I was born in a small town on Long Island, NY. Our backyard had an apple tree that supplied just the right amount of shade for my mom and baby brother, while my sisters and I would climb and swing. In the winter, my father converted our family vegetable garden into our own personal ice skating rink. Wonderful memories were made in our small backyard.
Family would come to visit on the weekends from all over the state. Wood-framed canvas folding chairs were placed in a circle, with the occasional stroller parked in between. The picnic table was covered in casseroles, salads, pies and the iced tea was unsweetened.
I have always been a sweet tooth. I blame my dad for this affliction. If I eat a salty dish…then I crave sugar. A savory meal can only be followed by…sugar, sugar, sugar! Breakfast cravings regularly include pound cake and beignets. When I was a child, grocery shopping was a favorite of mine. My mother would all pile all of us into the car and hop on over to the Gristedes. While she was busy at the deli counter chatting with the locals, my brothers and sisters would visit the coffee sample table. It was stocked with little paper cups with handles that pulled out to make it into a mug. I however, I had no interest in the coffee (and still do not to this day). I was on a sugar mission. I filled by mini mug with sugar from the dispenser and just a splash of coffee. This ensured a nice syrupy concoction. With the aid of my wooden stirrer, I slurped it down before mom was even done ordering. Ahhh Gristedes!
When I was in first grade, my father got transferred to Virginia. Our new house was situated on a big hill. It was perfect for winter sledding, as well as our notorious summer favorite, the Slip and Slide. Or better known as the Slip and Wipe-out.
Neighborhood kids frequented our home for kickball and badminton tournaments. We all mastered the art of catching fireflies in canning jars. With hard work and determination, my sister and I perfected the three-legged race. We were awarded the coveted blue ribbon annually at the Delaplane Strawberry Festival. The chicken was fried, the music was bluegrass and the tea was sweet. My plastic curly straw was getting a full workout at the festival that day. I could not get enough.
As the years passed, I would find myself flip-flopping between the two beverages. Sometimes I enjoy the flavor of the tea on its own, as an accompaniment to festive dessert or a fancy meal. On the other hand, there is simply no earthly way to sit down to a southern BBQ without a chilled sweet tea in my hand. I understand that we are not dealing with an extensive wine list here. We are talking about iced tea. But the sugar factor does in fact play into a meal pairing.
I’m a strong proponent of being a “low-maintenance diner”. I have always tried to be respectful of the chef and leave the meal alterations to a minimum. I also believe that everyone should wait tables at sometime in their life. After many serving jobs over the years, I can say that I have seen the best and the worst of people. It can be a very humbling, but also taught me a lot about how to treat others.
On a beautiful autumn day a few years ago I stopped for an iced tea at a local favorite, the Plum Street Cafe. I was waffling with the sweet-factor of my tea. I could not decide, as I did not have a meal to base my preference. When my friend, the lovely Chef Monica asked, “Karen, do you want me to mix a little of both?” The rest, as they say, is history.
I realize that this comes at the expense of the hard-working servers. I also understand that I am breaking my low-maintenance rules. I do always follow-up my request with a very polite, “if it is not too much trouble?”, particularly if they are refilling via the pitcher method. However, I must stand true to my upbringing and represent accordingly. For I am a northern girl who was raised in the south, and I take my tea…half-sweet, half-unsweet*. Please know that you will be tipped accordingly.
*I do understand that unsweetened is the correct spelling for the term of tea sans sugar. We just cut it short here in Georgia. Do you want sweet or unsweet?