Ice is nice

Fancy cocktail ice cubes inspire a simpler herb-spiked version at home

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At The Aviary, the cocktail kitchen on Fulton Market in Chicago, there's a department devoted to ice.

The ice staff creates tiny cinnamon ice spheres, big balls of bitters. It makes ginger snow, milk cubes, ancho shards and water balloons frozen into ice orbs, which are drained, injected with bourbon and cracked, dramatically, in the glass.

In my kitchen we don't have an ice department. We have an ice cube tray. Given tap water and an evening, it makes off-kilter ice cubes.

Word of the Aviary ice department inspired me to smarten up my ice-making skills. I'm not importing water from Scotland or investing in a blast chiller and packet of balloons. But I'm happy to drop a few herbs into the tray, producing pretty and tasty off-kilter cubes.

Tumbled into a frosty glass, doused with vodka and splashed with tonic, they freshen up summer's most refreshing drink. With a bag of these in the freezer, who needs an ice department?

Summer tonic

Prep: 10 minutes, plus freezing time
Serves: Any number

Whole fresh mint leaves
Whole fresh basil leaves
Whole fresh thyme leaves
Fresh lime juice
Tonic water

Fill 1 (or more) ice cube trays with water. Drop one lovely mint or basil leaf (or several thyme leaves) into each compartment. Drizzle lime juice (about 1 lime per tray) across all the cubes-to-be. Freeze solid. Pop out cubes and store in a zip-top freezer bag.

For a bracing and beautiful drink, drop 4 or 5 cubes into a tall (8-ounce), chilled glass. Add vodka (about 2 ounces should do it). Fill with tonic (about 4 ounces offers a pleasing balance). Stir once. Enjoy, in style.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at
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