The shop was located at the far side of the building, down a long hallway that smelled of cinnamon pretzels and old lady perfume. Inside, an icy painter's palate of flavors awaited us. I raced in and paced up and down the display, reading the nameplates that distinguished each flavor before settling--like I always did--on a Pepto Bismal-pink blend of strawberry ice cream studded with real bubblegum pieces.
It was a flavor that required careful, methodical eating, for the ice cream had to be consumed slowly to avoid swallowing the gum, which I spit out and collected into a small sticky mountain. When the ice cream was gone, I'd pack my mouth with the wad of gum, and chew and chew until my jaws could no longer take the exercise.
That Saturday (like all the other Saturdays), I was anxious to get my cone. Patience never coming easily to me, I wandered off the line leaving my mother and brother behind to keep my place. I strode over to the counter and leaned against the cool glass, systematically breathing and wiping off puffs of breath-fog. A few feet away, a man in a fudge-colored apron dipped his sinewy arm into the buckets pulling up scoop after scoop. I was so focused on watching him that I barely noticed the tall man that standing behind me until the counter guy looked up from his scooping with a bright smile of recognition.
"Hey man," he said to the visitor. The newcomer was blond and wore his long hair pulled back into a low ponytail; his long, dark raincoat dusted the floor as he moved.
They engaged in a complicated handshake that had clearly been devised many years earlier, and I listened in as the tall one leaned toward his friend behind the counter.
"Did you get the drugs?" he asked quietly. The guy behind the counter nodded, "Yeah. It's cool."
I stiffened. Did he say drugs?!?
It was the height of the "D.A.R.E to keep kids off drugs" era, and the word jumped out at me like an angry lizard.
I looked around nervously, wondering if anyone else had heard the exchange, but the other customers simply continued to move along the line without any concern.
I was clearly in this alone.
The guy behind the counter slipped his friend a chocolate cone and sent him off with a casual half-wave.
"I'll see you later," he called as the other one walked outside, his odd coat fanning out behind him.
And that's when I figured out what they were doing. The man behind the counter must have been hiding "the drugs" in the ice cream!
I was terrified. My mother, my brother, everyone that ate the ice cream would be drugged, and there was no way for me to stop it.
I tried to think of a way to tell my mother, but the word itself was too terrifying for me to pull out of my throat. I stayed quiet as she handed me my bubblegum cone and led us back into the mall. I followed nervously beside her, holding the cone an arms length away from my body. At the crosswalk, my mother looked down and saw the uneaten ice cream dripping and melting all over my hand. A trickle of pink drops trailed along on the ground behind me.
"Alejandra!" she cried, attacking me with a handful of napkins. "Why did you ask for ice cream if you weren't going to eat it?"
"I am eating it," I lied, poking my tongue out as closely as I could without actually touching it.
"For the love of God," my mom sighed, exasperated, but too busy guiding us safely across the parking lot to do much more about it.
The ice cream continued to drip and melt as we walked to the car, and I knew that time was running out. A stream of scenarios ran through my head, all ending in death caused when "the drugs" seeped through my eight-year-old hands and into my bloodstream. (My news-obsessed father used to let me watch John Stossel on 20/20; this was exactly the kind of story he'd feature on the show.)
A few steps away I realized there was really only one thing left to do to save myself. Certain that neither my mother nor brother was looking, I flicked my hand over and tilted the remaining ball of ice cream right off my cone and watched as it fell onto the asphalt in big fuchsia splat.
My mother turned around and I braced myself for the imminent lecture feeling strangely relieved; a time-out would not be fun, but it was definitely better than drugs.
This recipe for sour cherry almond frozen yogurt contains neither bubblegum nor drugs (both of which I lost the taste for many years ago). The color, though, is almost the exact same shade of that one I let drip all over my hands when I was eight. Unlike the bubblegum ice cream, this one contains no sketchy or artificial ingredients (except for that little splash of rum, of course).
The pink comes from the sour cherries, which are reduced with a bit of sugar and a pinch of salt (for that synergistic effect). I chose sour cherries because I made the frozen yogurt a few weeks ago when they were still in season and plentiful at the farm stands. Sweet cherries are lush right now so they might make more sense; just reduce the sugar by a few tablespoons to keep it from being too sweet. And be sure to select a good and tangy Greek-style yogurt.
Note: I pitted my cherries and then placed all the pits in a little pouch made out of cheesecloth. I steeped these along with the cherries so that they would get that extra hint of almond-like flavor. Not necessary, but adds a nice touch.
Sour Cherry Almond Frozen Yogurt
3 cups sour cherries, pitted with stones reserved
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 cup water
1 (generous) cup of plain Greek yogurt (such as Fage, I use the full fat kind)
1 tbsp rum (I used a homemade vanilla-infused rum, but plain will suffice)
1 tbsp pure almond extract
Combine the pitted cherries, sugar, salt, and water in a small saucepan. If desired, wrap the reserved pits in a length of cheesecloth and add to the mixture (this will impart a little extra natural flavor). Head the cherries over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the cherries release their juices. Stir occasionally.
Remove the cherry mixture from the flame and discard the pits. Let the cherries cool to room temperature before pouring into a food processor and processing until smooth. Add the Greek yogurt, rum, and extract and process for another minute until completely smooth and combined. There will still be little pieces of cherry skin in the mix, but that's OK.
Pour the mix into a bowl and cover with plastic. Place in the fridge and let cool for at least one hour.
When you are ready to make your ice cream, pour the mix into the base of your ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer's directions.
Store in an air-tight container in the freezer for up to one week.