At my alma mater, UC Santa Cruz, which divides its schoolyear into quarters, summer vacation extends through late September. High school friends who left California to attend college on the East Coast would reluctantly say their goodbyes come August, and I would secretly gloat about having a full month left to goof off while they undoubtedly slaved away in sweltering weather on the other side of the continent.
But they would be the ones gloating come the following May, when they came skipping home, their hard work done for the school year. They lounged on the beaches of SoCal as I scrambled to finish papers on the Italian Renaissance and cram random dates and names into my head, resentfully tucked inside a dark library, glumly staring out the window as the warm sun filtered through the redwoods outside.
Only the sun didn’t always filter through. Northern California is notorious for its June gloom, and here in San Francisco, the gloom often lasts through August-sometimes even September. Our summer doesn’t occur until late September and October, which allows us to repress our memories of the previous grey months and gloat to the rest of the Northern Hemisphere.
But, like all things, Indian Summer has its downsides.
With Thanksgiving a mere month away, The Pumpkin Dessert Window is closing in swiftly. And everyone knows that it is tackier to serve pumpkin desserts after Thanksgiving than it is to wear white shoes after Labor Day. (Or is it white tights? It is way too hot for any color tights around here. Do ladies even wear white tights? Maybe it should now be considered gauche to wear hoochie cut-off shorts after Labor Day; though I personally find those inappropriate any time of the year).
Tights and hoochie shorts aside, I’ve had a butternut squash sitting in my cupboard for the past two weeks. I keep looking at the weather forecast hoping for fog and a crisp breeze to make turning on the oven attractive, but sun icons and highs in the 70s keep staring back. (Around here, that’s really warm!) I have a pumpkin pie recipe to perfect! And maple walnut bars to bake! And bacon apple scones to tweak! I can’t be having this too-hot-to-run-the-oven-weather going on for much longer, or I’ll miss the pumpkin dessert window altogether. In a panic, I’ll try to bake six pies for Thanksgiving, and end up hating the entire holiday due to round-the-clock-baking-induced stress.
With the first crisp days of what I thought was the coming Fall, I changed out the menu at work. I swapped the honey-yogurt panna cotta for a pumpkin cheesecake, and the raspberry-clad tres leches cake for caramelized apple bread pudding. I tweaked (the recipes, that is) and obsessed, and got them just right, but now all we can sell are banana empanadas and guanabana ice cream. I can’t blame the customers; it’s too hot for spices and warm puddings.
And it’s too hot for the lovely fall produce we’ve been receiving in our boxes: collard greens, sweet potatoes, apples, broccoli…
So to procrastinate cooking unappealing produce, I’ve been mixing up this icy cocktail-perfect for these summer days-which draws inspiration from a drink they used to serve at The Alembic, a phenomenal whiskey bar in the Haight district of SF. Their Mediterranean Homesick Blues muddled whole cardamom pods with simple syrup, gin, lemon juice and rosewater, and got topped with ice and prosecco. The bartender told me it was to be a sophisticated take on the lemon drop. But they have since (inexplicably) removed it from their menu; thus I have been forced to recreate it at home.
I use agave as the sweetener because it is already in liquid form and it imparts a slightly warm yet neutral flavor to the drink. But you could also use simple syrup (preferably made with organic sugar) or honey dissolved in a bit of hot water. I found that I prefer the drink made with lime juice-it seems to make the flavors pop more-and with sparkling water in lieu of prosecco, as I felt the prosecco drowns out the other flavors.
I call this the Indian Summer Blues in homage to The Alembic’s late cocktail, to embody my inner despondent feelings re: poor baking weather, and because the flavors used-cardamom, lime and rosewater-frequently pop up in Indian cuisine. (Technically, the concoction probably tastes more Middle-Eastern, but The Middle Eastern Summer Blues didn’t quite have the same ring.)
So if you, too, are suffering from the Indian Summer Blues, open a window, slip on a pair of hoochie shorts, stick your crucifers in the crisper, and mix yourself up one of these refreshing beverages.
And if you can muster the energy, gloat.
Indian Summer Blues
Inspired by Alembic’s late Mediterranean Homesick Blues
As mentioned above, I use organic agave nectar to sweeten this drink, as it is already in liquid form and it imparts a slightly warm, yet neutral, flavor to the drink, but you could use simple syrup (preferably made with organic sugar) or honey dissolved in a bit of hot water. There are many excellent gins on the market: Hendrick’s, No. 209, and Junipero (made by the local Anchor Brewery) being my favorites thus far; but New Amsterdam also makes a good, inexpensive version. My bottle of rosewater has been hanging around my cupboard for several years; if you have a fresh bottle, which may be more potent, start with the smaller amount, then add more, if needed, to taste. The cardamom flavor comes out more the longer you take to sip it; you can optionally steep the cracked pods in the gin mixture for several minutes before adding the ice and sparkling water.
3-4 green cardamom pods
2 teaspoons agave nectar
juice of half a lime, plus a few thin slices for garnish
3 tablespoons gin
1/2 – 1 teaspoon rosewater
Put the pods in a dram-type glass (about 1 1/2 cup capacity) and give them a gentle crush with a muddle stick or other blunt object. You just want to crack them; pulverizing them will result in lots of small, floating particles that will unpleasantly get stuck in your teeth. Add the agave, lime juice, gin and rosewater, and stir to dissolve the agave. (Optionally let the mixture sit for 5 minutes or longer to infuse with the cardamom.) Add the ice, then top with sparkling water and a slice or two of lime, and serve.