My Friend Julia and Thai Basil Watermelon Margaritas
I never had an imaginary friend as a kid. I waited until I was in my thirties, then I found you.
Oh the stories we could tell; the secrets we’ve shared. You’ve never looked over my shoulder as many cooks claim. You’re always there by my side more like a sister than an instructor, goading me to flip my omelet with confidence, “swirl, swirl, flip.” You can be fanatical at times about technique, but our time together is seldom focused on the importance of peeling tomatoes. Instead with that signature warbling voice you encourage me to maintain my “what-the-hell attitude.”
You’ve seen me at my worst and inspired me to be my best. Remember when I made those tart cherry streusel muffins and they stuck to the pans in spite of the generous amount of butter I used to grease the pan? If not for you I might have thrown a pity party for myself and dumped the whole lot into the trash, but you were there encouraging me,
“Of course I made many boo-boos. At first this broke my heart, but then I came to understand that learning how to fix one’s mistakes, or live with them, was an important part of becoming a cook.”
So I carved each one out of the pan with a big spoon, placed it in a bowl next to a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream and drizzled the whole mess with some fresh spun cherry compote. “Bon appétit!” I declared as I presented our guests with their bowls of “Tart Cherry Crumble a la Mode.” My breakfast plans for the following morning were shot, but that night we enjoyed one of the best desserts of the summer.
Or how about that beautiful blueberry cake that I proudly shared with my husband’s family before we were married only to discover that what looked so lovely and golden on the outside was in fact soggy in the middle? I was tripping all over myself apologizing for the undercooked, imperfect fruits of my labor, even though the edges of the cake were not only edible but delicious, when you whispered,
“I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make…Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile…then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile.”
I grit my teeth more than most people know, because I’m not ready to stop experimenting in the kitchen we share. And you always remind me when we’re alone together, cooking at the beautiful stove that I named after you,
“Learn how to cook—try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”
Last night, in honor of your 100th birthday, I considered making sole meuniere or boeuf bourguignon. Instead, I settled on a refreshing batch of watermelon margaritas. I could hear you whispering in my ear as I slid the fussy little watermelon balls onto the small wooden skewers,
“It’s so beautifully arranged…you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.”
Yes, my fingers were all over those watermelon balls, but I was trying a new recipe and having fun.
P.S. Thank you for pulling me together last week when I sliced my thumb on the mandolin. It’s healing slowly, but I remain fearless in the kitchen. See you soon!
Thai Basil Watermelon Margaritas
1 cup of 1-inch watermelon chunks or balls (optional)
1 cup watermelon puree (about 3 cups of watermelon)
4 ounces tequila
1 ounce triple sec or Cointreau
1 ½ ounces Thai Basil Syrup (recipe below) or simple syrup
juice of one lime, plus a few lime wedges to garnish
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
THAI BASIL SYRUP
½ cup water
½ cup sugar
1 cup Thai basil leaves, roughly chopped, plus a few small sprigs to finish
- Place the watermelon chunks on a plate and freeze them. Reserve a few in the refrigerator if you plan to use them as a garnish.
- For the syrup, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan over moderate heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves. When the syrup begins to boil remove it from the heat and stir in the basil leaves. Cover and allow the syrup to steep for at least an hour. When you’re ready to make your cocktails, strain the syrup and discard the leaves.
- In a small pitcher, stir together the watermelon puree, tequila, triple sec, basil syrup, and lime juice.
- Combine the sugar and salt on a small plate or saucer. Wipe the rim of each glass with a wedge of fresh lime, and dip it into the salt-sugar mixture to coat.
- Fill the glasses with frozen watermelon chunks or ice or a combination of the two and pour the margarita mixture over the top. Garnish with fresh watermelon, lime wedges, and fresh Thai basil sprigs.
Makes 2 cocktails.