Sitting in the way way back of their old, clunky station wagon, I watched the world go by. The best was when we’d come to a stop at an intersection with an extra long light. Green … then yellow … then red. Red lights, I’d come to understand, made for some of the best world-watching around.
I waved at the people riding in the cars behind us and found nothing particularly awkward about it … I’d just keep right on smiling and waving until the light changed again. I’d watch families cross the street together, dressed in their Sunday best and holding hands as they scurried down the road toward church. You could hear the church bells even above the car’s radio – another perk of being in the way way back. I loved their happy sound … it always seemed like someone had just gotten married. I’d see couples arguing and couples laughing, people watering their gardens and watching cartoons inside their living rooms, dogs being walked and kids learning how to ride their bikes. You could see it all from back there, the whole world.
One day, just as the car was taking off again (the light having turned green once more), I caught glimpse of a large amber-colored jar of something perched on a front porch stoop. It looked funny sitting there all by itself.
“Wait! No, hold on! What’s in that jar there on those people’s porch?” I asked.
“Oh that? That’s just some sun tea.
I used to call it “lonely potion.” I’d stand all barefooted and wide-eyed with my nose pressed against the kitchen window and wonder why that tea had to sit outside. It looks lonely out there all by itself … shouldn’t it be in the fridge with the rest of the drinks? I’d wonder, to no one in particular. Some questions, I understood, were better kept inside one’s head, so as to not raise concern from others. I was sure they’d think me so silly for caring about the sweet tea’s feelings. But still … it really did look lonely out there …
In fact, until a friend’s grandmother pointed out the magic of sun tea to me, I never touched it, instead preferring to whet my whistle in the summertime with more exciting things like lemonade, Dr. Pepper, and Coke Cows – a delicious combination of milk and Coke that we used to love as kids in Kentucky (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it). One summer day however, a good friend’s grandmother explained to me just how special a good batch of sun tea can be, and I’ve regarded it highly ever since.
The sun’s rays dance around in that tea and bring it to life in a way that no kettle has quite managed to figure out how to do just yet … There’s a little bit of magic in that tea. It tastes better when the sun gets in there. Don’t worry, Lauren. It’s not lonely, it’s just special.
The warm, sunny glow that works its magic on pitchers of amber-hued tea in windowsills and on back porches across the small corner of Appalachia where I was raised is such a welcomed sight these days – rare, but wonderful. I saw a large pitcher of tea sitting outside my neighbor’s house here in Indiana recently, and it was instantly transporting, just the sight of it was. It’s that Southern archetypal image of tea steeping away on a windowsill … sun beams streaming through the glass pitcher, gently warming the contents within … it brings an easy smile to my face. It represents comfort to me, and home.
I was invited by the lovely Saghar Setareh of the blog, Lab Noon to participate in a Virtual Midsummer Potluck for Peace (#virtualmidsummerpotluck4peace), in which several of us food bloggers share a recipe that, in one way or another, reminds us of home. The idea is grounded in the simple, yet important notion that people from all corners of this world – with dramatically different tastes, experiences, views, and backgrounds – can come together to collaborate and share harmoniously. Peace, appreciation, cross-cultural respect, and a celebration of our differences. These are things that are central to my own belief system, so I am very happy to have been invited to share a recipe as a part of this virtual picnic. For all of the recipes included, check out the link: http://www.labnoon.com/en/2017/06/19/virtual-midsummer-potluck-for-peace/
The Chasing Summer
When I think of summer and potlucks, my mind goes right to sweet tea. I don’t think I ever attended a potluck in the summertime growing up in Virginia at which a big container of tea wasn’t present. It was usually Lipton, and it was typically sweet. Ubiquitous. Reliable. Predictable, like ham biscuits and deviled eggs. It was just always there. I haven’t ever been much of a sweet tea drinker myself, but the sight of it, sun tea in particular, is so nostalgically wonderful to me. There’s something comforting about it. I even shared a photo of sun tea recently on my Instagram feed, and several people commented on how it reminded them of childhood. I just love that. Clearly I’m not alone in the sentiment behind this post.
The (non-alcoholic) drink recipe that I’m sharing here this week is one version of sweet tea that I can’t seem to get enough of lately, as I’ve now made it several times and never seem to tire of it. I was initially attracted to it because of the unusual addition of balsamic vinegar, which I will admit hit me as a little strange when I first read the ingredient list. However, not one to turn down a new “strange” recipe, I gave it a go and have really enjoyed it for the past several weeks. If you can imagine a fruity, lightly sweetened, frothy and frosty spiced chai – then you’re mind is on the right track. The original recipe calls for passion fruit juice or puree, but I find that difficult to come by, so I swap in dragon fruit puree instead (my grocery store always has dragon fruit this time of year, and the juice is pretty easy to find as well).
Lacy Hawkins, bartender at the NoMad in NYC and creator of the original recipe, said it herself, “I love this drink so much that it seems like my glass is always empty. [The balsamic vinegar] adds wonderful acidity to the drink and creates a caramelized finish.”
(RECIPE SERVES 1 BUT IS EASILY MULTIPLIED FOR A GATHERING)
4 ounces Chai Sun Tea (see below for how-to)
3/4 ounce dragon fruit puree or juice (you can sub passion fruit juice)
1/2 ounce sweetened condensed milk
1/4-ounce balsamic vinegar
Ice cubes, plus crushed ice for serving
In a cocktail shaker, combine the chai sun tea, passion fruit puree, condensed milk and vinegar. Fill the shaker with ice cubes and shake well. Strain into a chilled, crushed-ice filled collins glass.
To make sun tea: Place 2 chai tea bags and 12 ounces cold water in a glass jar. Cover and leave in a sunny, warm place for 1 hour. Discard the tea bags and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Makes 12 ounces.