Perhaps the most lasting legacy of our family’s year-long sugar abstinence will be the fact that my children will never entirely forgive me. That they will never again trust me not to take away something as beloved as sweet treats, when they least expect it. Or perhaps they’ll grow up to institute an “all candy, all the time” program in their households, just to balance their childhood out.
This is what I worry about, when I worry.
However, for me, one of the greatest legacies of the No Sugar project will be coming to realize the incredible resilience of my children. I know- I’ve talked before about being blessed with children who are, most of the time, pretty adventurous with food. Greta, my eleven year old, likes to brag about having eaten snails in Paris, and is impatient with the kids’ menu at most restaurants, choosing instead a flank steak or French onion soup or Penne alla Vodka from the adult menu. Ilsa, who is six, is if anything even more enthusiastic: in Italy, where kids menus are nonexistent, we could order her a cheese plate or a “crostini misti”- which includes chicken liver pate- and she’d be happy as a clam in butter.
I’d love to take credit for all this culinary open-mindedness, but honestly I’m not sure: are fussy eaters born, or made?
So here’s the thing: lately my kids have been insisting to be let into the other side of the equation: they want to cook… and they are not taking no for an answer. This is great, right? In theory… but in practice you get into things like sharp knives, hot stoves, and the fact that mommy-can’t-supervise-right-now-because-if-she-doesn’t-get-some-laundry-done-you’ll-both-be-going-to-school-tomorrow-in-bathing-suits. Kids cooking is wonderful, if not always terribly convenient.
And too, if I’m entirely honest with myself, there’s the fact that I often enjoy cooking alone- the peaceful meditation of chopping, kneading, mixing and preparing has become a quiet pleasure I look forward to when I’m not in a frantic rush to produce sustenance NOW. It’s not unusual for me to plan a more complicated meal some afternoon when I know I’ll have a few hours to spend pulling it together, and to look forward to it as “me” time. This is all the more so the case since we began the No Sugar Project, as if to compensate for the lack of sweets, I seem to focus more and more on the homemade, which may be simple, but is definitely not always expedient.
Fresh pasta is a quintessential example. What could be more delicious? What could be simpler? What could be more of a pain in the tookas? Inspired by our recent trip to Florence I had been wanting to find an afternoon to make fresh gnocchi, which I learned to make a few years ago and have only attempted here at home a handful of times. (By the time I forget the consequent mountain of dishes and the several hours of work, it’s usually about time for me to attempt it again.)
This time was different, however; this time the kids wanted to help. Demanded to help, actually. It was one of the last few days before school and I was savoring the luxury of spending the afternoon with them with no place to rush off to- no soccer practice, no ballet class, no library board meeting. And yet I felt conflicted… what if they screwed the pasta up? What if hours of work resulted in a gloppy, unpalatable mess? Then- panic attack- what would we have for dinner? (As you can imagine, between living in the country and being on the sugar project, there aren’t very many quick-fix options open to us when dinner goes, suddenly, horribly wrong.) Now, there are times when me being such a relentless control freak has it’s benefits- this is not one of them.
I took a few deep breaths and decided to get over it. If we’re going to teach our kids about real food, we are going to have to let them learn how to make it, aren’t we? I knew it was time to put my money where my mouth was.
Boy, I’m glad I did. They were amazing! In fact, after I made the dough- kneading together fresh boiled potatoes, flour and egg- the kids did all the work while I sat back and watched. And this is not an inconsiderable amount of work, either: Greta carefully sliced bits of dough from the large dough “loaf,” rolling each one out into a long, 1/4” diameter snake. Ilsa would take over at this point, cutting dozens of tiny gnocchis from the snakes the size of Tootsie Rolls; each tiny island of dough carefully kept separate on the cutting board so as not to have the pasta bits stick together. This was not Kraft Easy-Mac. This took a long time. I was amazed at their tenacity, their patience.
Did everything go perfectly? No. At one point, in what will hereafter be referred to as the Great Gnocchi Massacre of 2011, Ilsa accidentally knocked the wooden cutting board- filled with little cut up gnocchi- just off the counter enough to dump a good three dozen onto the kitchen floor. The three of us gasped. We were hushed for a moment, staring at the floor and thinking about the hard work that- poof!- was gone just like that. Then Ilsa ran off, in tears.
Now, some people have a Little Devil on their shoulder. I have a Little Control Freak. The Little Control Freak whispered in my ear “See? Told you so. All that work. What will you have for dinner now?” Fortunately, I listened instead to the Mom Angel on my other shoulder who said “There’s still plenty of pasta left. Nobody died. It’s fine.” And of course, it really was. Soon, I managed to convince Ilsa of that fact as well and we were back to the pasta factory.
In fact, it was better than fine. We had a lovely dinner that took us all afternoon to make and BOY were the girls proud! And it was delicious- even if they weren’t as ridiculously careful about it as I would have been. I mean, it’s just potatoes, egg and flour, right? Real, homemade food is desperately important- to our health, to animal welfare, to the environment- but fortunately for us, most of the time it’s not rocket science. It just takes a little time. And patience.