A new method for making homemade pasta: it’s called the facial technique. Quite difficult. Don’t try this at home.
I’ve procrastinated the writing of this post for as long as I could. I tear up just typing the words, “Volume 10”. I had no idea this summer would take us to so many new places. While I know a stretched mind does not return to its original shape, one simply cannot anticipate how she will feel inside a new brain until the exercise is complete. Karen Le Billon’s book “French Kids Eat Everything”…well…it changed everything. How is it possible for a Momma who lives to cook to be turned on her ear by one book? After many nights of sleeping on this question, I can tell you this: French Kids didn’t so much change the way I cook as much as it changed the way I THINK about food. And more importantly, how I’m now proactively teaching my children to THINK about food. Changed thinking = changed behavior, so there you have it.
In my excitement for our new “food paradigm” (i.e. trying new foods is as exciting as trying a new movie), I contacted Karen Le Billon and her publicist. Not knowing what to expect, I threw my good energy out in the Universe, and it boomeranged back to me in the form of a happiness I cannot wait to share with you here:
Karen Le Billon has sent me 2 autographed copies of her book to SHARE WITH YOU!!!
Yep, she’s as personable and as kind as she seems in her writing. But I warn you: her writing is transformative. You will never look at snacks, gimmicky diets, or America’s guilty relationship with our food culture the same way again. You will find yourself with the sudden urge to eat things you have never considered touching: radishes, cooked red cabbage, homemade soup as often as possible, veggies ALL OVER THE PLACE AND MAN DO THOSE SUCKERS SUDDENLY FIT EFFORTLESSLY INTO MY DAY. None of these changes will require complex recipes or expensive gadgets. It’s both simple and straight forward. I am now showing my family how to join me in a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship with the foods that wash through our bodies all day, every day.
Let there be jam!
So what now? Now that the summer has faded, the corn is officially coming down, and the kids are back in school? Did we transition into a new routine? Simply put: Yep. Remember, once stretched…can’t go back. The rainbow of veggies go into the lunchboxes, and only 25% return, on average (and probably because I pack too much to begin with). More importantly, I can put nearly any veggie into those lunchboxes: broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, snow peas, green beans, sweet peppers, tomatoes filled with Mozzarella and sprinkled with basil, even salad. And here is a first: milk. My girls don’t drink milk, and as someone not terribly pro-milk, I haven’t pushed it. But then I discovered they have been guzzling chocolate milk in the cafeteria, to the tune of 6 teaspoons of sugar per carton. Go ahead…take a break, make yourself a cup of tea and measure some sugar while you’re in the kitchen. Now imagine handing it to your child every single day, right before Math class. I substituted Horizon Organic Milk cartons into their lunchboxes, and our deal is: drink the good stuff, get a tiny treat at the end of your meal (i.e. a Hershey Kiss), and every few days Mommy will keep the treat at home, and substitute Horizon’s flavored Vanilla Milk as its own treat. They LOVE it. Do I think non-artificially colored organic milk has too much sugar in it? You betcha. I’m weaning them. My goal is to be down to “Friday is Vanilla Milk Day!” by Thanksgiving. Shhhh…..
One night, Sara and Kelly announced they would like to be in charge of the Vegetable Starter. Looking at the picture below, I now know I ate cilantro, celery, grapes, and lemon. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, to be honest. Luckily they left out the sugar, pretzel braids, and gigantic bowl of Hershey Kisses I see sitting in this picture, which seems unlikely, considering the age of the Chefs.
So speaking of mes petite Sous Chefs, how did our merry band of players fare in the end?
Kelly, our most reticent “to try new things” girl has been overheard on more than one occasion telling people, “I’m the kind of girl who likes to try new foods. I don’t always like them, but I will always try them. I never know what I might like.” She’s broken her mac and cheese and pizza bite addiction, and now prefers hard-boiled eggs or a turkey and provolone sandwich for lunch. She’s asked that hot dogs be removed from the house. She doesn’t understand why she had such a fear of fresh herbs before, because “these little green things are good”. We’re still working on her sense of geography, as last week during a dinner game of “where did this come from?” (the meal was Cowboy Caviar), Kelly proudly announced “Pakistan”.
