon.  Fill highball glasses, wine glasses or other decorative glasses with ice, and slowly pour the sangria over the ice, allowing the muddled grapefruit slices to fall into the glasses.

Grapefruit Liqueur from Infused by Susan Elia MacNeal

  • 750 ml bottle of brandy, vodka, rum, tequila, gin, or Cognac
  • 4 medium-sized yellow, pink or red grapefruits, scrubbed thoroughly
  • ½ to 1 cup sugar syrup [optional]

Decant the spirits into a clean 2-quart glass container with a tight-fitting lid.  Soak the original bottle to remove the label and let dry. Using a vegetable peeler, paring knife or zester, remove the zest from each citrus fruit in strips, avoiding and of the with pith.  Reserve the flesh for another use.  Add the zest strips to the spirits.  Allow the spirits to infuse away from the direct sunlight and intense heat for 2 to 3 weeks.  Shake the container a few times each week.

When you are satisfied with the intensity of the flavor, strain the liqueur through a metal sieve into a bowl.  Discard the zest.  Add the sugar syrup if desired. Using a funnel, pour the liqueur into the original bottle (or another container).  Label with the name of liqueur and the date.  Age the liqueur for 1 month away from light and heat.

[Brian’s note: starting with 750 ml of vodka, I ended up with about 1000 ml of liqueur, more than the original bottle could hold; the 3 weeks of infusing pulled that much additional fluid from the zest!]