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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Feeling hot, hot, hot

Kids are asleep. Husband is at a business dinner. I'm going to jump into the shower for the second time today. This heat is no joke. It's a total disaster, actually. And I'm not talking about Global Warming (which is evidently terrible), but about me, cooking in my own broth as I make my way through the frying sidewalks of New York City. 

I walk under the shade, wear a gigantic sunhat (that I got for $9.00 at my current favorite store: Joe fresh), I smear myself and my kids with sunblock made with ingredients that sound more like the components of an atomic bomb than a topical cream. I drink plenty of liquids and I try to skip baking as much as I can. Still, after a minute out, I look as if someone had done tie-die on my face. My clothes are soaking wet is hot, hot, hot.

Many summers ago, right after I graduated from my MA at NYU, I had to walk a couple of Downtown blocks to return my purple cap and gown. It was another miserably hot summer day and I thought I was going to pass out. Then, I had to join my fellow graduates at the Food Studies department for a small gathering. There was food made by the students taking the catering class, and right out of the elevator, we were greeted by them with little shot glasses  with a bi colored chilled melon soup (half orange and half green). It was gloriously restorative and refreshing. It was unforgettable for how good it felt to drink it. 

Once home, I found the recipe online and it became a summer staple in our home ever after. I tried getting the link for the original recipe, but neither nor have it any more, so I'll give you the recipe, originally printed in Gourmet magazine in a bit, but in the meanwhile, please let me tell you about my latest obsession...

For the last couple of weeks, I have been making GRANITAS, first developing a recipe for a watermelon version (soon to be published in, and later, because when my daughter tried the one I made for the newsletter, she told me that I was "amazing, the best" and that I would be famous someday, all due to the granita.
Do you think that after that I could ever stop making her granitas (call them slushies, Italian ices or whatever you please)? She comes back from day camp hot, exhausted, starving and happy, and I serve her the granita du jour (whatever fruits I have handy or leftover) to great her, and she's happy and cooled.

We had guests over yesterday, when the temperature reached 100F. I first thought I would make the NYU two-melon chilled soup, but at the end, I tweaked the recipe a bit (organic strawberries were on sale, and I cannot resist a sale, ever) and turned it into a granita that I served as an appetizer. The children were thrilled to have "ices" for lunch, and I was happy I was feeding them pure fruit with fresh mint.

Here are some other food tips to keep cool:

- Rehydrate with coconut water, an excellent, no-sugar added, natural way of restoring the body with liquid AND electrolytes (yup, way better than Gatorade!).
- Munch on high-water content produce: cucumbers, radishes, watermelon, strawberries, melon and citrus are great to keep our bodies cool. They are in season, so they are at their tastiest, most nutritious and least expensive, plus since they contain fiber, vitamins and antioxidants (beta-carotene, vitamin C, mainly), they don't leave your body as fast as plain water does.
- Fresh mint; often used in aromatherapy, this herb's smell and taste are refreshing and soothing, plus it's full of antioxidants. Just throw it into all sorts of dishes: salads, desserts, smoothies, salsas, chilled soups, or make iced tea with them. Everything will taste fresher, brighter and will be more cooling. 
- Green tea and coffee: A great iced version of these could actually be helpful during these sunny days. It's been found, that the catechins (antioxidants) in green tea, protect the skin by absorbing the damaging UV rays. And, a researcher from the Harvard Medical School found that the caffeine in coffee might reduce the risk to develop skin cancer by stimulating UV-damaged cells to naturally die off. However, both tea and coffee are diuretics, so make sure you stay hydrated through other methods (like the ones suggested above).

You can use any kind of melon in this recipe, just make sure it's really ripe and sweet to avoid the need to add any sweeteners, although a couple of tablespoons of raw honey, agave or coconut nectar work well. I've tried granitas with watermelon, honeydew and "sugar kiss" melon. They were all delicious.

You can add strawberries, blueberries, and/or figs (I had some very ripe figs left from last week's post, and they added a wonderful sweetness and unctuous texture). Dried lavender, fresh mint, or rose water, they all worked great in different versions. I'm sure thyme, rosemary, hibiscus, lemon verbena and/or basil would be amazing additions as well. Citrus is key, and I threw in the zests for even more flavor. Have fun with it!

1 small honeydew melon, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
8 ounces (1 small container) organic strawberries, stemmed
2 limes, zest and juice
3 tablespoons fresh mint, or to taste

 Purée melon, strawberries,  lime juice and zest and mint in a blender or food processor (or immersion blender) until smooth.

Pour mixture into a 9x9 or 10x10-inch metal baking pan (DO NOT USE GLASS!) and place in the freezer. The pan's measurements don't have to be exact, you need something large (could be shallow), that fits into your freezer.

After 1 hour, run over the ice with the dents of a fork, scraping the ice to form flakes.

Repeat fork scraping after 1 and again after 2 hours to turn ice into the consistency of snowflakes or shaved ice.

Serve in individual bowls or glasses; or cover with plastic wrap and freeze for up to 3 days.

Makes 8-10 portions

Adapted from Gourmet

1 small very ripe cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1/2 very ripe honeydew melon, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh mint, minced, or to taste (plus additional sprigs for garnish)

In a food processor or blender, puree the cantaloupe and lemon juice (in batches if necessary), until very smooth. Pour into a bowl or large pitcher and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.
In the same processor or blender (no need to wash it), puree honeydew, lime juice and mint. Pour it into another bowl or pitcher and chill as well.
To serve, pour equal amounts of both purees at the same time into the serving bowls. Using two measuring cups (or the pitchers) is helpful to do this easily. Garnish the soup with mints sprigs and serve.
Serving variation: For a more modern look, place a round cookie cutter on the soup bowl and fill in the center (inside the cutter) with one of the soups and the outside of the cutter with the other one. Remove the cutter and the two circles will stay in place, making for a beautiful presentation.

Makes 6 servings

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