All the recent talk about taxing sugary sodas (California is proposing a one-cent soda tax; in New York there's talk of an all-out ban on the stuff) has turned a spotlight on some harsh nutrition facts: According to a recent article in the New York Times, downing a 20-ounce bottle of coke a day will set you back an extra 50,000 calories—and packing on 20 pounds—a year!
That's enough to give me pause before I kick back another cold wet one. But sometimes just plain old water doesn't do it. So I've been getting more creative, and lacing my H20 with sugar-free flavorings. Full disclosure, these aren't my original ideas; I cribbed them from a recent trip to Asia, where I sipped a number of tasty non-alcoholic beverages. I didn't know the language well enough to ask for the recipes, but I took notes—and even drew little pictures—of what I thought went into the drinks. Since I've been home, I've done some experimenting and this is what I plan to sip and serve at parties all summer long:
DIY ginger ale One of the first things that greeted me and my husband at our hotel in Melaka, Malaysia, was this incredibly delicious ginger drink, made with fresh ginger and water. They may have laced it with a bit of sugar, but I don't miss the sugar when I make it.
My version: In a pot, simmer 1 cup of peeled, chopped fresh ginger root with 2 cups of water; simmer for about 5 minutes. Cool, and strain the liquid into tall glasses filled with ice. Add a slice of lemon or lime, if you like. Or chill the strained liquid in the fridge and keep a pitcher ready to pour throughout the summer.
Sort of sangria In our travels, we were lucky enough to be invited to a wonderful dinner in someone's home, where a pitcher of fruit-filled water was placed on the table. We were all given stemmed glasses with a tablespoon plunked in it. Then the cool drink was poured, and out came all these little balls of fruit—delicious, naturally sweet fruit that made the water taste like nothing I ever had before. When the drink was finished, you scooped out the fruit and ate it. Wonderful!
My version: I believe my hosts flavored their water with lychee, which isn't that easy to find over here. So I improvised—a lot. I took my trusty melon-baller (grateful to finally find a use for it!), and scooped out tons of little honey dew melon balls. Then I put them on a wax paper lined tray and froze them. After chilling a pitcher of water in the fridge, I added the fruity ice cubes. They looked very much like the lychee-laced drink we had in Malaysia, and as they melted into the drink, gave it a fresh, natural sweetness. You could also try this with frozen strawberries or raspberries.
Natural soda Menus over there were filled with fruity drink concoctions. One day we were having lunch with friends and someone ordered a drink that was simply a fruity purée mixed with water. The purée was at the bottom of the glass and the clear water on top, so it looked very pretty.
My version: Whir up any fruit you like in the blender—peaches, berries, watermelon—and stir a giant tablespoon or more into a glass of bubbly water. I'm partial to raspberry.
If you have some soda-free drink recipes, please send them along. It's going to be a long summer, and the more refreshing libations the better.