SUMMER IN THE CITY. Can’t say it’s my favorite. When the mercury reaches 100 degrees fahrenheit or more and it’s humid to boot, things get all out of whack. We stew in our own juices, bake in the corridors of urban concrete. Tempers flare; patience (mine anyway) gets pretty much liquified as well. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things I enjoy about summer—the abundance of fruit, the ability to forgo socks—but I have to constantly remind myself of such rewards, lest I get surly.
It doesn’t help that friends (who shall remain nameless; you know who you are) post their amazing photographs of Greek island life on their Facebook pages. They taunt me with all the beautiful clichés: the bluest sea and whitewashed churches standing sentry over swimming coves; with copious salads and platters of seafood mezedes, not to mention their λίγω ουζακι (the indulgence of a “little ouzo” when the day is yet young).
Over there, although the sun sizzles even more intensely, it seems effortless—that feeling of kefi; that happy buzz of Greek spirit that makes you want to kick up your heels, giddy in community with friends. Mind you, this is not a daily reality I’m describing. Those not on vacation lead a very different life among the ancient stones and modern economic ruin. Still, I fantasize about hopping the next flight to Athens. I could reconnect with cousins, and there’s the new(ish) Acropolis Museum I haven’t yet seen.
Instead, I drag my overheated, lethargic, cranky self to the neighborhood housewares store to complete some boring errands and make the impulse purchase of the year: a set of star-shaped popsicle molds. Presto! Instant kefi.
My son was thrilled when he saw the molds; I didn’t tell him I had first dibs. I waited until he was asleep, then devised the following recipe: a lemonade ice pop with a bite of boozy anise flavor, the ouzo hit I’d been craving since my friend’s Facebook updates (but that I had not allowed myself to take, alone on my balcony, surrounded by brick and concrete rather than sand and shore). Drinking alone is pathetic, but these pops? Definitely not. I devoured three the next afternoon, while my son was in camp. After all, who could reproach a shot of pure Hellenic Opa! in the heat of the day, when it takes the form of a childhood summer classic?
Homemade popsicles get adult treatment and a Hellenic twist. These refreshing, subtly flavored ice pops blend two of Greece’s best-loved ingredients: lemon and ouzo. If you like the fizzy-tart tingle of lemonade, or have ever enjoyed the herbal taste of an anisette aperitif on the rocks, this is for you. As for the popsicle molds, you can certainly do without them—small paper cups and craft sticks work just fine, as do silicone molds with deep wells (such as for cannelé Bordelais).
Yield: 6 (3-ounce) popsicles
1/2 cup freshly squeezed, strained lemon juice (2-3 large lemons)
1/2 cup simple syrup, chilled (see notes)
3 Tablespoons ouzo (Greek anisette aperitif)
1 to 1-1/4 cup cold water
Put lemon juice into a measuring cup that is larger than 2-cup capacity, preferably one with a pour spout. Add simple syrup and ouzo and mix well. Add enough cold water so that the total liquid reaches 18 ounces (2 and 1/4 cups). Fill six popsicle molds (or 3-ounce paper cups), stopping shy of the top to leave room for the freezing liquid to expand. Let set in the freezer for at least four hours.
To unmold pops, squeeze the plastic molds while pulling them off the pops; if they won’t release easily, then run some hot water briefly over the molds until they loosen.
Note on Simple Syrup:
I tend to keep a small batch of simple syrup on hand in the refrigerator most of the time. It’s ideal for sweetening ice pops, for making summer cocktails, or instead of granulated sugar in your iced teas and coffees. To make a light syrup, bring a quantity of water to boil (I usually start with 1 cup), then add an equal amount of sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves completely, then take off the heat and let cool completely. Simple syrup can keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for several months.