Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Childhood lemonades

AOG, Madrid

I think the first drink I ever learned how to make was lemonade. I can't say that anyone in particular taught me, I just 'knew' how to make it.

 Lemons, sugar, water and ice. What else could I need? 

But before you answer, I have to tell you that the author of this post once discovered that food coloring existed at his mother's kitchen and proceeded to create (is that the word?) a culinary invention known as 'Blue Rice' which my loving family ate and even praised me on.  

Yes, obviously, families lie out of love. 

My sister, she of the sharp no-nonsense tongue, didn't make much of a fuss that day. And to this day, the Blue Rice comes up now and again. Madame Mère often says how it was very tasty. I can't say I agree, but I love that she thinks so. 

I could have made Green Frog Vomit Rice and she probably would have loved it too.

But back to Lemonade. Around the time that lemonade skills came into my life I was living in Mexico, a land known for its "aguas" (which only means 'waters'). 

My sister and I were not allowed to ever, under any circumstance, drink any of these "aguas" on the street.

A lack of hygiene and a fear of worms and intestinal whatnots drove my mother to ensure we didn't even come close to the "aguas" vendors. 

Except that, now and again, especially on a Sunday outing to Chapultepec Park, or to Xochimilco and its meandering canals, when surrounded by screaming children, tired parents, and a general good feeling, Madame Mère (who loved nature like all Russians do) would cave in and, yes, we'd be allowed an "agua" of something. 

If you've ever been to Mexico, you know the country is blessed with nature's bounty (I think this is the most Southern sounding sentence I've written in a long time!). 

Papaya, tamarind, mango, guava, watermelons, grapefruits the size of a small child's head, and just about any other tropical fruit you can think of. 

And "Aguas" sellers know how to rope you in. Their stands are simple. 

 On top of a plank of wood, or a cart, they ply their wares from massive, transparent tanks of water, glistening in the sun, and ever-swirling with the aid of the sellers' gigantic soup ladle. 

I can't recall the calorific intake but it must have been diabetic-coma high. 

Yes, in poor countries, the more sugar something has, the more of it you'll sell. Mexico is no exception. 

My favorite was always pineapple "agua", or "agua de piña", part of my ever-evolving love/hate relationship with that particular fruit. 

My sister, she of the "I love bitter vinegar!" school of thought, would often go for the "agua de tamarindo", something which would make me have the smallest of sips before I started convulsing. I loved it, but I hated it too. 

So bittersweet ! And I hate bittersweet stuff (I confess to having an issue with some Chinese dishes, like sweet & sour anything...eek!). But yes, here and there, we would partake of that innocent Mexican custom of drinking street water laced with who knows what plus sugar and fruit juice.

With that in mind, that I should attempt to make lemonade is surprising. But, soon enough, I became the official lemonade maker in the family. I can't say there was much trial and error, though now and again I remember adding things to it to spice it up a bit.  Like oranges, or prickly pear juice (my favorite fruit in the universe). Sometimes even a small splash of chili. Ice, however, was never a big part of the equation. Not until Texas that is.

When we moved from Mexico back to the US, my lemonade repertoire was slightly diminished,  so I had to improvise a bit with the local foodstuff. 

I remember adding mint, cinnamon, (I discarded chilies long before that), honey instead of sugar, and even molasses. 

In fact, the one day I made lemonade with molasses is the day I produced the first batch of BLACK lemonade on earth! 

And no, it could not be drunk by humans. 

The dogs loved it though! 

There was one surprise which I could never actually reproduce: Pink Lemonade

Too bitter for me, it soon became a family favorite. 

Madame Mère and my sister loved the stuff. I however, declined to drink much of it. 

It was around the time I discovered I could make Ice Tea by making normal tea, and sticking it in the fridge for a few hours. 

Who said I was bright?

But that is a story for another day.

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