Two of my favorite things in the world are food and art. I was raised with a deep connection to both. As the child of an artist, I was constantly surrounded by creativity. And as the child of hippies, I was born into a kitchen where everything was made from scratch.
One of my first memories is standing at a table in my father’s studio lining up the hundreds of tubes of paint, arranging them by color. Like a game of Memory, I would search for matching hues and order them up in a perfect spectrum. There was something about seeing every imaginable color right there in front of me that made me feel like anything was possible. This may also be why I like to organize my cookbooks by color today.
My earliest cooking memory is of me sitting on a tall stool at the kitchen counter, assembling our nightly salad for dinner. I must have been 5 years old and remember being engrossed in this task. Tearing colossal pieces of dark green lettuce leaves into bite-sized pieces. Peeling a carrot into long bright orange ribbons. Grating tender yellow squash into a million tiny strands of sunshine. Then tumbling the whole mess together into an edible kaleidoscope. All those colors from my father’s studios brought to life…it felt like magic. Perhaps this is why I still love a good salad.
These early loves mean I’m happiest today strolling through a farmer’s market or stopping at a roadside produce stand or wandering through the Disneyland-like produce section of Whole Foods. All the colors make me a bit giddy and I get the same anything-is-possible feeling I did as a child.
Another one of my favorite places today is Wallspace, an art gallery on La Brea owned by my dear friend Valda Lake that features the work of over 50 artists. Walk in the doors of this salon-style gallery and you’re greeted with an explosion of color and texture. It’s bright, it’s intense, it’s an assault on my senses. It makes me smile.
So when she asked me to design a cocktail for the opening of her summer show, Synthesis, I knew it had to be a drink with some rockin’ color. Something bright and refreshing that feels like summer. And nothing says “summer” to me like a perfectly ripe melon. Thus the Cantaloupe Lemon Vodka Fizz cocktail was born. Part floral-melon-sweetness, part citrus-tart-tang and just enough bubble to help wake up your tastebuds.
TECHNIQUE NOTE: This cocktail starts with an intense puree of fresh melon and depends on picking the most ripe, juicy one you can find. I know, I know — pickinga perfect melon can feel like an impossible task. I often imagine the produce staff at my grocery store must get a chuckle from watching people lift, thump and shake melons all day. Here are the only two methods to picking the perfect melon that have ever worked for me:
- Pick small melons that are heavy for their size. Heavy = more juice. More juice = sweeter (most of the time.)
- Give the stem part of the melon a sniff. If you can smell a floral, melon scent then it’s most likely a sweet melon at the peak of ripeness.
One more thing – if you have extra melon puree from making this recipe, I suggest you pour it into some popsicle molds for a refreshing fresh-fruit frozen treat.
- 6 cups diced cantaloupe (from one small melon)
- ½-1 cup water, plus more as needed
- ½ cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 oz vodka
- 5 oz cantaloupe puree
- ½ - 1 oz simple syrup (see note below)
- splash club soda
- ice, for serving
- lemon wedges, for serving
- Combine the diced melon, 1/2 cup water and the lemon juice in a blender and blend until very smooth. Add a bit more water as needed if mixture is too thick.
- In a 10-oz highball or cocktail tumbler, combine 3-4 ice cubes with the vodka, puree and 1/2 oz simple syrup. Stir until well combined. Top with a splash of club soda. Taste and add a bit more simple syrup as desired for more sweetness. Squeeze a lemon wedge and drop into the glass and serve immediately.
- Combine 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a small pot. Peel the skin of one lemon in large strips and add to the pot. Heat over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Let sit at room temperature for 3-4 hours (or overnight in the fridge) and then strain and discard the lemon peel. Store any extra syrup in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 1 month.