Recipes # 28 and 29; ginger snaps and plum ice cream
The rigors of 3rd grade have kept Luca too busy to do much cooking lately. Wait, did I just say the rigors of 3rd grade? What kind of altered reality are we living in when eight year olds are being asked to do twenty math problems in one night? Hard ones. In Spanish. No wonder that Luca, who once after a play date gone bad consoled himself by doing a week’s worth of homework in one sitting, is now suddenly stressed about homework.
As a mother who decided I was terrible at math at an early age, I try to be encouraging without letting Luca get too strong a whiff of my own fear and loathing. I am desperate for him not to label himself “bad at math” just because he is one of those kids who walk around with his head in a book bumping into the furniture.
Because of Luca’s new homework load, he’s been less tolerant of demands placed on his time and I’ve been trying to let him be. I haven’t wanted cooking to seem like a chore so I haven’t pressed it when he says he’d rather dress up like Indiana Jones than make a roasted chicken. So I was thrilled on Saturday when Luca decided he wanted to make gingersnaps for our good friends who were coming to dinner; Rachel and Jeff and their two children, Arielle who is Luca’s age and eight month old baby Moriah.
Rachel and I have been good friends for sixteen years. She was introduced to me by a mutual friend who described her this way: “She is gorgeous, smart, funny, she dresses great, she’s about to start a job with one of the biggest producers in Hollywood and she knows everyone who is anyone. Basically she is perfect.” Naturally, I despise people like that and was sure I’d feel the same about Rachel. But when we met we hit if off instantly and, though we have seen each other through some excruciatingly hard times, Rachel and I have never stopped laughing. Or rather, during the times when the laughs did stop, there was little doubt that they’d start up again. Generous and loyal, Rachel is one of those people you want on your side for life. Due to LA geography, we don’t get our two families together very often. But Luca and Arielle have always had good chemistry, an easy silliness that seems immune to time apart. I had no idea if this would still be the case. But I was encouraged when Luca said, “I want to make dessert for Arielle.”
Luca and I read over the recipe for gingersnaps and both of us jumped in delight at the note at the end of the recipe: “For Plum Ice Cream Sandwiches: Place a scoop of plum ice cream (page 121) onto a gingersnap, top it with another, and press together. Wrap in plastic and store in freezer.”
“Let’s do that!” Luca cried and so we decided to make gingersnaps and plum ice cream. A little while later I began laying everything out on the counter.
“Luca, can you get the vanilla?” I asked.
“I don’t know where that is,” he replied. How did this happen? All this time we have been cooking together I had been playing the part of the dutiful assistant, getting out all the ingredients and the equipment and laying it out for him. But you can’t cook if you can’t find your ingredients and he needed to learn his way around his own kitchen.
He found the vanilla, the cinnamon and the egg. Then he got out the measuring cups and spoons and went to work creaming the butter and sugar in the food processor. We stopped the machine every so often to loosen the butter from the blade.
“It’s not fully incorporated,” I said whereupon Luca erupted in a big giggle.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“Monsters, Incorporated,” he answered. Cooking – mixing and blending and smelling – seems to stimulate a kind of free-flowing, free-association train of thought. Luca laughs a lot when he cooks. Because of this and the fact that he loves food so much makes him great fun to be with in the kitchen.
He cracked the egg on the side of the bowl and dumped it in, miraculously with none of the shell attached. His hands were covered in egg goo so he washed them and then he added the molasses and vanilla and mixed them all together. He then measured out the flour. This is always a messy task because he overfills the cup with flour and then has to level it off by tossing half of it onto the counter. The bottle of dried ginger was dusted with white flour and this made him laugh again. I waited while he enjoyed himself by sprinkling more flour on the top of the ginger bottle.
Luca read out the measurements of salt, cinnamon and ginger. But sensing a looming math problem, he balked.
“I don’t know what that means!” he insisted even though he has read and understood 1 1/2 and 1 1/4 many times before. To make matters worse our teaspoons were dirty so I gave Luca the 1/2 teaspoon and asked him to figure out how many of those made one and a half.
“I hate math!” he said and begged me to do the measuring. But I didn’t think that any self-respecting parent could let a moment like this go – a moment in which he could learn the practical value of all that math homework. I figured that Luca loves his food enough that he was willing to go the distance with whatever math was involved. After a moment he came up with a reluctant “Three.”
“Right,” I said pretending not to notice the glint of pride in his eye.
He went about measuring out the 1/2 teaspoons with the same messy method as he measures the flour and pretty soon the kitchen counter was covered in flour, ginger and cinnamon. He mixed the dry ingredients together and then mixed them with the butter and sugar and the room filled with the smell of ginger, butter and vanilla.
“This is outrageous!” he exclaimed.
The batter went into the refrigerator and when it was cool we rolled it into three logs, wrapped it up again and put it in the freezer.
Now onto the ice cream. Luca pitted the plums and tossed them into the food processor to puree. He declared that one of them looked like a butt crack. This is becoming a little predictable. Many fruits, as it turns out, have two halves that, looked at from an eight-year-old boy’s point of view, resemble a human bum. Besides an absurd amount of homework 3rd grade seems be marked by a blooming interest in all things bodily with a preference for the scatological and anything to do with “weenies.” A group of boys were recently sent to the Principals’ office for shouting “Weenie Power!” to the girls in their daily Boys Against Girls Recess War. I don’t know how the Principal kept a straight face.
Luca pureed the plums, mixed them together with the cream, vanilla and sugar and poured it into the ice cream maker. He turned it on and while the machine churned, we took the gingersnap logs out of the freezer, cut them into little rounds and placed them on a cookie sheet. They went into the oven and when the ice cream was done I asked Luca to get a Tupperware container to put it in.
“I don’t know where those are,” he said. This again? I showed him where they were and we had a big discussion about which container was the right size to fit all the ice cream (geometry!) and right then the doorbell rang.
While we ate homemade pizza with anchovies, capers and jalapenos Luca said to Arielle, “Wanna go play?” They went into Luca’s room and in under a minute we heard squeals and laughs and knew they were right back into it again. By the time they came out for dinner, they were whispering secrets and giggling. Moriah who was learning to crawl chewed on a piece of pizza dough for the rest of the night.
Jim made a grilled chicken with peppers and eggplant and, as we were finishing dinner, Rachel’s brother Adam came over with his pregnant wife Jessica. They were on their way to a dance concert and couldn’t stay long. But Jessica couldn’t say no to Luca’s ice cream sandwich. As Arielle stood by licking fingers and bowls, Luca placed two gingersnaps and a dollop of soft plum ice cream onto each plate and handed it around. Not quite ice cream sandwiches the spicy ginger combined perfectly with the cold plum ice cream to make a delicious mess. Someone asked for a spoon. The kids ate close to twenty gingersnaps before anyone got wind and then it was time to say goodbye to Adam and Jessica, and soon after it was time for everyone to go.
Before he walked out the door, Jeff pointed at Luca and Arielle and said: “They have such an easy friendship.”