Purvis

C'mon heat: Give me a break

THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVERJune 15, 2011 

It's out there already. Leaning against my window at night. Whispering under my door in the morning. Hovering around my kitchen, sucking the enthusiasm out of every cooking project.

The heat is back.

I gather some of you consider summer a carefree time, all strappy sundresses and sun-flecked hair. For me, it's an endurance test, a staring contest with no winners, just survivors.

That's what happens when you grow up in a sub-tropical zone like South Florida without air conditioning. Yes, without air conditioning. Didn't have it in my parents' house. Didn't have it in the cheap apartments I could afford when I moved out.

That experience marked me forever as a fan of winter. I oppose heat the way some people boo opposing sports teams.

Oh, I know its ways, the little things it does to annoy me. The sweat that crawls under my hair like ant tracks, the humidity that fogs my glasses, the glare that bakes my brain.

And I fight back, in ways of my own.

Iced coffee

In a civilized world, we would all get afternoon siestas. Offices all over America would shut off the phones and power down the computers daily from 3 to 4 p.m. The people who sign my paycheck assure me this will not happen.

So I turn to iced coffee. Good iced coffee isn't just coffee that has been cooled and poured over ice. Hot-brewing brings out all the bitter notes, and I'm bitter enough in summer.

For good iced coffee, you have to cold-brew. Luckily, this requires no heat at all. Just combine 2/3 cup ground coffee and 3 cups cold water and let it stand at room temperature overnight. Strain it and refrigerate. When you need a fix, pour equal amounts of coffee mixture and water over ice. Add a splash of skim milk if you have it.

Mint syrup

Cocktail fans know the wonders of simple syrup. Since sugar doesn't dissolve well in cold liquids, you have to help it along by heating a mixture of half water and half sugar just until the sugar dissolves. It keeps forever in a bottle in the refrigerator.

But in summer, I go a step further: Take the syrup off the heat and add a couple of cups of mint leaves. Let it stand until cool, then strain. Use it in iced tea or as a shortcut to a mojito. You can even freeze it in an ice cream maker for mint sorbet.

Limes

Lots of limes. When the heat is pressing on my taste buds and my cooking enthusiasm flags, I make something with limes. A fresh-tomato salsa with lots of lime, or grilled fish marinated in limes and olive oil. Or I squeeze a whole lime into a glass of seltzer and ice with a little mint syrup.

Since limes get expensive in supermarkets, I grab five for $1 at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, or get a big bag at Costco for just a couple of bucks. I never seem to have enough of them in summer.

And finally, if all else fails, count the weeks until October. Sixteen of them? Oh, man, I'm going to need a lot of limes.

Find Charlotte Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis' blog at obsbite.blogspot.com, or follow her on Twitter @kathleenpurvis.

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