Hello and welcome!
Since this blog is named for two of my favorite flavors in Lebanese cuisine—the essence of roses and orange blossoms, distilled in water—it seems only fitting that we kick things off with a recipe using one of them. I do understand that a tall glass of strawberry rose lemonade is not your first thought when you want to eat Lebanese food (which you do, often, if you’ve ever eaten it). But summer is here, and lemonade is essential, sipped on the front porch if you have one, or in the front porch of your heart if you don’t (at the kitchen table or, if you’re my brother, standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open while you drink, will do). And strawberry with fragrant rose is like one of those marriages that you openly admire, attempting to understand what makes it tick so perfectly, but ultimately just drinking it in and hoping it infuses you with its goodness.
This lemonade is based on a rosewater drink that my mother and my sister-in-law, Ruth, recalled for me after their trip to Lebanon in the summer of 2006. It was a memorable trip for lots of reasons, not the least of which was that they were there to meet the newborn baby boy who Ruth and my brother Chris were about to adopt. When they arrived at the orphanage in Beirut (well, more of a house where a woman was caring for three babies awaiting adoption), the caregiver welcomed them with glasses of rose-scented lemonade. Doesn’t that sound lovely? Long-awaited baby—all fingers and toes accounted for—in open arms, tears of joy, refreshing lemonade in hand, and the land of our ancestors experienced for the first time.
And it was lovely, except that the rose water lemonade was…undrinkable. My mother’s sheer force of will, and the unspoken laws that govern respect for another woman’s hospitality, got her through half of a glass. It tasted more, much more, like a bottle of perfume than something you’d drink, Ruth said. This bothered me, and stuck with me, because I wanted rose-scented lemonade in Lebanon to taste really good, exotic, unlike any lemonade any of us had ever tasted (ok, at this point in life I’m well aware of my inclination toward the romantic, the dramatic, but don’t stop reading here, because what’s to follow truly is dramatic, if not romantic).
Turns out that the trip went from joyous baby-oogling to Middle Eastern war virtually overnight. My brother and mother had left Ruth in Lebanon, where she was to keep baby John with her for a couple of weeks until my brother would return to finalize the adoption. Instead, she found herself sweating it out for hours on a Beirut beach in 110-degree heat with a newborn in her arms, waiting to board a U.S. military boat taking American citizens there out of harm’s way, to Cyprus. And that was considered a whopping success after a week of harrowing attempts to determine how to get Ruth home with a baby that was not legally hers yet. The answer, with the herculean efforts of many relatives and friends (Geralyn, all of you, you know who you are) was a “humanitarian visa” for my nephew John, secured just hours before the last American boat taking U.S. citizens to safety left harbor.
What happened next is hardly speakable, but it must be said. Come back and see me tomorrow and we’ll sit down to talk about the rest of the story, and a recipe you will love for strawberry rose lemonade.