Friday links

I don’t care what the calendar says, it is SUMMER! My running training has been a struggle from the sun, heat and humidity. I don’t want to cook or eat anything warm. And all I want to do on my day off is grab a drink with an umbrella and sit by the pool (because the sand at the beach is already too hot!). In honor of the warmer months, this Friday links is dedicated to summer and vacations.

This week I took a staycation to Miami Beach and watch the Miami Marlins at their new stadium. While on the beach I went to Yardbird, an amazing Southern restaurant named one of the best new restaurants by the James Beard Foundation.

Amazing food and drink from Yardbird, all made from scratch (including condiments and pickling food!). Clockwise from top: “Porkchop” drink, po’ boy, mac ‘n’ cheese, blackberry bourbon lemonade, vegetarian salads and melon soup, biscuits.

What are you most looking forward to this summer?

Summer cocktails

The hottest trend I’ve noticed this summer is flavoredĀ drinks (both with and without alcohol) using fresh ingredients in creative ways. It can be something as simple as lemonade with tea or a take on punch. These are cocktails with a surprising addition or two.

Spicy pineapple and cucumber agua fresca

I can only look at so many refreshing drinks without developing a thirst to quench. I picked one of the many drinks I’ve seen, but have my eye on more to make throughout the warm months, especially as I get summer produce.

The drink that caught my eye the most features cucumber, a chile and pineapple. It seemed like an interesting combination of flavors and very refreshing. It’s from the Vegetarian Times article “Mix and Mingle” in the July/August 2011 issue. I couldn’t find the recipes online, but if you see the magazine at your newsstand or library, it’s worth picking it up for the drinks.

Spicy pineapple and cucumber agua fresca

Serves 4


  • 1 small English cucumber
  • 1/2 Serrano chile, seeds and veins removed
  • 2 1/2 cups pineapple juice
  • 7 tablespoons light agave nectar
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) vodka or tequilla
  • Frozen pineapple, cut (optional, but I recommend; they will be like ice cubes and fill with liquor for a treat at the end)


  1. Puree cucumber and chile in blender until smooth. Pour the mixture through a strainer, pressing on solids to extract all the liquid. You should have about 1 cup juice.
  2. Pour the cucumber juiceĀ  into a large pitcher and stir in pineapple juice, agave nectar, lime juice and cayenne pepper.
  3. Pour 2 ounces vodka or tequila over ice or the frozen pineapple cubes in a glass. Top with 1 cup pineapple mixture. Stir and serve.

Summer cocktail recipe resources

What have you been drinking this summer?

Easy, festive summer holiday treats

It’s Memorial Day weekend, the official start to summer! Hope you all have outdoor plans and a long weekend in your future. If your plans involve bringing food to an event, the last thing you want is spending a lot of time preparing a hot dish. I offer a few quick and delicious foods that are sure to be a hit.

Basil, mozzarella and tomato skewers

Basil, mozzarella and tomato on a toothpick. Instant appetizer!

While on my honeymoon, I had these at a bed and breakfast we were staying at. I had never seen them before, and it was such a simple idea with a popular combination of foods. Just put a basil leaf, mozzarella cube and cherry or grape tomato on a toothpick. If you wish, sprinkle salt and pepper and a little olive oil. The green doesn’t exactly scream America, but it’s darn good and what I’m taking to my Memorial Day potluck.

Festive strawberry

Festive strawberry. Image from Pinterest and Tumblr

I came across this on Pinterest and love the color and food. I don’t know the original source of this recipe, as I traced it back to a person who got the picture from her sister. It is a strawberry dipped in white chocolate dipped in blue sugar sprinkles. For a healthier and less-sweet version, I could see the strawberry being dipped in vanilla or Greek yogurt and possibly blueberry jam.

Patriotic parfait

My friend Kim brought a wonderful parfait to a 4th of July potluck last year. It had blueberries and strawberries in low fat vanilla yogurt all in a stars-and-stripes bowl (bonus points!) and granola on the side to add on top. It was interactive, healthy, patriotic and tasty.

How will you spend the long weekend? What food and drink to you plan on celebrating with?

Summer reflections

As another summer begins, I’m reminded of my youth.

Growing up in Iowa, the summer meant longer days and being able to be outside anytime the mood struck, unlike the cold winter with its short days. Back then, I didn’t have a care in the world, and possibilities were endless.

Jason and Valerie in Chicago, circa 1990

My brother, Jason, and I in Chicago around 1990.

My days were filled with almost-daily trips to the swimming pool, tennis and golf lessons, riding my bike around my neighborhood to meet up with friends (sometimes biking “too far from home,” which my parents always found out about), picnics and running lemonade stands.

When I was in high school and college, the biking turned to driving, sports lessons turned to summer classes and the lemonade stands turned to a grocery store job.

Despite the responsibilities of a teenager, I still loved summer. Yes, school and work took up some of my time, but most of my time was left for me. I loved waking up and not knowing what to expect from the day. My friends and I would gather somewhere and plan our day or night. Many free days were filled at the Coralville Lake camping or hanging out at the beach. Nights often were for hanging out at a friends house, the bowling alley or an event, if any were going on.

I loved going to downtown Iowa City. The electic mix of shops and restaurant and (when I got older) bars seemed a little different every time I went. Downtown Iowa City is an open pedestrian mall where people can walk around and, in the summer, something is always happening. My friends and I would go there and always run into people we knew. The breeze was always perfect, the possibilities endless and the street food warm and filling after a long day of shopping or night at the bar.

In college, I would take advantage of my time off and go on trips. I still love to travel, but even then knew to take advantage of having more time.

Making way for ducklings and Val in Boston Garden, summer 2002.

It’s a little different now that I live in a place that only has two seasons: hot and hotter. In Florida, summer means uncomfortable heat and humidity and hurricane season, but I try and make the most of it.

This is the last summer of my 20s, and a milestone birthday is near, so I’ve been reflecting on my youth. The first six months I was 29 I spent in denial and fighting my 30s. At the six-month mark, I let go and accepted it. The closer it gets to my birthday, the more I realize that, although I loved my youth and adult life to this point, I honestly am happy where I am. All those summers made me who I am and got me to this summer. I plan to close out my 20s with a great summer I will always remember.