Autumn is comin’ in hot over here on Lake of the Woods. We’ve had an incredibly dry summer, which means the leaves started falling agonizingly early. By the end of August we already had a good coating of leaves on the ground. It’s also gotten pretty quiet. There’s a considerable drop-off in lake traffic after the September long weekend, particularly during the week. There’s a bit of a commuter “rush” from 3 to 5 pm, but otherwise it’s pretty dead. The sounds of the birds have also changed. The lovely Disney birds have seemed to flock off, and all that’s left are the crows. So it’s feeling very Game of Thrones around here.
The days are also growing shorter. It’s dark by around 8, which means you need to plan your day if you don’t want to travel by boat in the dark. (Read here about how bears seem to pop out of no where.) In comparison, we can usually get at least some light until around 10 pm during June and July. Which is fun, but truthfully, I find it massively disruptive to my sleep schedule. Our winter days are short, and the nights long, but dammit, do I sleep well.
Despite everything screaming winter is coming, I’m still in complete denial that time is running out on summer. So let’s knock back a few of these Summer Thyme Gin and Sodas until we forget that summer is basically over. It’s my summertime take on the classic Gin and Soda.
The first hit of flavour comes from a thyme-infused simple syrup. Simple syrups are really just, well, a sugar syrup. They’re a brilliant way to add the plain sweetness of sugar, without any graininess. And just like the name implies, they’re simple to make. Never buy simple syrup! To make, you simply bring to low boil equal parts sugar and water. Allow all the sugar to completely dissolve, and remove from heat to cool. That’s it. To kick things up a notch in terms of flavour, you can throw in any type of flavouring agent you’d like– rosemary, mint, orange peel, black pepper, lemongrass, fennel, bay leaf, clove, chili. The options really are endless. For heartier additions, like peppercorns and cloves, I’d let them simmer as the sugar dissolves. Herbs, on the other hand, are more delicate and are better suited to infusing away from direct heat.
The infused simple syrup will last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months in the fridge– it depends on the infusion. This thyme-infused simple syrup should last at least a month, but if it starts to discolour or the smell changes, toss it and start again. And don’t limit your simple syrups to just cocktails. Although simple syrups really shine in cold drinks because the sugar is already dissolved, they also work in hot drinks, particularly the infusions. Replace the sugar for a chili-infused simple syrup the next time you make hot cocoa. Or pour a bit of cinnamon simple syrup in your next coffee. Or drizzle some fennel simple syrup over your grapefruit in the morning. Simple syrups truly are a bartending staple, but they have their place in the kitchen too.
Now that you’ve got that batch of simple syrup, grab yourself a big bag of limes, a serious handful of fresh thyme, some San Pellegrino, and, of course, some gin. I’m a bit of a Hendrick’s girl, myself. But whatever floats your boat. I like a big, beautiful, bold drink, so pour in your simple syrup, a few sprigs of thyme, and a wedge or two of lime and gently muddle. Don’t pulverize them! Muddling will release the lime juice, as well as the oils from the thyme and the lime. Pulverizing may result in a bitterness, so just take it easy and aim for releasing the lime juice and bruising the herbs. Add your gin and lime juice, and fill with ice. Finally, top with San Pellegrino, give it a good stir, and garnish with more thyme — everyone needs more thyme, duh — and a wedge of lime.
You could use any kind of fizzy water; I like the taste of San Pellegrino myself. You could even use plain water or seltzer, but may I suggest a pinch of salt? Wait, what? I know, I was a bit confused too. Here’s a quick breakdown: carbonated water is any water with which carbon dioxide has been added– this makes it fizzy. Two interchangeable terms are sparkling water and soda water. From here, the water can be plain (it’s fizzy, but just plain old tasteless water), referred to as seltzer. It can be artificially flavoured/mineralized (it’s fizzy, and it tastes slightly salty), referred to as club soda. Or it can be mineral water, which can either be naturally still (no bubbles) or slightly sparkling (fizzy). Mineral water comes from a mineral spring, and the water naturally contains minerals. San Pellegrino and Perrier are the two most popular brands of mineral water, and while the minerals are naturally occurring, the carbonation is added after the fact. Tonic water isn’t water at all and actually contains massive amounts of sugar. If you ever spill it on your floor and forget about it, you’ll soon realize. So if I’m out of club soda or mineral water, I like to add just a pinch of salt to bring out the flavours.
And that’s it, folks. A simple drink filled with sun soaked thyme and fresh, bright lime juice. The perfect gin and soda to try to turn back time and drown your sorrows. Now go forth and forget it’s gonna snow in a month. Cheers!
Have a bunch of extra thyme on your hands? Whip up this thyme-infused gin and soda and get the party started!
Rinse thyme and set aside.
Bring to a low boil, over medium-high heat, sugar and water. Simmer until sugar has completely dissolved, about 1 minute, stirring as needed.
Add thyme to sugar-water mixture and remove from heat. The thyme will steep in the sugar water as it cools. Once cool, strain into a glass jar and store in the fridge.
Pour 1/2 oz (or as desired) simple syrup into a highball cocktail glass. Add 1 wedge of lime and 2 sprigs of thyme.
Using a wooden muddler, or the bottom of a wooden utensil, gently but firmly press the muddler into the ingredients in the bottom of the glass and give a quarter turn. Repeat until the lime has released much of its juice and you can smell the fragrance of the herbs and lime. Set aside the muddler.
Add 2 oz of gin and the juice of one whole lime. Fill with ice and top with San Pellegrino (or another plain or carbonated water of choice), and stir well. Garnish with the remaining wedge of lime and sprig of thyme.
"When a mysterious illness sidelined my original plans in life, I packed up and moved home to Kenora, Ontario, Canada. With little money, the inability to work, and a whole lot to figure out, I moved into my family’s cabin on Lake of the Woods. So these are the moments, the recipes, the occasional heartache, and the adventures of a life starting over on the little island between Fox and Hare." Between Fox and Hare is the on-going saga of a 20-something Canadian whose heart is anchored in Lake of the Woods. With her love of all things wild, Alyssa chronicles her journey learning and developing her skills in hunting, fishing, foraging, and outdoor cooking. Providing culinary tips and recipes, a peek into the Northern lifestyle, and the insight of a life lived with a chronic illness, Alyssa tells her story of putting back the pieces against the backdrop of the beautiful Boreal forest. Alyssa can be found during the open-water season on the unnamed island between Fox and Hare with her two dogs, Storm and Lily. She spends the frozen months in the little city of Kenora, mostly in the kitchen, and enjoys winter hiking and ice-fishing excursions when the temperature hasn’t dropped below -30°C.