Hey everyone, I thought it was about time I shared with you a little bit about my book and the proposal I've been writing. You all have been so lovely, sending me e-mails and tweets of support and kind words in comments. You all make me happy to be writing here, grateful to have this little space on the internet.
But first I wanted to share with you something extraordinary. Maybe some people wouldn't think this was anything special, but I know the people who read this blog and I know you'll get just how unbelievably cool it is to watch four year olds from Lucy's pre-k class at Central park East II, cranking home-made fettuccine fresh out of the machine. You'll recognize the wild-haired blond easing the dough into the machine. That's Edie and yes, she's only three. Check this out:
The boy in the green shirt, Rowan, had just had a turn and he was going nuts waiting to get back to cranking the machine. In the first video, you can hear him asking to douse the pasta in flour before it goes into the machine. Over and over. That ultimately became his job, which he loved because it involved throwing flour on the noodles, and everywhere else, and access to the bag of flour, which is like access to the Holy Grail.
What was very cool was that each kid really had their own special thing they loved to do. Emmanuel and Rowan loved to work the crank. Edie liked feeding the dough in. Marlena liked carefully holding the dough as it came out and micro-managing the handing out of the noodles to be draped over the laundry rack to dry. They innately found their calling.
Watch this organization, completely happening without my input.
Also, you kind of have to watch Camille knead the dough. Have you ever seen a four year old who can knead dough so well? I no longer call her by her name. She is known as "Master Kneader." I think she's going to have it emblazoned on a t-shirt.
And this is Camille adding more flour before I can stop her. They all like to add extra ingredients. So much for sticking to a recipe.
It wasn't all beer and skittles, mind you, I did make one of the kids cry after they launched an entire ball of dough into the air like a shot-put only to have it land with a deafening thud on the floor, the dirty public school floor. I kind of freaked and maybe was a little scary and then, we talked it out and wiped away the tears and I begged the kid to stop crying and then we were buds again, but you know, for a minute there, I was Gordon Ramsey.
Then, a group of kids just couldn't stop eating the flour. The flour. Not chocolate chips or candy sprinkles - unbleached wheat flour - just picking it up and raining it down on their faces like snowflakes. I have 40 or so short videos of the last two days and almost all of the ones where they are making the dough involve kids with dusty, white beards trying to sneak mouthfuls of flour.
And here, they just mess with me. Little punks.
You can see how little of the cooking I actually do. They do almost all of it. I just stand back and say smart-ass things.
Most important lesson I learned - don't leave the bag of flour open and just sitting on the table because someone will see it the minute you turn your back and they'll turn the bag completely over and dump the whole thing on the floor. Just to see what happens.(If you are a CPE parent and you're reading this, well, it was your kid that did that.)
Most important pasta lesson the kids learned - not to grab the noodles as they come out of the machine and squeeze them together in the palm of their hand into a tight little ball and then, be surprised when they no longer look like noodles. Um, yeah, I actually have that on video.
I wanted you to see these videos because they are at the heart of my book. I'm writing a food memoir with recipes about my year of cooking and eating with this class. The working title is "The Central Park East Cooking Project: Stories & Recipes Inspired by a Year of Cooking & Eating in a New York City Pre-K" (This title could and probably will change)
Most cooking-with-kids books (with a few exceptions, most notably my friend, Matthew Amster-Burton's "Hungry Monkey") tend to be cookbooks, not memoirs, and of the earnest variety - well-behaved ten year old kids, with good dexterity, in unblemished chef whites baking muffins and never spilling a thing on themselves, while working their dough in a state-of-the-art Cuisinart Mixer - but my book is a more humorous, irreverent cooking-with-kids-as-extreme-sport kind of book, with kids who can't yet tie their shoe laces, but have somehow mastered making Chinese dumplings, scratch dough and all.
I guess if you know me, this isn't shocking. There are knives and pots of boiling oil and imminent danger at every turn, and I'm written as I am, usually harried and covered in batter. There's also the requisite chugging of chocolate out of the pastry bags every time I turn my back.
But there will be really great, thoroughly-tested recipes in the book, many taken from my friends and fellow food bloggers and chefs and then adjusted and ramped up to meet the demands of a group of cooks who secretly add more flour when you're not looking.
Every recipe is done on either a hot plate or griddle (With the exception of this fettuccine recipe. I cheated and used the machine, but even this pasta recipe can be done with a rolling pin and a knife) So, anyone can do this cooking in any school with the most rudimentary equipment. If they have the balls to just do it.
I think the book will be real and also truthful. And messy and, hopefully, funny and poignant. And maybe these stories will inspire one or two people to cook with kids in class even if they have no clue what they're doing or very few resources to do it.
But even if they don't maybe they'll just like the read and see that cooking with kids is funny, and not for pussys, and kind of crazy, and completely worth the sheer hell it can sometimes be. Maybe they'll just see that four year olds can do more than we think they can.
Because even though I always think I've figured out everything that could possibly go awry when cooking with these kids, they always surprise me. And they always exceed my expectations.
And that's what makes it fun. They are awesome.