On the Existence of Bookstores & Animals

Long live the tiny neighborhood bookstore. In many places outside of major cities, small bookstores are a thing of the past. Remember You’ve Got Mail? Meg Ryan closes up her mother’s family bookstore, no longer being able to compete with megastores like those owned by Tom Hanks. Meg finds love but not all small business owners are that lucky. Big box stores, Amazon and the rise of e-books have pushed increased volume and cut prices to successfully diminish the hand-to-hand book selling business. 

In Hoboken, among the fast food windows and college-style bars, there are not one but TWO bookstores. Symposia, a bookstore and community center, is located right on main Washington Street. Rows of books are lined up on the sidewalk displays and I’m guilty of having stopped a number of times to run my fingers over worn titles as if recounting names of old friends. Only after doing a quick Google search, I realized that Symposia is also a “public benefit nonprofit corporation organized and operated exclusively for educational and charitable purposes.” What’s not to love? And it was in this bookstore where my mother found a gently used copy of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.

I had successfully avoided reading Eating Animals since its release in 2009 while I was a sophomore in college. The title itself seemed aggressive, like a vegan was screaming at me from a megaphone, “Do you see that girl Katelyn? She’s EATING ANIMALS!” With all my sustainability classes focuses in biology, ethics, and philosophy, I couldn’t stomach yet another example of how humanity was royally screwing up the planet.

And then, last month, my mom harmlessly slid the green cover across the lunch table and said, “I just walked into that little bookstore right across the street and HAD to get you this. Have you read it?”

 

So here I am, halfway through the book, completely immersed. Jonathan Safran Foer is a fiction writer who set out to answer a personal question, “What should I feed my kid?” His question is so simple and so without an agenda that the reader cannot help but grab his extended hand and follow along. I won’t go through his quest or quote his many gasp-inducing statistics about the process of eating animals except to say that he seemed to wrestle with the same questions that were rolling around inside my own head.

As I read Eating Animals (on the subway, in the lunch room), I can’t help but think about the path that led us from a hunting and gathering society to one of mass produced factory farms. We have grown exponentially in population and our appetite for all types of delicious beef, pork, chicken and turkey have grown beyond comprehension. We want cheap meat all the time and have found a solution to satisfy our needs (wants). Today, we would be physically unable to eat the quantity of meat we do if animals were raised and killed in the methods from a century ago. Small barns to factory lots. Store front to big box stores.

Like the meat industry, I wonder if we have subconsciously chosen “factory farmed literature” over small independent booksellers. Internet giants like Amazon have indeed cut into profits from the likes of Barnes and Noble and Borders (RIP). To my immense surprise, it seems these smaller bookstores are making a vibrant and profitable comeback. Once again, the reader is seeking a community they can see and books they can feel with their own hands. 

“The independent stores will never be more than a niche business of modest sales and very modest profitability. But the same is true for many small businesses, which makes them no less vital…” Zarchary Karabell, Slate

Customers are consciously choosing to walk into a small bookstore and buy a new find, before devouring each physical page with a hunger and need for the written word. I fear this connection and active voting with both our minds and our wallets will not translate over to another industry that has grown much beyond proportion and comprehension. The average American eats 21,000 entire animals in her lifetime. Our insatiable American appetite is fueled by two day shipping, cheap books and cheaper meat.

But at what cost. 

 

 

The Particular Sadness of Dropping Lemon Pie

About two weeks ago, I created a beautiful no-bake lemon pie. I whipped cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk together with freshly squeezed lemon juice before delicately scooping all the ingredients into a graham-cracker crust. I gave my pie all evening to rest in the fridge before Pie & I boarded the N and the 4 train, making transfers at 59th Street/Lexington Avenue en route to work. 

At work, dear reader, my little lemon pie came to its demise when it fell off the kitchen counter and landed upside down on the floor. A new co-worker I hadn’t yet met rushed to my aid. She made that ‘gasp’ noise that people tend to do when desserts topple to the ground.

