Last weekend I took a step, or three, out of my comfort zone. Having started our new meetup group, Rediscovering the Lost Art and Delights of Cooking, it was finally showtime to make the Lemonade Infusions.
The shopping was done: I stopped by Trader Joe’s for most of the supplies like basil, lemons, and water (Alex thought that bringing tap water would look too sketchy). Unfortunately, TJs doesn’t carry posh items like dried lavender or hibiscus tea, so we had to make a special trip to Whole Paycheck.
I messaged the meetup attendees asking the last-minute flakes to RSVP no, so we wouldn’t wait for them and provided my phone number in case people got lost.
So, how did my first ever in-person community event go?
Considering it was the first foray into meeting strangers on the Internet and playing with our food together, I’d say it went surprisingly well. More than one person showed up, which was all I hoped for.
This post is the second in a new series of “How To Build Community” posts where I plan on chronicling my adventures trying to build a real-life, in-person community around home cooking and the pleasures of making food. My hope is you can glean information to start a group in your neighborhood and learn from my mistakes (Oh yes, because I’ve already made quite a few). Because food is too fun and delightful to keep to yourself!
Check out my tips to start your own meetup. And if you live in the Bay Area, please join us at Rediscovering the Lost Art and Delights of Cooking for some fun cooking projects.
First, what’s a lemonade infusion?
When you make lemonade from scratch, you usually squeeze lemon juice into a glass and add simple syrup to sweeten it. Well, if you make your own syrup, then you get the chance to infuse your simple syrup with herbs and flowers to give the lemonade a zing.
How Did the Setup Go?
One smart thing I did was practice at home first. It reminded me of all the supplies I would need which was important because I wouldn’t have the convenience of my well-stocked kitchen at arm’s length. It also supplied some pretty pictures for the Meetup event page.
As mentioned in the How to Build Community With: Meetups article, I chose to host the event at our community garden. It provided a lovely background of vegetables and flowers. It also has a lavender bush which supplied “free” lavender flowers for decorations!
Ingredients and Equipment
In case you want to run the , here are the supplies I provided:
What We Bought At the Store
- Hibiscus tea
- Dried lavender
- Bottled fizzy water
- Bottled water
- Goat cheese
What We Brought From Our Kitchen
- White tablecloth
- Mason jars/glasses
- Gas (butane) canisters
- Copper tiny saucepan
- Paper towels
- Measuring cups
- Compost bag (for trash)
- Lemon juicer
- Stirring implement
Here’s how I set up the equipment and ingredients.
I committed to bringing rosemary, basil, mint, and hibiscus flowers. Additionally, I asked attendees to pitch in any herbs or flowers that they wanted to try.
As a result, Zheng brought coffee and Sichuan peppercorns, which blew my mind. Katharina brought a fruit salad with pineapple, papaya, and mango. Leigh thoughtfully gifted us a bunch of beautiful irises. And Doreen brought her lovely smiles and lots of useful tips on how to juice lemons.
Just like that, we were ready to start making lemonade!
Another surprise: it turns out it’s not totally intuitive to everybody how to use a citrus fruit juicer. Since I’ve been juicing oranges since I was a wee lil’ kid to make orange juice, I assumed everybody uses a manual juicer. In fact, I have two different models at home. So, it was a rewarding experience to see other people’s joy when they learned a new cooking skill.
Two Tips to Improve Your Juicing Experience
- Roll the lemon first to break the cells. It softens the outer peel to make it easier to squeeze the last drops of juice out.
- Zap the lemon in the microwave for 30 seconds to achieve the same softening and cell damage (the lazy person’s method).
The Experimental Infusions We Created
Sure, we could create plain ol’ lemonade like what you buy in the store. But where’s the fun in that?
We decided to take the road less traveled and play with our food.
With the creative ingredients on hand, these are the adventurous infusion blends we tried:
- Lavender + Basil
- Sichuan peppercorn + crushed pineapple
- Rosemary + mint
- Papaya + rosemary
Ratings and Reviews
Lavender + basil
Very subtle and floral. Despite adding 4 leaves of basil that Leigh chiffonaded (is that the past tense of chiffonade?), you only got a faint hint of basil. Overall, it was pleasant and fragrant but the lemon overpowered the lavender and basil flavors. Reducing down further or adding more lavender and basil would have solved the problem.
Sichuan peppercorn + crushed pineapple
My first reaction: “This is weird.”
But it’s weird in a good way. Normally, Sichuan peppercorns don’t pack much flavor or heat. Instead, they create a numbing sensation in your mouth. We weren’t sure what to expect, so we didn’t add a lot. The Sichuan peppercorns mostly made your mouth tingle a bit. The pineapple offered a nice sweetness in contrast to the sour lemon juice.
Kat and Zheng mentioned they didn’t taste any Sichuan peppercorn, so your mileage may vary, especially since Zheng admitted to loving very spicy food and Kat just ate Indian food. So, their sense of taste might have been duller than the rest of ours.
Rosemary + mint
This was hands down everybody’s favorite. Alex proposed it as a very classic and household favorite herb combo…and he was right. It was refreshing and “herby” enough to delight everybody’s palates. I suspect that rosemary + mint + lavender would have also been great. It’s on the list to try for next time!
Rosemary + mint would probably make a fantastic marinade over steak or lamb too.
Papaya + rosemary
This combo was the stinkiest and the least liked. Kat said, “this smells like feet.” The papaya doesn’t provide the most pleasant fragrance. Boiling it with sugar and rosemary made it even more pungent. I would not recommend this combo.
How Much Did This Event Cost?
For entertaining 6 people, the whole event could be done as cheaply as under $15. I didn’t use the hibiscus tea, so the $5.49 purchase was not necessary. Ditto with the cheese and crackers — nice to have but not necessary.
For anybody very pedantic about budgeting, I didn’t count the kitchen equipment I already owned like butane gas canisters. Then again, I didn’t use up all the basil and other herbs, so I think the estimate is about right.
Lemonade Infusion Costs
|Total with extras||23.66|
Now, It’s Your Turn. How Do You Make Lemonade Infusions At Home?
Make lemonade from scratch! Even better, make your simple syrup from scratch and infuse it with herbs and flowers to give the lemonade a zing.
- 1 part Water
(1 cup is a good starting point)
- 1 part Sugar
(Supposedly you need 1 part sugar. But when using 1 cup of water, I like to stick to 1 tablespoon of sugar. We could all use a little less sugar in our lives.)
- 1 Lemon
(Fresh preferably )
(Dried flowers work better. Ensure they are edible.)
Boil the sugar and water together.
Add your herbs and/or flowers to the boil.
Let the herbs and/or flowers steep for 10 minutes. Remove and discard.
Squeeze lemon juice into a glass. Add water.
Pour in some infused simple syrup until you get the sweetness you want. Stir gently.
What kinds of herbs and flowers can you use?
- And any herbs or flowers you love. Plus, you can combine them like mint + lavender.
How can you make the lemonade extra fancy?
- Add ice cubes
- Rim the glass with sugar
- Use sparkling water
- Garnish with mint and blueberries
- Spike it with some vodka or tequila.
- Enjoy it while grilling this weekend!