Sara, our most adventurous eater by far, is asking where have avocados been her whole life, and why did I wait so long to give them to her? After all, they go with everything. While she still enjoys the occasional sunbutter and jam sandwich, she’d much prefer an avocado and bacon sandwich on lightly toasted bread, s’il vous plait. Her favorite lunches include the ingredients for a “make your own yogurt parfait” bowl, which she deftly assembles in front of her friends (a real 1st grade conversation starter, so I hear). Last week she and Kelly begged me to pack leftovers for dinner, and they ate roasted chicken on top of sage and garlic smashed red potatoes for lunch. More than watching them eat it, I wish I could have overheard their description of it (a complete fabrication to follow): “Well, you see, the mint needs replanted, but we have just a boatload of sage….which makes you think of, you know…POULTRY. I mean really, doesn’t it just make you want to roast something?” Sara also needs to work on her geography, as she placed tonight’s dinner of fried green tomatoes, apple herbed stuffing on top of a pork loin, and balsamic roasted carrots, squarely in what area of our country? That’s right…Mexico.
Which leaves Miss Avery, my precious niece who should surely win our “Most Improved Player” award. This girl started the summer by picking at mac n cheese because it didn’t include the word “nugget” or “ketchup”. I don’t pack her lunches or make her dinners these days, but I do know at my house, I never beg her to eat anymore. She learned that food is not a 4-letter word. And at the end of it all? She decided to convert to Catholicism. I suppose you could argue these are unrelated events, but there is a part of me which will fondly remember the summer Avery “Got Food” and “Got God”. She is my most consistent of geography bees, because it doesn’t matter if I put pasta, fried chicken, or fish tacos on the table, her response is always the same: “Aunt Orly, are we having Italian again?!”
And how did this Momma do? I find with all these veggies lying about, the picture above is my lunch on more than one day a week. I’ve ditched my “white plates only” philosophy, so I can eat on the plates I carried back from Paris, play some French Cafe music on Pandora, and reminisce about the long, leisurely lunches I had with the girls. I find I’m rarely hungry, and almost never snack anymore. It takes no willpower…with all this produce in my gut, I’m just not hungry during the day. The emotional cost of cooking dinner has moved from “taxing” to “fulfilling”, and with a changed mindset, the work has become far closer to effortless than the daily mountain I once climbed. In year’s past, I cooked nice dinners because I love food, not because I found it easy. Do I love going to the grocery store? GOD NO. It would take me less time to travel from Pakistan to Mexico, and then back to Italy. But I do love the end result, so I put in the time.
It wasn’t always pretty, and it was never clean, but in the end, it was an experience I’d like to repeat, improve upon, and watch it grow from year to year. This summer included swimming, movies, worksheets, games, tutors, playtime, crafting, friends….and delicious food. There were lessons that will shape the eating decisions they will make for the rest of their lives. There was the sharing of the precious gift of time. There was the daily demonstration that food is love. NOT GUILT (which is the world’s worst garnish)….just love. NOT PERFECTION (I still love a good McDonald’s drive-thru now and then)…just love. And I think it’s official: My Kids Eat Everything. When I asked them what they would like to share with you about this summer, their response was pretty simple:
“Life is better when served with a cheese course. Are we famous?”
My response? Not yet. First you’ll have to graduate from next year’s cooking curriculum titled, “How to Wash the Dishes.”
I hope you enjoyed this journey with us. We sure have enjoyed having you along for the ride. If you’d like to enter my drawing for Karen Le Billon’s autographed book, French Kids Eat Everything, leave a comment with this post, and I’ll use a random number generator this Sunday at noon (EST), September 23rd, to select 2 winners. Tell me about your favorite foods, or your favorite summer, or why you can’t wait to read this book. Or hey guys…just leaving a hello is enough for me. Leave as many comments as you wish, as each one equals one entry into the drawing. Comments indicating you’ve joined Karen Le Billon’s Facebook Page for French Kids Eat Everything will count as 2 entries. A final special thank you to Ms. Le Billon’s publicist, Megan Swartz from Harper Collins, for donating a copy of the book to our school library’s Parent Resource Section. I extend to you a warm thank you from our administration, PTA, and the parents for your donation.
I wish you Godspeed and good food, my friends. Now let’s giveaway some books!!