An overcast Saturday, found me arguing with twelve, twelve-year-olds about the perils of packaged food. The words landfill, carbon footprint, synthetic chemicals and artificial colouring were explained to a group of confused pre-teens, who were gobsmacked to see tomatoes, garlic, and onions instead of a jar of pasta sauce and bottled mayonnaise (VILE!). From the topmost floors of aphorism came the confusing reality as I told them “we are what we eat.” What surprised me was the keenness with which they were ready to cast away their whining for bottled sauces and sugar laden drinks. “If you can’t identify an ingredient on the label, you must not eat it,” I said with deep conviction and a spot of shame. Who was I to instruct childlike minds as I continue to consume a variety of things from jars, bottles, cartons, tins and cans, albeit at 30 more consciously and with alarming disdain!
I had planned to show them how to make a basic sauce to accompany their favourite pasta. There are many culinary transgressions that bother me; the one that tops the list and the one that could be easily avoided is packaged pasta pesto and sauces. If you can’t find an hour to create a fresh sauce, from locally sourced produce, then whatever is keeping you busy isn’t worth it. And truly, honestly, sincerely you’ve got to be the largest, most epic nincompoop or perhaps a fuddy-duddy gargoyle if you eat something that does not sound like food.
Amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethole, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamylvalerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate.
Back to my slowly-turning-raucous twelve, twelve-year-olds. A simple, indulgent sauce was underway. The school kitchen had generously supplied us with all the ingredients except fresh basil. On a 30 odd acre property, if one can’t find fresh basil, it’s wretched and can only be blamed on the teacher who refused to walk and investigate the herb garden. A deep, complex and fresh sauce needs the following: two twelve-year-olds chopping ruby red tomatoes, three twelve-year-olds peeling and chopping onions and garlic, and the Kite-like supervision of our schools’ man-Friday turned sous chef.
In went the olive oil into a sizzling pan, its sizzle releasing vapour and fragrance with much gusto. After the garlic and the bay leaf went in, I invited the boys to come around and take a deep breath, encouraging them to register this as a pleasant bouquet to be filed under Happy. Since we all know the steps to making a red sauce, I shan’t tell you more, but I will tell you one beautiful life lesson the boys reminded me of, on this particularly overcast Saturday.
Be the hero – when the boys tell me a story, they always play the heroes of their narrative. The play field, the music room, the residence, the classroom, in their story, they are the central characters! The older we grow the more we prefer to underplay our roles, some of us call it humility, others, self-depreciation. But, Marianne Williamson wisely tells us that –
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
The clamour to taste the final dish was deafening, hearty and brief. Before I could say “gobbledegum gobbledygook who has drunk Uncle Patrick’s soup,” the scalding whole-wheat Fuseli pasta, with the student-made, teacher-supported, freshly-sourced tomato sauce infused with garlic and goats cheese was over. My mind raced to find a word, a deft adjective, to describe the boys as they served the teachers and themselves. Gourmands or gluttons, presented themselves as worthy words, although neither sounded right to me; they both had shades of elitism and evil. So I choose to describe my twelve, twelve-year-olds olds as joyful eaters.
*mic drop* (that’s what rockstars say!)