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Refreshing garden drinks

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(ARA) - With warmer than average temperatures the norm for much of the country, people are looking for new ways to cool off. Nothing is more cool and refreshing than sipping on an ice-cold drink while enjoying a meal made on the grill or resting in the comfort of a hammock. The garden can hold the key to some tempting new drinks and offers a chance to perk up those old stand-bys.

Herbs
Herbs can offer a great way to "spice" up those summer drinks. Go beyond mint juleps and mojitos to find a world filled with herbs. Basil, rosemary and even lemongrass make excellent companions for summery drinks and add an unexpected twist. Use rosemary and raspberries in lemonade or basil and strawberries in your mojito. Add cilantro and cayenne pepper to a glass of tomato juice or try adding fresh lemon grass to ginger ale.

The best part about using fresh herbs is you can enjoy them all year round, not just during the summer. By using small pots or a kit like the Miracle-Gro Culinary Herb Kit, most herbs can easily be grown indoors year-round right on the kitchen window ledge. Sunlight, good soil and water are all that you need to have a taste of summer in your meals and beverages every season.

Fruit
Summer is a great time to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables - especially fruit. From berries to melons, the garden offers a wide selection of refreshing fruits each summer. Nearly any fruit can be turned into a drink or used to accentuate the flavor of lemonade, sangria, tea or a cocktail. Whether grapes and berries are crushed, cooked into a simple-syrup with sugar and water or used fresh from the vine, they make a wonderful base to build upon. Let raspberries be an inspiration for punches and use cherries to enliven a smoothie.

Melons bring the flavor of summer to beverages as well. Freeze melon balls and use as ice cubes for a white wine spritzer or a glass of soda. Try blending watermelon with lemon vodka and some lime juice for a surprising summer martini or use a melon puree to freshen up a glass of sparkling water or ginger ale.

Tomatoes
Gardens around the country are overflowing with ripe tomatoes at this time of year and, although they taste great alone or in a salad, try drinking them for a little variety. Why not make your own garden-fresh tomato juice or Bloody Mary? Chop up some ripe tomatoes and throw them in a large pot on the stove. Add onions, celery, salt, pepper and a little sugar. Cook on a simmer until ingredients are soft. Cool and use a hand blender or food processor to blend into a smooth texture. Poor over the rocks and add a few drops of your favorite hot sauce or a shot of vodka. Whether you add alcohol or not, you can always add a fun twist by using splash of lemon juice or Worcestershire sauce. Spice it up with a touch of horseradish or a little wasabi.

The garden offers up a wealth of delicious fruits, vegetables and herbs each summer. Whether you grow these goodies yourself or purchase them at a local farmers market, let nature's bounty enhance your beverages and refresh your spirit.

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