Summer Dragon Spritzer

watermelon summer dragonSummer snuck in quietly, carrying a battering ram. Within moments we were slammed by sudden warring heat. Then in all its capriciousness, Summer ebbed out and let the lingering clouds grant us reprieve. I’m no stranger to California weather though. I know the blanket will descend and try to smother us with heat once more. All too normal this cycle is, up and down, though it really shouldn’t be. Nevertheless, in those dried out sweltering days, nothing soothes me more than a cool room (or a great fan), a book (or 5 million), and a slushy delicious drink.

Okay scratch that, a pool is welcome too – currently thanking my lucky stars that I’ve become well acquainted with our complex’s pool.

But that swirly refreshing drink! Something that throbs the beat of summer: cool, relaxed, with a zing factor. We all need one I think, but I wouldn’t have discovered what is now my token drink of the summer without the enlightenment of my old roommate who visited me a few weeks ago. So thank you, LD, for opening my eyes to the Summer Dragon Spritzer. Not so many thanks though for introducing me to a most egregious song of the summer (in my opinion). I won’t name it, but let it be said that all my lines are in full focus. Especially with my new glasses! Hah.

trifecta of dragonssummer dragon spritzer

Anyway… It being summer, one would think I’d have more time to myself to read, and… well read. There are a thousand books and articles on my To-Do list—some for fun, some for research, and more for fun research. I also have plans to redesign this website, to actually contribute to it once more, to redefine who I am as a writing human being. Yet, it took all my mental power to drag myself out of the oblivion of “Unjournaling” just to work on this. More than a month of so-called “summer time” has flown by and all I have to show for it is a new children’s literature journal that has been the most rewarding headache of the year and a few books under my belt. Not to mention that Ramadan is less than a week away—a soul-refreshing, revitalizing, but (GAH!) oh so challenging time of the year. If I can establish a strong working routine I won’t lose too much concentration during the month, but still, it will be a struggle to get through all the tasks I set forth. As it must be for everyone. I welcome advice and encouraging thoughts on how to stay focused on so much reading while fasting…

So, it’s a feat that I have managed some free reading for myself. A lot has been MG and YA literature, which I find both a reprieve from the heaviness of life and a much more rewarding experience many times around. There’s a sense of inventiveness and challenge to status quo that opens up so authentically in some texts that I cherish and appreciate. So, at the behest of the lit agent I was interning for, I delved into Newbery Award winning The Higher Power of Lucky and its sequel, Lucky Breaks, by Susan Patron. I immediately felt a kinship with the young girl protagonist for her inquisitive, reflective, adventure-happy character, and felt a new awareness of life in California, because this is probably the first book I’ve read set in the CA desert (in Hard Pan, population 43). If not the first, then certainly the first through the lens of an impulsive and brave, kind and vulnerable child. The love of her terrain, its existence outside of Los Angeles but within its touch and grasp, is a great reminder that the spaces we inhabit are not static and merely historical, but an intertwining of stories that affect and shape our society as much as we choose to believe we shape the land.

Photo Jun 16, 11 05 54 AMRight. The point is not to share with you my ruminations of the desert qualities on Lucky Trimble and her tiny eclectic town (suddenly “heterotopia” comes to mind—thank you, Foucault), but instead tie it to my new summer drink. In the second book, Lucky’s adoptive mother, Brigitte, has started a weekend cafe in the “courtyard” of their three-trailer home. Brigitte, a connoisseur of French cuisine and other tastes that sit loftily above the desert-preference of chili and a simple burger, could very easily serve my fruity drink. At least symbolically, it melds into these novels with sultry ease. Despite the simplicity of the ingredients, it is textured and layered, sweet and spicy in a way that reflects Lucky’s character. Whether deciding to run away rather than face the consequence of her guardian leaving her for France, or tampering with her best friend’s knot tying project to keep him from winning an award to travel to England for two months, Lucky’s caring and thoughtful nature is constantly battling with her impulsive fiery, and shortsighted mind. Sounds simple enough but Patron’s writing makes you ache like she does, makes you angry with Lucky but feel so compassionately for her too. Because we have all been there. And we have all needed a watermelon to wash away our summer doldrums.

I’m rambling. But I do think this is the perfect thirst quencher for Brigitte’s Hard Pan Cafe, and I hope that if ever there were a 4th or 5th book, Patron would consider including the Summer Dragon Spritzer. It’s that awesome.

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup of jalapeño-&-orange infused simple syrup:
    • 1 cup water
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1 jalapeño diced
    • zest of one orange Boil, cover, simmer, let cool.
  • 5-6 cups chopped watermelon
  • 1 cup peach lemonade (or any lemonade, I like Santa Cruz Farm’s Peach version)
  • 1 fresh jalapeño, sliced in circles (seeded or not)
  • Sparkling water
  • 1 lime (or leave out if you use lime-infused sparkling water)
  • “Orange” ice for a touch of pizzazz (details below)

To make a simple syrup, you just need equal parts of water and sugar, brought to a boil and then simmered until ever-so-slightly thickened and silky smooth. In this case, once the sugar/water begins to boil, add the diced jalapeño        and orange zest. Once it looks smooth and delicious, remove from heat. You can then either strain it or, if you’re me, leave the tidbit-goodies in for a bit of soft crunch and texture in your drink. Either way is cool.orange and jalapeñoorange ice

In a large blender, add the chopped watermelon. You might have to add it in parts, depending on your blender’s capacity, but eventually you’ll have a frothy watermelon puree. You could just stop here and it would be delicious cold, but where’s the fun in that?

