The Teacup Chronicles

Month: July, 2011

July’s Blog Party: Herbal thirst quenchers for the dog days

With more hot weather on the way this weekend, I’m so glad to have a few new ideas for keeping myself cool and refreshed with some delicious herbal concoctions!

Leslie over at Comfrey Cottages shared an absolutely delicious sounding recipe for lemon balm popsicles that will have you drooling on your keyboard! Made from fresh lemon balm infused in the sun, sweetened with honey and pinch of sea salt – these are the perfect treat on a hot day refresh your system and  provide needed electrolytes. As you’ll see, you don’t need a proper Popsicle maker but can devise your own – which I am quite excited about! You can read her post here. She also has some pretty adorable pictures of her kitties and little ducklings that you may also want to check out!

Lucinda from Whispering Earth reminds us that hot teas still have their place in the summertime and I couldn’t agree more!  She cites several examples of hot beverages enjoyed in warm climates and explains how they actually help to diffuse heat out through the pores and cool the body. She introduces a variety of cooling herbs that make delicious summer teas and shares some of her favorite summertime tea blends such as linden, chamomile and hawthorn blossom (yum!).  She also has some really lovely photos and a fun “little ditty” to celebrate tea. Read her post here.

And I decided to write about “herbal waters” – delicately flavored “teas” made by sticking fresh herbs, sliced fruits or vegetables into a jug of water placed in the fridge. This is one of my favorite ways to entice myself to drink more water in the hot weather, somehow seeming even more refreshing and satisfying than water alone!  You can read about that here.

Thank you all for your absolutely lovely contributions!

Here’s to a happy August filled with refreshing treats and drinks to keep us well.

Delicious hydration: herbal waters

Drinking enough water is one of the simplest yet most profound things we can do to improve our health and sense of well-being. After all, water is the stuff of life.  Without it, we simply couldn’t survive and life could not exist.  Indeed, every cell and organ in the body relies on the presence of water to function. Water transports waste products and nutrients in and out of cells; is fundamental to digestive, circulatory and excretory function; helps to lubricate and protect the joints, nerves and internal organs; and regulates body temperature through perspiration – just to name a few of its important functions.

And yet, how many of us truly get enough water for our bodies to function optimally? While we may get enough water to prevent the symptoms of acute dehydration, we can suffer the effects of chronic dehydration when our bodies don’t receive the optimum level of fluids for proper balance and function. Those of us that find ourselves lethargic, headachey, irritable or nauseated for no real reason may fall into this category.  In such cases, simply increasing the daily intake of water can have profound effects on our sense of well-being.

Hibiscus-lavender-ginger water infusing

And while proper hydration is important to consider at any time of the year, it is especially so during the summer months, when the hot and dry weather can cause us to lose more fluids than normal through perspiration.  Drinking plenty of water also helps to cool the body and keep us in balance, helping us to adapt to the heat of our environment and prevent common summer ailments that tend to plague us around now such as fevers, headaches, rashes and other inflammatory disorders.

But these effects are even more powerful if one adds cooling herbs, vegetables and fruits to infuse into their drinking water.  Years ago, a friend introduced me to this concept – placing sprigs of fresh herbs or slices of fruit into a jug of water to have on hand in the fridge. Her motivation was strictly for the flavor, but the cooling properties of the herbs (as well as some vitamins and minerals) are also imparted to the water, creating a beverage that somehow enhances the water’s refreshing, cooling qualities.  Since then,  I’ve always kept a jug of herbal water on hand during the summer months, finding that the delicate flavors completely refresh me and give me an added incentive to drink. For those who struggle with drinking plain water, this can be a great alternative to sugar laden sodas, juices and sports drinks.

Strawberries and chamomile blossoms ready to be infused

To make, you simply add fresh fruit (berries, sliced peaches or plums, melons, citrus) and fresh or dried herbs to a jug, pitcher or jar of filtered water. Place in the fridge overnight to infuse, and then drink whenever you like. You can strain the herbs and fruits out if you wish, but I like to leave them in for the beautiful visual effect (I usually use whole sprigs of herbs or slice my fruit large enough so that they don’t end up in my cup when I pour). If you’d like a slightly stronger flavored tea, simply place your herbal water into a warm spot in the sun for several hours before refrigerating.

These are great for picnics and dinner parties where they are beautiful and elegant placed on the table, but I also just love having them around for every day drinking. I pull a pitcher out and place it next to me while I work to remind me to drink, or just leave one out on the table with a few glasses for whomever might happen by.

