Until it led to tears and trauma, our annual lemonade stand was a summer highlight. Lugging plastic tables and coolers to the end of the block, we felt enterprising, emancipated and adult. All the cousins got involved, stirring powdered Country Time pink lemonade - a jubilant, countrified version of Tang - into filtered water, then sloshing it into plastic thermoses.
On the hottest days of August, a frosty plastic cup of lemonade was more refreshing than ice cream, Popsicles or the nearby Crystal Lake. In the freezer, there might be Nestlé frozen lemonade cups, Minute Maid soft frozen lemonade in tubes or Marino's lemon-flavoured Italian ice - but no novelty could slice through the sweat and sea salt of summer's languor like the sweet-tart scythe of lemonade, nor could anything compete with the rate at which we pounded it. Like pizza, it was good even when it wasn't. Our lemonade could be watered down and gritty with windblown grains of sand or undissolved mix, but still we'd pant and beg for more.
Emiratis drink a lot of juice - an impressive amount, really. Ninety-one per cent of Emirati adults drink juice on a regular basis, according to a recent Pan Arab Research Centre survey, making us the top juice junkies of the Gulf region.Statistically, we favour orange drinks first, and fruit cocktails second, but when I'm in the UAE, I'm all about the mint lemonade. You can't underestimate the significance of an effective delivery system; kids will eat vitamins that taste like curdled dirt just because they're shaped like Barney the dinosaur. I've blithely swallowed some foul food when I had enough mint lemonade in my glass to mitigate it.
When my best friend and I met 16 years ago, the uniqueness of our eating habits was one of many things we had in common. She had spent her adolescence compulsively sucking on lemons dipped in sugar, and I practically bottle-fed myself lemonade until I was 20. While we were in college, a dentist told her that she was dissolving the enamel on her teeth, and that she would need to ease off the citrus. Together we made a pact to break up with lemons for a little while - you know, to get some distance and clarity - so that we could later revisit them with a healthier attitude. (I don't know about her, but I cheated.)
"Stop drinking all the lemonade," warned my cousin Rema. If I'd known it would end up being the last lemonade stand of my youth, I might have listened. But youth is wasted on the young, and I chugged it until a patrol car pulled up. "Nice job," she whispered. "If the cops want lemonade and there isn't any left, we could be arrested for false advertising." The police officers strolled over. I backed away from the stand, terrified. "Two lemonades, please," said one, pulling out a dollar bill. I dropped the cup I'd been chewing on. I already knew the thermos had run dry, because I had drunk it all. And then I turned and ran all the way home, where I knew there'd be more lemonade waiting for me.
Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who lives and cooks in New Mexico
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