“It wasn’t homemade, was it?” she asked as I scooped cream cheese from between my fingers. “It was,” I said “but things like this happen. “

My pie incident is not the saddest nor the most interesting thing that has happened in my life. Since then, I’ve set phone appointments with VPs, became certified in my field, and drank margaritas late into a Monday evening. But the memory of my pie still lingers. I had put love and energy into something that faced an untimely death and for that moment in time, life didn’t seem fair. 

I still haven’t touched my baking utensils–the measuring spoons, cups, nonstick trays–as I mourn for the pie that was never enjoyed by those for who it was intended. I felt as if New York City swooped in and tried to teach me a lesson. People don’t bake here. The kitchens are too small. There just isn’t enough time. New York buys glossy cupcakes on the way to a friend’s birthday party on the Upper East Side and swings by its favorite French bakery to pick up a legendary chocolate mousse pie. In store windows, I pass desserts as perfect as the people: tailored suits and polished heels ready for another day of success and perfection. In these moments I miss my messy Massachusetts kitchen where perfection was replaced by a constant flow of  lumpy pound cakes, underdone brownies and a thin layer of flour covering the counters and floor. 

The pie was originally intended for my boyfriend’s sister to order to properly celebrate her upcoming European backpacking adventure. Instead, I showed up empty-handed with only vague tips and advice to offer. I now remember recommending a book to her; a book she later read and agreed it was a perfect summer read. That book was called: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.

Parting with people and with desserts can be such sweet sorrow. 

—-

Here is the simple (and embarrassingly) Betty Crocker recipe:

 

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New Orleans: Part Food

New Orleans. We’re back for the food and the drink. I’ll take your hand and lead you through the complex flavors of this gastronomic wonderland.

Let’s start on Decatur Street. The smells of freshly baked pralines float out the doorway of Southern Candymakers and spread into the humid air. A smell that cannot be contained. I promise you have never inhaled a better combination of butter and sugar in your entire life. Have a sample or buy a whole box. 

We now follow the curve of the majestic Mississippi River along Decatur Street until the Cafe du Monde appears like a beacon of green awning-ed glory. This establishment was started in 1862 and people still sit at one of the simple white tables complete with matching chairs squeezed wherever possible. Grab a table, the waitress will be over shortly. The menu is small and requires no additions. Order a café au lait and at least one order of beignets. These fried fritters are covered in powdered sugar and taste of luxury and exuberance. IMG_3025

Your sweet tooth temporarily filled, it’s time for true sustenance. Whether it’s late in the morning or early in the night, people are eating and drinking everywhere. Unable to choose where to eat next, let’s choose them all. Oceana, recommended by our cab driver, has a delicious assortment of creole dishes (despite its tourist appearance) and David the waiter gives us the signature bread pudding for free. After dinner #1, it’s time for seafood. The line outside Felix’s does not deter us and soon we are sampling a variety of delectable oysters. Take any and all recommendations. The waiter will not lead you astray and the gumbo is delicious. 
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IMG_2994Thirsty? As you move through Jackson Square, take a left at the cathedral. Sample the Pimm’s Cup at Tableau on the balcony before heading over to Napoleon House, the legendary home of this beverage. Ready for a change? Leave Chartres Street for the refined Roosevelt Hotel complete with chandeliers in the lobby and handsome men at (and behind) the bar. You absolutely must get a Sazarac. As night falls, join the hordes of happy drunken lovers on Bourbon Street and b-line it for Pat O’Brien’s, known for flaming fountains and infamous Hurricanes. Drink, dance and repeat before stumbling home to your hotel. —-

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Good morning! Upon waking up and taking a cold shower, make your way over to Mothers. You’ll be glad you did. The portions are huge, the eatery is cafe style and the ham is divine. Prefer white tables cloths for brunch instead? Try Antoine’s or Galatoire’s for an elegant way to start the day. Beware the waiter at Antoine’s with the shaky hands. He may just spill….

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One more district to explore before your eating/drinking tour is complete. Grab the streetcar out to the Garden District home to a number of celebrities including Sandra Bullock, John Goodman and the fictional man-turned-boy Benjamin Button. Walk the tree-lined streets and admire the Southern beauty curling around the pillars and peeking from behind the flowering magnolia trees. Don’t forget to grab a shrimp po’ boy at Parasol’s and a drink at The Columns before heading home. IMG_3014

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In tasting your first oyster and drinking your first Pimm’s Cup, the city makes sure you will return home happy and full, lacking in nothing except more time here.