Strawberry-chamomile and Hibiscus-Lavender-Ginger waters

Here are some of my favorite combinations. These amounts make a 1/2 gallon of herbal water.

  • 1/4 sliced Cucumber, 3-4 sprigs peppermint and several slices of lime
  • 3-4 sprigs lemon balm or lemon verbena, 1 vanilla pod sliced in half lengthwise and several lemon wedges
  • A handful of strawberries and a handful of fresh (or dried) chamomile flowers
  • 2 tablespoons hibiscus flowers with a thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, sliced, and a few lavender sprigs (or 1-2 tsp dried flowers)
  • 3-4 tablespoons black tea, several slices of orange and a handful of cherries
  • A handful of blueberries, a few slices of lemon and 2-3 sprigs of fresh lavender
  • Sliced plums and 6-7 lightly crushed cardamom pods

Cucumber-mint-lime and Lemony lemon balm-vanilla waters

Now who says water has to be boring!

A verdant salad for a hot day

The weather has turned horribly hot here in New England. The thermometer climbs up into the high 90s and a gale force wind blows air which, rather than feeling refreshing, is hot too – like being blown on by a gigantic heater while standing in a sauna. On such days, the heat seems to penetrate into all things – the shade beneath the trees is hot, the slate tiles on the floor (where I tend to lay prostrate and helpless on such days) are hot, everything is hot.

And so the mind becomes utterly preoccupied with coldness. I find myself coming up with excuses to travel down to the spider infested dungeon of a basement (a place I usually avoid at all costs) simply to stand barefoot on the cement and feel the cold dank air on my skin. I spend an extra long time fishing for ice-cubes in the freezer, and rarely do they make it to my glass – instead smothered over arms and neck and left to melt for that glorious reprieve of cold water trickling down ones back. I crouch in the 4 inch deep stream trickling past the house, contorting myself into ridiculous postures to try and immerse as much of myself at once as I can (hopefully the neighbors weren’t looking). But the heat prevails over all.

Needless to say, the oven will NOT be turned on. Thus, any sort of cooking will involve the stove top – hopefully one pan, and minimal effort and cleanup.  On these days, I inevitably want something which is green and cool and refreshing. Salad. Green somehow seems to soften the heat – the smell of green (and I think it does have a smell), the color, the taste (it does have a taste too) are all refreshing, cooling, calming to the beholder. The taste of cucumbers, the smell of mint, the flavor of crisp cold lettuce.

Thus, my garden inspired this lovely little salad of green – cooked quickly on the stove top and left to cool and marinade in the fridge till tantalizingly chilled –  eaten at dusk, sitting on the porch railing, when the air was slightly less suffocating, and the wind almost refreshing.  Full of many verdant shades and flavors, it was just the thing to lessen the stifling grip of hotness and ease into dreams of peppermint, forest canopies and cool moss-covered stones.

A verdant salad

I realize that living up in the mountains in the North means that my garden might be quite a bit behind many of you. So if you’ve well moved past the peas and fava beans, then I do apologize. If however, your garden is just as prolific in such things as mine currently is, by all means celebrate these ingredients while you can. Serves 2.

  • 2.5 cups (or so) shelled fava beans
  • 1 – 2 cups shelled peas
  • 1 large bunch kale
  • 1 ball fresh Mozzarella (preferably organic)
  • 1 bunch flat leaved parsley
  • 1 small bunch fresh mint
  • olive oil and balsamic to drizzle
  • salt and pepper to taste

Place a ban of salted water on the stove to boil as you get to work shelling your favas and peas.  Strip the kale leaves from the tough center rib and tear into rough sized pieces.

Once the water has come to a rolling boil, add the favas. Cook for 3-5 minutes, or longer depending on the size.  When you have about a minute to go on your favas, add the peas. Place the kale into a colander and pour the contents of the pan over the kale to discard the water (the heat from the water, favas and peas is enough to cook the kale). Rinse under cold running water until the ingredients are cool enough to touch, then pat dry with a towel to remove excess moisture and place in a large bowl.

Tear the mozzarella into rough pieces and add to the fava/pea/kale trio. Tear the mint and parsley leaves from the stem (keeping them whole) and add to the bowl. Drizzle everything with a little extra virgin olive oil and a nice balsamic, add a dash of salt and pepper, and stir well to combine.

Chill for a few hours to let the flavors meet and marry (I just love that phrase) and then serve in wide bowls with a piece of crusty bread to sop up the dressing left at the bottom of the bowl.