Add the peach lemonade and about 1/3 cup of the syrup. You can add more for taste, but best to start off slowly. Blend and adjust the syrup as desired. It should be adding a touch of spice to the otherwise sweet drink. I felt that it wasn’t noticeable enough, but I didn’t want to add even more sugar, so that’s where the sliced jalapeño comes in. I added the slices and let it rest for a while. The longer Photo Jun 15, 5 37 24 PMyou let the jalapeños soak, the stronger that zing will be. It’s just fabulous!

When ready to serve, fill about 2/3 of the glass with the watermelon mix, then top off with sparkling water and a fresh squeeze of lime. Garnish with a sprig of mint and drop in a cube or two of frozen orange ice. We’ve been in a fruity-ice fix lately, and have been adding tiny wedges of lime, orange, strawberries, pineapple, etc to ice cube trays to freeze. It is soooo much better to drink a cold glass of water with this hint of fruit than to buy those flavored water drinks (which I’ve never done, but I can’t imagine they are good, or good for you in the long run).

Anyway, if you want an extra touch of subtle orange, go for it. Either way, get ready for a slushy, textured, sweet and spicy summer Dragon spritzer, ready to send flames through your tastebuds, softened with the delicate flavor of watermelon.Photo Jun 15, 9 37 34 PM

Cardamom Orange Yogurt Cake

Cardamom Yogurt Orange small cakeI promised to post this recipe eons ago (if you follow me on Facebook) and  I’m only now getting around to it. I think we have moved beyond the stage of apology at this point. One can only do as much as she can with the cards dealt to her, and mine include classes, research, interning, feeding the husband (hehe) and a growing number of extracurriculars as well. This is not to say I lay my excuses humbly at your feet, or my life has become monumentally more important than my blog. Nay, I cannot emphasize the degree to which I miss this blasted nook in my life, where I might seek escape and comfort amidst piles of books and heaps of spices.  I think grandly day and night about the possibilities that reside in this modest corner of the internet. Not even a corner, more like a floor pillow, or a footstool. A step to lead thoughts and tastes into hard-to-reach places.

Continue reading

Blueberry Spinach and Chocolate Cake… What?

What with books upon books upon articles upon blogging upon events upon books upon trying to drum up the courage to speak up more in class, it’s no wonder I’m under a wee bit o’ stress. Also hasn’t helped that the husband has been away but he shall return in the offing, so at least that bit is solved. Now, what to do with all the other stress… I know! Sweets! Sweets and cakes and cookies and fruits and ice cream and brownies galore! Well, it surely hasn’t been a dining extravaganza the likes of Willy Wonka around here, but I have had my fair share of comfort food in the guise of delectable goodies. But since my regular running regimen isn’t quite up to snuff yet (ok regular has become thrice weekly? That’s improvement from nil eh?), I figured I ought at least try to make something semi decent without a thousand pounds of sugar and other monstrosities for my health.

And so… I googled. Naturally. And sure enough came across a recipe that was easy (and easily adaptable) and which I already had all the ingredients. Don’t be alarmed by the … well, the blues and greens. Trust me, this cake is all chocolate by the end of it. If you like richer or sweeter cakes, you might not go for this. But it turned out perfect for me, fluffy but with the right amount of density to lend a rich factor, not overly sweet but that can be adjusted to your liking. And best of all, not a scant hint of spinach whatsoever. I might try just a berry mixture or something next time, just for kicks. But for now, if you or someone you love won’t eat his or her veggies, you might as well try this. No harm. And Really, it soothed my soul. Continue reading

LiterEature 101: Beka Cooper Series (Terrier, Bloodhound, Mastiff)

Cover credit: Random House (US)

Well, this is a slight departure. An entire series? A full trilogy? Would that not make my post even more verbose, bordering on the edge of interminable? On another day, another life, another fork of time’s limitless pathways, yes there could be a danger of reviewing an entire series, but not so today! The reason is a bit pathetic really: I read all three books about two to three months ago, while still residing a lifetime away in Maryland. My memory of them individually lacks monumental detail.  So then why bother? Why keep these books hanging on tenterhooks instead of moving on to more recently consumed literatura? If you must know (and naturally you must, else this blog would be quite meaningless to you as a reader), I just loved the food descriptions. I also thoroughly enjoyed the novels, but I marveled at Tamora Pierce’s use of food in these books. So read on, folks, read on. Continue reading

Mango Peach Cream Biscuits

Firstly firstly, Happy Father’s Day to all the caring, hardworking, relentlessly devoted, eccentric, and charmingly annoying dads out there. I’m fortunate enough that my dad is visiting us this weekend, so we’ll be treating him to something special and tasty. May you all have something special and tasty on your day too.
As for these scrumptious treats, as you know the department in which I work has suffered some losses in the past month. For the most part people lift their heads up and carry on–as is the only choice one has when affected by tragedy–but still the sadness lingers, especially on those closest to my coworker.  I thought it might be nice to bring a little treat in for them as a pick-me-up. It just so happens that I’m on a desperate spree to clear out everything in my kitchen to the best of my ability, so I figured now was high time to use the frozen peaches that lingered for too long cold and unwanted. Continue reading

Summertime at Pete’s Snowballs

I’ve been here for more than a year, but I still feel so new. Maryland, the whole DMV rather, is uncharted territory for me, causing shivers of anxiety and impatience for the intrepid adventurer in me. Give me trees, beaten and shrouded paths, natural mystere and … a good book of course, and I’m a happy camper. In fact, I have been itching to go camping too for a long while. No matter the nearly debilitating fear of all things creeping and crawling that nails down my heart when a tiny ant emerges on my doorstep. The outdoors call my name–I will step outside during work simply to stand in sun-kissed grass and wiggle my toes… before having to run back in because Geez how do 30 minutes fly by when all you’re doing is trying to master the talent of lifting your little piggies individually?

What? Is that weird?

Discovery motivates me the most, the big reveal behind a secret, a complete unknown. And the areas I live in or around or relatively close to or just a few hours’ drive away from are chock full of the experiential epiphanies. Just behind my home are trails and trails, leading away from mild suburbia into that utter silence that can only be understood juxtaposed against the cacophonous deluge of swampy cricket chirps. Yeah, I don’t go down that path too often. The trails, they call to me though. Just like the tranquil lakes, that demand a quick paddling through.

Summertime is upon us, having emerged from its slumber (only to jump back in bed at random and cause havoc on my internal system. Is it cold? Hot? Rainy? What’s with these allergies?! Ergh). But the sun has yanked me back to those unending discoveries. From freakishly haunting Victorian Sphynxes and “friendly” imp statues to real life pet cemeteries (eek!) guarded by stone pups, entreating you to tread with respect and offer a treat.

And from there to the wonderment of huge shaggy dogs hidden within monumental caverns, my enjoyment has not ceased these past few weeks. But surely it can be exhausting no? Trekking up to waterfalls and looking over the scope of the Shenandoah countryside makes you thirsty. Your spirit needs to be quenched, or at least let your physical being have a reprieve from the heat of activity.

So it was a wonderful pleasure to come across a tiny little mainstay tucked inside suburban Columbia. An oasis amidst all… the trees. An oasis, no less. Where young and old come together to fine happiness in Snow…. Cones.

Tropical Mango Snowball Courtesy of Mrs. Pete. Can you believe, this was a Small!

As the husband and I drove up to this completely random locality, a tiny hut wrapped in a friendly fenced driveway on an expansive piece of land, I noticed an elderly couple chilling outside the hut.  Yes, that fellow must be Pete (or a relation at the very least).  ‘Twas the woman who got us two teacups fill with shaved ice and drenched in our flavored syrups of choice (yeah, snowballs are not exactly rocket science, but you don’t come here for that, so just shush up!), and while she didn’t exactly smile… or show any kind of emotion whatsoever, I couldnt help but feel endearment towards her. Towards the establishment of this summer escape where kids and parents trot in on foot just to feast on some icy goodness.

As it turns out, a short chat with Mr. Pete himself (to be fair, I didn’t find out his name, so if Pete is actually his son, I… well, that’s not relevant!) uncovered a rich history, full of travel between Greece and America for years, on being away from his children, on finally quitting his factory business in Greece to WORK in America (because as the old chap told me, America is a place you are meant to work. it’s not play! Young people, they just cause trouble! They need to work!).  I felt enlightened and excited, not exactly for the snowballs themselves, but for knowing such a place exists, for nearly 20 years, where honey is produced and sold, where vegetables are in tall order, where the snow cones don’t have time to melt in the cup, they are shoveled in your mouth too quickly.

I will say the cups were a bit too large for me, so mine did melt. Such is life.

But it’s enough. On a hot, humid, draining day, only something like a snowball of Pete’s will suffice.

Mango Cream Chiffon Cake

Mangoes. Mangoes are upon us. Mangoes from the local Pakistani/Indian grocery stores that come in big crates and demand your full attention with a single waft of their juicy aroma. It was actually quite difficult to use the mangoes for any kind of recipe that did not call for immediate slicing and consuming, because… well… that’s the best way to eat a mango. Juices dribbling down your chin in unadulterated, oblivious bliss. Anyone who says otherwise is either a snooty “proper” fool or just entirely unaware as to the joy of the mango.

Nevertheless, the husband did request the possibility of a tasty desert involving that heavenly fruit, and a chiffon cake came to mind immediately. Airy where the mango brings it to earth, light versus the richness of the mango, and a dynamite vehicle to carry that mango sweetness in its batter. Coupled with a cloud of whipped cream, this cake caresses the taste buds into comfort. In my mind, one of the best ways to enjoy a re-imagined mango… if you can’t just slurp on a mango.

Is it time for dessert yet? Continue reading