10 Steps: Turkish Breakfast

I have enjoyed Turkish breakfast in a variety of settings. My first taste of this delicious daily tradition was in a pension in Bodrum. From there, I traveled 20km to Turgutreis to stay on an ecofarm where I tasted the most delicious homemade orange jam from the trees in the backyard. My next memorable breakfast was in the apartment of two college student who prepared the usual edibles including sides of “bitter honey” and freshly prepared stove top tomato and pepper chutney. Moving from Denizli to Olympus via Antayla, I once again tasted fresh oranges from trees on the property, this time simply cut into quarters and served. I’m in breakfast heaven.

10 Steps to Preparing a Turkish Breakfast

Every Turkish breakfast included at least one Turkish person who is warm and welcoming, ready to instruct you as to the proper way to begin one’s day. Do not overlook this essential ingredient. However, since not all of us are friends with Turkish people nor have the ability to fly at a moment’s notice to Istanbul, made do with the friends and family that you have readily available. 

Ingredients: orange trees, chickens, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, honey (local), bread/simit, jam (cherry preferably), salt and pepper (for the table), Turkish teapot, small bowls, Turkish teacups, plates etc.

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  1. Prepare the tea*. A day does not begin nor end without this steaming hot beverage. Drink at will. P1050559
  2. Go outside to your orange trees and pick some oranges. Cut oranges in slices for easy consumption or boil with sugar and cloves for a sweet, sticky jam.
  3. Collect the daily eggs from your chickens or sneak across the street to the friendly farmer for some of his/her eggs. Boil water for the hardboiled variety or fry in olive oil and sprinkle with cumin and paprika. IMG_1639
  4. Take an inventory of the cheese recently purchased from the market. Slice fresh feta into squares or triangles depending on your geometric preference.
  5. Wash fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and slice accordingly. 
  6. Slice fresh bread purchased earlier that morning from the bakery. Rip simit** into pieces or leave whole.
  7. Put various condiments into adorable little bowls for easy access.P1050564
  8. Place sliced bread and simit in a basket and set the table.
  9. Fill tea glasses for guests with sugar cubes on hand.
  10. Serve. Enjoy. Repeat daily for maximum smiles. 

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Notes:

*Tea is an essential part of Turkish culture. The most common teapots look like two metal containers stacked together. The bottom pot is filled with water and placed on the stove to boil. The second stacked pot is filled with tea leaves. As the water boils, the top pot steams the concentrated tea. To serve the tea, make a ratio (3:1) of boiling water and concentrated liquid in individual glasses. 

**Simit is a soft breadstick looped into a ring shape and covered with sesame seeds. Found at all cafes and bakeries.

Orange and (the new) Black

Two blogless months and none the wiser… 

Halloween, once again, has snuck up on me. There are 2 for $6 candy sales on miniature Snickers and farm stands overflowing with carving pumpkins, squash and oblong gourds. Empty windows are transformed into “Spirit Halloween” displays that appear overnight in abandoned lots and vanish just as quickly as they come. On liquor store shelves, bottles of Octoberfest and pumpkin ale fill the aisles while children plan their trick-or-treat routes around the most generous of neighbors. Apples and celery sticks? No thanks.

It is the evening of October 30th and I, a young lively 23 year old, have no plans and no costume for the company wide costume parade tomorrow. What is a girl to do?

Answer? Bake mini cupcakes. 

Here are some wise and wiser words of wisdom in anticipation of Halloween Eve:

  • Carving a pumpkin should be fun, not a creativity competition.
  • You can’t eat too many candy corn.
  • Being a cat for Halloween was so 1999. I was 9. And I was a cat.
  • If you feel like over-indulging, opt for the mini peanut butter cups  NOT the unidentified punch bowl.
  • You CAN eat too many candy corn.
  • Even fake chainsaws are scary.
  • Do not attend a party if bobbing for apples is the main attraction. It feels like you’re drowning.
  • Eat dinner early, around 3pm. After that, your doorbell will ring until you run out of candy and your house is egg-ed.
  • Thank every adult person you encounter who is not wearing a mask.
  • Be safe, eat candy and celebrate with friends…

Or go to your favorite writing group because Carol just e-mailed and said you come come.

