The Spinach Ice Cream Lesson

For five and a half years I dreaded what might happen if I missed my weekly short story post. When life became too intense and I found I didn’t have time to write new material anymore, I started refreshing short stories and perfecting them for re-release. As long as something went out on schedule things were still moving forward. Finally, it happened. I was overwhelmed on every front and I missed a week. I missed two. The momentum I’d built up over those years probably evaporated but I also suddenly treated myself to some much needed sleep. More weeks passed, and that shattering collapse of my writing career that I’d dreaded through the years made no audible sound. The world kept turning. It was the spinach ice cream experiment, round one, and it needed to happen.

Fourth of July, celebrated as Independence Day in the United States of America, 2018. It’s a national holiday, so even though it was a weekday, most everyone was off work and the neighborhood was filled with a steady staccato of firecrackers and laughing kids. The summer has been toasty but this day stood out as an extra blanket of warmth. My four year old and I, picking up on an ongoing conversation about the many virtues of vegetables and his overall reluctance to let them pass his tongue, revisited one of the more absurd ideas he’d tossed at me recently.

“Why don’t we make spinach ice cream?” he suggested.

I smiled at him, knowing I had a surprise in the fridge. Perfecting in a glass bowl there rested a pale green concoction of blended spinach, heavy cream and milk. True, I fully expected it to be a disgusting adventure, but I’m willing to think outside of the box if it means getting nutrients into my children.

“Yes, let’s do,” I said.

We carried out the ice cream maker and set it up on his small table so he could see down inside. We brought out the frozen bowl and set it in place, fitting the churning arm and lid overtop. He turned it on and we smiled at each other in anticipation over the rotating hum. We poured the light green mixture in and watched the liquid swish and sway, full of promise.

“It kind of looks like throw up,” he observed as it began to solidify.

Peeking in, I had to agree. It wasn’t just the texture and color, but the smell too. I started to have doubts as to the wisdom of the project. Contrary to my intentions, I was very likely setting my son up to turn away from spinach for the rest of his life.

“Taste it,” he dared.

I knew it was coming. I’d prepared myself for it, or so I thought. I scraped a shaving of light green ice cream-to-be onto my paddle and tasted a drop. I had planned to make a funny face but all intentions flew out the window. I felt the contortion but couldn’t say exactly what it conveyed. I heard a squeal of glee and a patter of receding footfalls.

It was at this point that the path between our living room and dining room became a busy highway at top four-year-old speed, where he provided minute-by-minute updates to Papa.

“It’s disgusting!” I heard him announce with relish.

Pad pad pad pad pad. His gleaming smile resurfaced over the churning bowl.

I was busily adding cocoa powder and sugar granules. No measuring spoons were in sight. It was more of an instinct-led gut response. Every time I revisited the taste on my tongue another tap sent brown powder spiraling into the mix. I became mesmerized by the tiny cocoa boulders rattling around between the folding green goo. Each rotation decreased them minutely and I resolved myself then and there to see it through until they were dust and finally absorbed, no matter how long I had to wait.

“What color is that?” he asked.

Normally I reward his questions with honest and accurate answers, but in this case I held back. That color does indeed have a name. It’s somewhere between light green and tan, and I’ve seen plenty of it in my years of diaper changing.

“I don’t know,” I lied.

I dumped in more cocoa powder.

Pad pad pad pad pad.

“Papa, it looks really gross.”

Pad pad pad pad pad.

“Mama, taste it again!”

I gave it another shot. This taste was encouraging. It turns out chocolate does a pretty thorough job of masking the bitterness of spinach and the sugar was lightening the prospect of the whole endeavor. I still made a face because, why stop now?

Pad pad pad pad pad.

“Papa, Papa! Mama ate it!”

Pad pad pad pad pad.

A little more cocoa, a good deal more sugar (goodbye, nutritional value), and a little more freezing, and we had a nice sage-green ice cream ready to eat. Taking no chances, I loaded each of our bowls with chocolate syrup and whipped cream, on hand in case of emergency. Colorful sugar sprinkles were also involved in some combination.

I’m pretty sure I got a solid tablespoon of spinach into my son so I’m calling it ