Saturday, May 23, 2009

Grape Milkshake


It seemed like a good idea when I first thought of it. Of course, when you're six or seven (or even much older), lots of things seem like good ideas that aren't, including conning a babysitter into letting you wobble around the neighborhood wearing your mother's high-heeled boots, many sizes too big and in any case off limits; or else sticking a tiny seashell up your nose, far enough so that a couple weeks later—because you'd done this on the sly and were afraid to say anything when it got stuck—the shell had to get vacuumed out at the pediatrician's office. You know, stuff like that. (What? You mean to tell me you never put a shell up your nose when you were little?) Anyway, this was no big thing, didn't have any serious consequences. No getting in trouble, no trip to the doctor. Still, it marked me for its foulness, and I've never forgotten. To give some background: I don't know whose idea it was, mine or my mom's, but together we started a mini tradition of kitchen experimentation when we were living at 345 Fullerton, in Chicago, so I was probably in first grade at this time. I'm guessing on timing, but that's close if not accurate. We picked a day of the week—I think maybe it was Wednesday?—and after school on that day, we'd make up special drinks. I believe I had free rein, could choose any ingredients and my mom would help me mix them up. I was really into it. You'd think with a mad-science style of interest in culinary chemistry, I'd end up a bartender or something—excuse me, a "mixologist." Lucky for barflies everywhere, this would not turn out to be the case. I thought it made perfect sense: I loved milkshakes. I loved grapes, grape juice, grape-flavored anything. They had to be a winning combination. Bless my mom, she never judged my choices. Who knows, there may well be a way to make a good grape milkshake. (And of course, having just written that sentence, I had to do a search online to quench my curiosity. There are quite a lot of grape milkshake recipes out there, actually.) But our effort was not good enough, the gap between expectation and reality so huge, there was no way to scale the divide. The "milkshake" was one of the worst things I ever tasted—and I have to say I was disappointed with myself, since it had been my idea. I put the word "milkshake" in quotation marks because, now that I think of it, I'm not sure we made it according to a normal milkshake formula. I'm not even sure there was any ice cream in it, so it may just have been grape-milk. For sure there was purple grape juice mixed with milk, and that alone was enough to turn our stomachs. It was at once a first and a last, for both of us. I don't remember any of the other concoctions we made on "drink day." Our weekly project may only have lasted a very short while (and if so, I suppose it was with good reason). But I have always kept the adventure, repulsion, and humor of the grape milkshake filed away in memory. Now, I have a weekly cooking date with my six-year-old son. We're a lot more ambitious than drinks, but I hope to create similar memories for him. I hope that when he's older, he'll remember us together in the kitchen and remember that I let him make choices. We're only two weeks in. He hasn't gotten crazy yet, but he might. I've explained the grape milkshake to him, so I'm sure he won't try that, but I assume there'll be something else along the way; it's only a matter of time. There'll be something I know will be disgusting and a waste of ingredients, and yet . . . I hope that when that happens, I will have the same spirit of indulging creativity that my mom had. I hope that I will let him learn from his mistakes and reinforce the message that without trying, you just don't know. And really, who does know? He could come up with the next great invention. He could end up a mix master of ingredients one day. I just hope that between now and whenever, I don't have to swallow too many milkshake-like mistakes!

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