Approaching August

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Stare long and hard at the horizon out beyond the low-lying hills.The nights you spent huddled over the wood stove and buried beneath blankets with a good book and a cup of tea vanish into fond memories as the sun erupts into pinks and blues across the sky. How you have waited for summer to arrive. Keep your eyes open and alert. Even when tears form, do not blink. Summer is coming and almost done–Anticipating April blending into Hot and Humid August. Where did all those lazy, hazy days go?

photo (11)“Mid-August,” the woman answered as she folded plastic wrap over our blueberries and secured each container with a *snap* of a rubber band. Peach season, summer’s signature digestif, were three weeks away and I found myself wondering where all the time had gone. July and July had been trusted friends and secret admirers but August was coming, a childhood sweetheart bridging the worlds between blazing sun and crisp fall chill. My summer had floated by, fierce and brief as smoke rising off a sizzling grill before dispersing into the thick warm air.

My plan is to eat my way through these remaining days and nights of late sunsets and hazy sunglass goggles. I will savor each blueberry in pancakes, muffins and sprinkled in my morning yogurt or smoothie. I will patiently bide my time with cucumbers and fresh cherry tomatoes while I wait for beefsteak varieties of hungarian hearts and Cherokee purples. And when the branches grow heavy and tired with ripe peaches, I will satisfy the summer child within me until my tongue itches with fuzzy sweet juice.

Summer is luscious and fleeting. Eat up every last moment of it. I know I will. 

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Giving Thanks Sustainably

In just five days, families across the country and Americans around the world will be sitting down to a Thanksgiving feast. Grandma’s pumpkin pie, Mom’s mashed potatoes, and Dad’s creative turkey carving technique make their yearly debut. I myself have my own preparation:

  1. Develop creative yet plausible answers when asked by friends and family why I am still single.
  2. Pick an outfit that simultaneously implies “boyfriend worthy” while incorporating an elastic waistband.
  3. Spend 24-48 hours directly follow the Thanksgiving meal simultaneously impressed and mortified that my body consumed as many calories as it did. 

But I must consider another point on my list of Thanksgiving “to-do’s”– eating and celebrating sustainably. Here are 5 ways to be sustainable on November 22.

Buy local: Who doesn’t want that personal connection between farmer and consumer, smiling as loose bills and parsnips exchange hands? Participating in CSAs (Community supported agriculture), farm shares, or the occasional stop to the farmer’s market benefits the local economy and supports the agriculture in your geographic region. Or prepare now for next year and harvest carrots and potatoes from your own garden!

Eat seasonally: This is more difficult for us Northeastern folks who exhaust the ways root vegetables can be cooked, sautéed, broiled, boiled, roasted, blanched, and pureed. Increasing your awareness of growing seasons however, can make a huge impact on your carbon footprint. Brussel sprouts, served with caramelized butter and maple syrup, were picked 20 miles away and taste incredible. Compare them to store-bought berries or tomatoes and chances are they were flown to your table from Florida, picked before they were ripe in order to make the 1,150 mile journey.

Go to the Source: I am the biggest culprit when it comes to canned goods. Baking, cooking you name it. Last month, I made muffins with a can of Trader Joe’s Organic Canned Pumpkin. Organic yes, but the pumpkin I used came all the way from Willamette Valley in Oregon. Definitely NOT local. Recently my housemate Julie made a pumpkin pie with pumpkins from a nearby farm stand. She roasted them on a baking dish and scooped out the softened orange pulp. The finished product was lighter in color than traditional pumpkin pies but had the most amazing flavor. So try roasting your own pumpkin or making homemade cranberry sauce. And don’t forget to toast the leftover seeds for a delicious snack.

Mind the meat: It’s true. Raising animals for food takes an incredible amount of energy and puts a significant strain on the planet. And while I don’t expect every family to go vegetarian, consider decreasing the number of meat dishes on the table. Do you really need a turkey, ham and mini hot dog appetizer? Experiment with new, delicious veggie recipes that leave your guests feeling fully satisfied and less stuffed at the end of the meal. Still need your turkey fix? For the past two years, my mom has reserved a Thanksgiving turkey from a local organic, free-range farm near our house. The sticker price is steeper than a traditional Butterball, but the externalized impact from animal cruelty, mass production, and added preservatives makes our local bird a no-brainer. Plus, available websites like EatWild and Local Harvest now allow customers to type in their zip code and find sustainable farms locally.

Spread the love: Sustainability extends beyond our dining room table. Many food pantries and homeless shelters provide Thanksgiving meals served in-house or deliver meals to those who cannot afford the luxuries we take for granted. This season, consider purchasing produce or canned goods to donate to your local pantry. I remember in high school, my friends and I drove around the area dropping off baskets of stuffing, gravy, cans of beans, pie crush and turkeys. We gave thanks by extending our love and fortune to those who were struggling to make ends meet. 

So there you have it folks. Take a moment to consider the environment while preparing this Thanksgiving. Stuff your faces and be thankful for everything, every person, and every good thing in your life. Go forward with a loving heart, a reflective mind and full stomach.

Also check out: Vegetarian Thanksgiving, Other Thanksgiving Tips

Food Before a Storm

The month of November has arrived, quietly, like a cat on silent paws. We have survived one storm and are preparing for the next. One stole power from millions of homes, caused great destruction and left New York City under water. The other storm will make landfall on November 6th, causing just as much preparation, fierce winds and long-lasting consequences.

On Monday, all the schools closed early as western Massachusetts waited in anxious anticipation of Sandy’s fury. Those that remembered the Halloween snow storm a year ago, who had gone 10 days without power, stocked up on bottled water and spare generators. Would this storm be worse than before? 

My house had prepared too. Pots were filled with water when I arrived home and a fire was crackling in our wood stove. I started the dinner preparations and soon all of us were cutting, washing or stirring. Roasted parsnips, carrots and eggplant. Quinoa. Red wine and walnut cream roll for dessert. As the wind picked up and the rain began to beat against the house, we feasted in the warmth of our kitchen. But how were my friends closer to the storm? 

Me: Ah! I just saw that 2.2 million people lost power. Be safe!

Jen: I’m baking homemade oatmeal peanut butter cookies for the storm.

Two college friends, miles apart, were preparing for Frankenstorm in the same way–by eating. I watched recipes for soups, baked goods and cookies fly down my Twitter feed set to #sandy. Online news articles discussed the need for comfort foods before a storm. Apparently my little house wasn’t the only one stocking up by stuffing our faces.

How old is this tradition? The question brings us back to the second storm but not to foreign policy, woman’s rights or gun control. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook educates best, “Loaf cakes made with yeast were popular in New England…as far back as the early 1800’s. Election cake (also know as March Meeting Cake) was often baked on election days and allegedly sold and served only to those who voted a straight ticket. The loaf is deliciously moist and spicy.”

The Election Cake has cloves, mace, nutmeg, and hidden tastes of dried figs. On Tuesday, I plan to sink my teeth into a slice regardless of the political outcome, consequences of climate change or increased hour of daylight savings time. With such uncertainty, what else can we do but surround ourselves with friends and good food?

 

The Quiche

[This is a story about a novice cook learning to feed herself in the world outside of a college cafeteria or the warmth of her mother’s kitchen. Her baking and culinary skills are average at best, never warranting bragging rights or 4-H ribbons. She spends hours pouring over recipes online, vegetarian cookbooks, and pictures of delicious-looking authentic cuisine before putting some olive oil in a pan and cooking the oldest vegetable in the fridge. This story is about that girl and a delicious dinner experiment.]

I found an extremely thick paperback lying near the KitchenAid near the stairs. The spine was broken down the middle from handling and culinary love. (Beware the unbroken cookbook). Tonight, I would make a quiche. More realistically, tonight I would make the crust of the quiche because I had plans and not enough time. I followed the instructions for a Basic Tart Crust, watched the food processor whir into action and rolled out my buttery masterpiece before sliding it into the refrigerator to cool.

 

When I retrieved the pie dish the following evening, my heart sank. My crust, the first I’d ever made, was covered in white spots. Flecks of butter like pimples on picture day had appeared over night. It looked diseased. “Eh, I’m sure it’s fine. Cook it anyway and see what happens.” That was my mother.

Half the recipes I found told me to pre-cook my crust and layer the cheese on the bottom. The other half didn’t pre-cook their crust at all and added their cheesy goodness right in with the rest. I followed the first advice because seeing my infected crust another minute would have forced me to abandon the project and order pizza. After 10 minutes in the oven, the crust had begun to look better and I felt a renewed sense of hope. So I flew into a frenzy, sautéing some onion and green pepper, shredding cheddar and Parmesan, and whipping together as many eggs as I could find. A juicy red tomato on the counter looked lonely so I cut him up too.

My knife’s eye turned out to be bigger than my crust’s stomach. My tomato, sautéed ingredients, egg-and-milk liquid, and cheese overwhelmed the small dish.  I slid the overflowing mixture into the oven, closed the door and checked my watch.

Over the next 30-40 minutes, the quiche bubbled, changed color, and breathed a sigh when I poked at it with my various kitchen utensils. Eventually, it resembled something edible so I pulled it out of the oven and called Jules. As a last-ditch effort, I made a salad with some fresh corn-off-the-cob and made a silent prayer that I wasn’t poisoning my only close friend in Northampton. When Jules arrived, we sat at the kitchen table and she watched as I took my first bite… 

IT WAS DELICIOUS! I beamed at the beautiful egg-based pastry sitting before me and wondered why it had seemed so daunting just an hour before. My pie in the sky became a quiche at the table and I couldn’t have been more proud or relieved. There was no telling what culinary feats I had yet to accomplish. 

So why write about a simple cooking experience? Why tell you about a seemingly insignificant event in my life? Because that quiche represented something more. I could have baked anything, followed any number of recipes to create a meal. Even the greatest chef can’t promise with 100% certainty that she will open the oven door to find something worth eating. But we go on cooking just the same. I followed pieces of countless recipes, each with a different spice and specific procedure. In the end, you cannot follow anyone’s recipe but your own and that has made all the difference. 

And by difference I mean quiche. Bon appetite!

Peach Strawberry Lemonade

With the temperatures hovering in the mid-90’s and the humidity gluing my legs to the seat of any vinyl chair, saying the weather is hot is an understatement. Back in Colorado where forest fires have destroyed thousands of acres, the story of drought and prayers for rain clouds is all too common. Farmers in the Midwest are worried about their corn and soy plants as estimates for crop productivity decrease. Deaths have been reported in states such as Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Charred land, fragile food supply, human lives. For those who still do not believe climate change is drastically affecting the recent weather patterns and extreme fluctuation, it is not too late to change your mind. In the meantime, make a peach strawberry lemonade.

 Peach Strawberry Lemonade

  • 1 can frozen lemonade concentrate
  • 1 bottle lemon seltzer
  • 1 peach
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • ice
  • blender

I will be the first to admit fresh lemonade is much better. However, if you don’t have time or energy for squeezing lemons, the concentrate will work just fine. I had frozen strawberries left over from the farm as well as a fresh peach from a local farm stand. Work with what you have.

In a pitcher add the amount of water suggested on the can and stir. Add half the liquid to the blender. Cut the peach into pieces, take a handful of strawberries and add both to the liquid. Blend together. Strain out fruit pulp ( I leave them in to give it more color and have something fun to chew on. You decide). Pour the mixture into a glass about 3/4 full leaving room for a seltzer with a hint of bubbles and some ice cubes.

Note: Some people prefer smoothies instead of more simple cold beverages. If so, adding 8-10 ice cubes into the blender will give the drink a nice ice-y consistency.

I never said it was a difficult recipe but it certainly is delicious. Whether you have attempted to jog outside (sweaty) or done yoga indoors (still sweaty), this drink is delicious and will quench your thirst. Staying hydrated, specifically drinking lots of water, in the heat is extremely important. So sit outside, or lay against your air conditioner, and sip your lemonade while planning a trip to the Arctic.