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I hear the patio calling. One of my favorite things is sipping something outside. As I plan how to make this the best summer ever, a drink on the patio is near the top of the list.

A refreshing Aperol Spritz at an outdoor café along the canal in Milan is one of the first things I think about when I remember a trip to Italy. It was just so, so summery.

But my own patio for cappuccino, iced coffee or tea, or cocktails highlights any day. Are you like that?

It’s easy to open a bottle of wine when you’re ready to fill a glass. But sometimes I don’t want the alcohol. I’m not alone. Alcohol free is experiencing a rise. A friend told me he’d had enough alcohol to last him a lifetime. While another’s religious values don’t support it. Some forgo alcohol to help with weight management. Or because she’s expecting a baby. Or he’s the designated driver. Some find their behavior improves or they just plain feel better. That’s true. Alcohol can trigger migraines, disrupt sleep and be a cancer precursor.

Whatever your reason, there’s more to an alcohol-free happy hour than club soda with a lime wedge. Fortunately, mocktails are a thing. Most restaurant and bar menus feature alcohol-free beverages. This is smart marketing to keep the teetotalers entertained. But it is easy to do it at home. Fruit syrup is a quick way to get the party started.

Because these ingredients are now available at the grocery, I’m making strawberry rhubarb syrup. Though you could easily substitute frozen strawberries. If you don’t want to use rhubarb, an all-strawberry syrup works. Balsamic vinegar and black pepper are good partners for rhubarb and strawberries, and I like how they give the syrup pizazz.

The strawberries and rhubarb serves two roles. They create the juice for the syrup, but then the cooked fruit can be eaten with cheese or to top yogurt or cottage cheese.

Strawberry Rhubarb Syrup

The syrup can be added to lemonade, seltzer, club soda or coconut water.

  • 2 cups chopped rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 pound)
  • 2 cups sliced strawberries, (about 1 pound)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

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Combine all ingredients in heavy-bottomed, stainless steel saucepan over medium heat. Stir to mix. Bring to a boil, cover. Cook until fruit is soft, about 10-15 minutes. The fruit will look dull and syrup dark red.

Set a strainer over a bowl. Spoon fruit and liquid into strainer and strain for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. Pour syrup into a jar, label with name and date, refrigerate.

To make a drink, add 2 tablespoons syrup to glass, add club soda or seltzer water and ice. Stir. Depending on the size of your glass, you may need to adjust the amount of soda. Garnish with an orange or lemon slice or sprig of mint.

Yield 1 ½ cups syrup

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Judy Barbe is a registered dietitian, speaker and author of “Your 6-Week Guide to LiveBest: Simple Solutions for Fresh Food & Well-Being.” Visit her website www.LiveBest.info for every day food solutions.

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