From sun up to about the time when the streetlights came on, my little sister and I spent every moment of our childhood summers outdoors. We’d ride bikes. We’d play at the park. We’d stake out a tiny plot of dirt to plant carrot seeds, which we’d pull up and eat long before they were ready. And when we were thirsty, we’d take a long drink of the crispy-cold water from the garden hose.
That comprises 100% of my memory of drinking water growing up.
The rest of the time we would drink, you know, normal stuff – like milk and juice and that orange liquid that came from barrel-shaped coolers at soccer practice. Never once do I remember sitting down at the dinner table with glass of water. I’m fairly certain that if I had walked into my neighbor’s house and asked for water, I would have been given Kool-Aid.
My husband had a similar relationship with water. His hockey team shared a single bottle of water on the bench. During harvest, his mother would give him the option of a 6-pack of warm soda or a jug of cold water, and he picked the soda every time. He once took a 5-hour summertime flight in a small, unairconditioned airplane, and the pilot brought along Cokes to keep the passengers from getting dehydrated. If he wanted water, which was rarely the case, he would ride his bike over to his grandparents’ farm and pump it out of the well for novelty’s sake.
The world’s fastest Internet search tells me that bottled water was invented in the 1800s; but in my mind, packaged hose water didn’t show up on shelves until the mid-1990s. But when it did, hoo boy – its popularity was a H2O.M.G. tidal wave. I went from declaring that I’d NEVER pay money for water, what’s next – boxed air? to making a big show of pulling a bottle of water out of my bookbag so as to impress everyone with my classy hydration.
Over the past 20 years, Big Water has educated the world on the seemingly-infinite benefits of nature’s literal gift from the heavens. Feeling under the weather? Drink some water. Looking to lose weight? Drink some water. Want to dance like no one is watching, laugh like no one is listening, and urinate like a championship race horse? Hook up your Brita filter to your garden hose because the answer is water. Every single time I see my mother she tells me I need to drink more water. She usually doesn’t have a specific reason why, but generally speaking, I need it.
Today, water flows like, um, water. My children may forget to put on underpants in the morning, but they always remember their bottle of water. My office, which has a free soda machine, had to get a second water station because people didn’t like waiting in line for water. At a recent trip to the gas station, my husband picked out a couple of bottles from a huge refrigerated wall filled top to bottom with water, and I swapped my bottle out because “I like this other brand better” – which is the equivalent of going over to the neighbor’s to eat the snow off of their porch because it tastes superior to your own.
As a society, we are so enthusiastic about consuming water that we’ve started adding things to it. There’s fruit-infused water. There’s electrolyte water. There’s caffeine water, which is coffee with all of the flavor and color strained out of it. There’s fruit-infused caffeine water, which may sound just like tea but is actually WATER. And if you don’t want to be held back by water’s zero calorie good-for-you-ness, there’s even water with more grams of sugar than a soda and, somehow, water that includes Yellow #5.
And so, in support of our imminent transition to a culture where it will be commonplace to slap a slice of cucumber in our shower heads for a two-birds-with-one-stone situation, I’d like to offer up a few of my own favorite flavor-infused water recipes for your hydrating enjoyment.
In sophisticated circles, lemon sugarwater can be created by squeezing several fresh lemons into a pitcher of distilled ice water and adding white sugar to taste. Or, you can do like I did when I was a kid and plop it out of a can.
Several times a summer, my sister and I would sew the seeds of entrepreneurship in the form of a lemon sugarwater (back then we gauchely called it lemonade) stand. Our mother would dutifully drive us to the grocery store to purchase a frosty can of lemonade concentrate from the freezer aisle and a box of Dixie Cups. The magic began once that can lid was popped and the somehow-simultaneously-frozen-and-slimy tube of lemony goodness slid into a pitcher of tap water. My sister had the younger sibling job of stirring the concentrate until it melted while I made an elaborate sign proclaiming that we were selling LEMONADE TEN CENTS A CUP, THREE FOR TWENTY-FIVE. Then we’d set up a card table, stack the Dixie Cups in a pyramid, and wait for the money to roll in.
