18 September 2011

A More Delicate Side of Sweet


Cold Drinks

This weekend fall is in the air but just last Sunday the weather in my backyard was finally hot. No two ways about it, the sunshine was soft and almost sticky. It wrapped itself around me like a warm blanket and sapped my energy. I just wanted to lay back in the shade with a cold drink. Most hot afternoons my drink of choice would be iced tea, freshly brewed and unsweetened. Sometimes, however, my tastebuds crave something different or special. Sometimes they will even put me in mind of a coke.


By coke I mean "coke" with a small c, not some brand name cola flavored beverage. I have never cared much for those. In fact, I’ve never been a huge fan of soft drinks in general, whatever you might call them. As a child I was discouraged from drinking them, though not forbidden. Somehow this depravation never bothered me much. I was still allowed to drink them on special occasions but for the most part I always preferred water or lemonade anyway.


An Orange Coke

My one soft drink weakness was Orange Crush, though soft drink vernacular sometimes worked against me in obtaining my heart’s desire. I can remember sitting with my family at a restaurant one summer when I was a little girl. We were traveling the highway on our annual vacation. We had driven quite some way and had likely crossed into foreign territory... maybe Ohio or Eastern Kentucky. After the boredom of a day in the backseat I was thrilled with the prospect of ordering whatever I liked from the restaurant's menu for my dinner.


As we made our selections I had my favorite orange soda in mind. When the waitress turned my way and asked for my drink order I smiled and with decision I told her I wanted a coke. I was baffled when she turned away without even asking what kind. When she brought a cola flavored soft drink I was crushed with disappointment. I must have felt a little like Clarence in "It’s a Wonderful Life". I had high expectations of indulging in something special only to have things turn out quite different than I expected. Apparently waitresses beyond the borders of my home region did not understand that the word “coke” was as generic as “Kleenex” and, in fact, came in many varieties and flavors.



The Best Part

That incident probably served to lesson my interest in soft drinks even more. Except on a hot summer day when I got bored waiting for Aunt Hen to get out from under the dryer hood at Catherine's Beaty Shoppe and could talk her out of change from her purse to buy a cold bottled drink from the vending chest near the door, I hardly drank soft drinks at all. Even then, if there had been other drinks available in that intriguing drink chest I would have probably chosen them instead. My delight was in my Aunt’s willingness to let me rummage through her purse for change and then in choosing a deliciously chilled glass bottle from the chest to hold against my face or shoulder on a sweaty hot summer afternoon. Even now the feel of that cold bottle against my lips as I tasted the sweet liquid brings to mind a pleasure that far exceeds that of the actual taste of the beverage.


It’s not that I was raised on a particularly health conscious diet. I ate my share of Giant Sweet Tarts and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I was given candy money on occasional trips to the store and Aunt Hen kept a well stocked supply of Pop-Tarts and Hostess Snack Cakes on hand for all the kids. It’s just that I never much liked extremely sweet beverages. I never liked sweet tea and preferred my lemonade on the tart side.


Sometimes I have been fooled. I am not looking for low calorie beverages except as a secondary concern. What I want is a refreshing beverage that is not so sweet, one that fails to leave that cloying aftertaste of corn syrup, or artificial sweetner, clinging to my tongue.


Delighting in New Things

All of that is to say that I may be predisposed to find delight in some of the wonderful new beverages I have discovered over the past year or so. In years past I would make a special trip to the Asian markets in my area to get bottles of unsweetened tea. Now Honest Tea and others are marketing slightly sweet and unsweetened beverages and they are beginning to catch on. Sometiems I can even find unsweetened tea at a convenience mart.



Dry sodas, from Seattle, can be hard to find but offer a wonderfully unusual beverage that is made from only four ingredients and has around 50 calories per 12 oz bottle. It’s creative flavors include cucumber, rhubarb, lemongrass and lavender. My favorite is Blood Orange, with a refreshing twist on my childhood favorite.  It even comes in a glass bottle that is delightful to hold and press against my skin on a hot day. Even better these taste good, fantastic even; fizzy, flavorful and refreshing with a "delicate sweetness" and a clean aftertaste. They pair well with many foods without overpowering the other flavors on your menu and the website even offers food pairing as well as mixology tips. For my part I've found it to be a great way of adding a little sparkle to a special meal.

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