Sunday, July 30, 2023

Austin, Hibiscus Iced Tea, and What I'm Reading

Our summer is coming to a close this week. Summer, the season, is still in full swing, as the blistering temperatures will attest to. But summer, the break, is almost over and a new school year is upon us. I'm blessedly done with all summer travel, which for a homebody like me, gets to be much too much. 

Last week we were in Texas for a few days, including a 3 day getaway to Austin. What a cool city it is. I don't mean that literally at all- it was 105F/40.5C each day we were there. We spend a great time of our time in water of various kinds. There was the backyard pool of the vacation rental, lovely for dips in the morning and evening. There was one evening at an indoor waterpark- where each member of the family, from tweens to seniors, found something to enjoy, from the giant slides to the lazy river, wave pool, and hot tub. 

But my very favorite thing in Austin- water related or otherwise- was swimming at the Barton Springs pool. It is spectacularly set in the heart of the city. Dipping my toes into the cold water, I thought it impossible that I could actually swim in there, but after the first frigid shock, the water was refreshing and I did not want to leave. There's something exhilarating about swimming in 70 degrees water when the air is 105 degrees. 

We did a couple of touristy things- like watching the most famous bats in America fly out of Congress Bridge, and visiting the museum of ice cream- really just a small, overpriced theme park, but with unlimited ice cream and some unique photo opportunities., including a swimming pool full of oversized plastic sprinkles.

Vacation rental backyard

Barton Springs in Austin

Waiting under Congress Bridge for the bat flight

Reveling in (fake) sprinkles

Another very fun I did in Texas- I got to meet the Shoba of Anubhavati! It was a very brief hello but it is always special to meet a fellow blogger in person. She is a friend of my sister's (small world, right?) and my sister describes her and her husband as simple, sweet, and helpful. That about sums it all- she is lovely. 

* * *

While perusing the aisles of a Mexican supermarket recently, I impulse-purchased a bag of dried hibiscus flowers. I've enjoyed hibiscus tea in the past a couple of times- an iced version served at a neighbor's football party, and a warm, irresistibly spiced version sold by a Jamaican vendor at the Farmers' Market- but had never thought of making it myself. 

Summer 2023 needed a signature drink, and this was IT! I made the tea once, everyone in the family was wowed by it, and I proceeded to make it several more times. Sweet and tart, served on ice, this is one refreshing drink. A pitcher of hibiscus tea will hold in the fridge for a few days. 

Iced Hibiscus Tea

This was the recipe I used, and it could not be simpler. 

Bring to a boil:

  • 5 cups water
  • 10 dried hibiscus flowers (if flowers are in pieces, approximately 1/3 cup)
  • 3/4 cup sugar 
Simmer for 20 minutes or so. Cool and strain, discarding the flowers. Serve on ice. Dilute with additional water if desired.

* * *

My favorite recent read was The Music Room by Namita Devidayal (published in 2007). This was a wonderful book for many reasons. It was recommended and gifted to me by a dear college friend. It is set in locales- South Bombay, Kolhapur, the Western suburbs of Bombay- that are uncannily the places that I have lived in during the first two decades of my life, making the book very relatable. It transported me into a different world- that of Indian classical music, and the teacher-student (guru-shishya) tradition that keeps this world going. I come from a very musical family but am sadly not musical myself, and I came away with awe and understanding (and a strong urge to search for ragas on YouTube). I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in memoirs, or music, or India. 

On vacation, I read another memoir, a graphic one called Talking to Strangers: A Memoir of My Escape from a Cult by Marianne Boucher (2020). This was a quick read, fascinating and alarming. A young adult travels on her own to dance auditions, and a chance meeting on a public beach leads to her abandoning all plans and joining a group of strangers in a cult. Her dedicated mother helps her escape a few months later.

While my parents were visiting us last month, they read stacks of books from the public library. One that my mother particularly enjoyed, and that I ended up reading too, was The Power of Regret by Daniel Pink (2022). The author objects to the "No regrets" mindset and explains that this is a nonsensical doctrine- regrets in fact make us human and make us better. Research shows that humans all over the world tend to have regrets that fall into 4 core baskets- foundational regrets (regrets related to education, finance, health), boldness regrets (over time we are much more likely to regret the chances we didn't take than the chances we did), moral regrets (morally dubious decisions gnaw at us), and connection regrets (relationships that fracture or fray, or never develop). The core regrets represent the human need for stability, growth, goodness, and love. The book has chapters on dealing with regret, and anticipating regret. It is a pretty good read with some interesting anecdotes.

Funnily, this book on regrets fed right into a novel that I read right after- The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (2020). I breezed through this novel and it was a fun, comforting read. The premise is delicious. Most of us, if not all of us, have some regrets in life- choices made, paths not taken, and fantasies unfulfilled. What would happen if our lives had taken a different turn? The protagonist of this novel gets a chance to undo each of her regrets and experience what life would have been like with different choices.  

Sometimes you just want a juicy mystery to sink your teeth into, and one such book was The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson (2015) that I finished reading just yesterday. This is no cozy mystery, it is a wicked and fast-paced psychological thriller, and a good summer read. The twists and turns kept me interested until the last page.

What are you reading, eating, and drinking this summer?