Now is probably a good time to mention that we lived on what have been the quietest street in all of Grand Forks, North Dakota. It was so quiet, in fact, that the only people who drove in front of our house were our parents. Despite our location, location, location issues, we never faltered in our enthusiasm. We did, however, falter in our hydration; and would spend the day slowly drinking up our profits. It was a great deal for our mother, who got a full-day babysitter for the low cost of a can of concentrate, a box of Dixie Cups, and one cupful of lemonade. All told, we made roughly $8 over the course of however many summers: $3, ten-cents at a time from our parents; and $5 in one shot from our Grandma Boo-Boo, which we spent on frozen flavor-infused water (popsicles).
EAST COAST BLENDED WATER
When we weren’t taking the lemon sugarwater industry by storm in North Dakota, my sister and I were testing out the myriad of flavors of blended water in New Jersey, home of our Grandma Marion, the Queen of the Cold Drink. No matter what we were doing – shopping, driving, walking, nothing-ing – Grandma Mar would inevitably ask, “Would you like a Cold Drink?” And we would spend the next hour seeking out and enjoying the perfect concoction of blended water.
From Roy Rogers (carbonated cherry-cola-flavored water) to Shirley Temples (carbonated cherry-7-Up water) to Arnold Palmers (lemon sugarwater mixed with plant water) to egg creams (carbonated chocolate milk water), the Cold Drink portion of the day was as much an event as afternoon tea. The location was crucial; if it was too noisy or it seemed like the kind of place that didn’t clean their bathrooms or the waiter rubbed his nose before coming to the table, we moved on. If we couldn’t find the perfect spot, we’d put on pretty dresses and drive into New York City to have a Cold Drink in the Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel. And, once we got to the Palm Court, if we got a black-and-tan cookie to go with our Cold Drinks – well, a little nosh never hurt anyone.
GLASS BOTTLED CARBONATED COLA-FLAVORED WATER
In the basement of my parents’ clothing store, beyond the secretaries and accounting department, tucked back in an unlit, unassuming corner by the bathrooms, was a pop machine. It cost ten cents, and produced gloriously chilled glass bottles of
Coke carbonated cola-flavored water. The bottles were stored on their side behind carriers, and the thrill of yanking a soda out of its carrier was second only to the fear of severely cutting your hand on the metal bottletop in doing so. The machine itself smelled like frozen glass and cold sugar, and sometimes I’d open the little door to the pop bottles just to catch a whiff. I keep waiting for Yankee Candle to put out a Glass Soda Bottle Machine scent because it would make a billion dollars.
My little sister and I would split a bottle of carbonated cola-flavored water – diet, because it was “healthier” – and then spend a good twenty minutes or so blowing across the curved top to see who could make a louder hooting sound. Thirty years later, we have yet to achieve the same tone with a can.
CHICKEN WATER FOR THE SOUL (also known as Jewish Penicillin)
I didn’t learn how to cook until I was in my 20’s and I can assure you those initial few years were a total cluster. My first meal was a hotdish in which I forgot to brown the ground beef. My 25th meal was a crockpot roast so dry that it was physically impossible for a human mouth to consume it. My 50th dessert would probably have been chocolate chip cookies if I hadn’t forgotten the flour.
In spite of all of this, I did have one infallible recipe. One perfect, un-screw-uppable water-infused recipe passed down from generation to generation after some kid woke up and told his Jewish mother that he couldn’t go to school because he didn’t feel good. Some people call it matzo ball soup, but it is best known as chicken water for the soul.
The recipe is pretty simple. You start by throwing some chicken, celery, onion, carrots, salt, and pepper in a pot of boiling water that has been pre-blended with chicken water (aka chicken stock). The secret is in the matzo balls. Matzo meal comes from the grocery store and has the instructions right on the box, and if you make the balls as stated you will still end up awash in deliciousness. However, if you want matzo balls with the texture of fluffy clouds, you need to add sparkling water.
That’s right, you’re blending matzo water with chicken water that’s been mixed with chicken water.
It’s water Inception.
by Amanda Silverman Kosior, (c) 2020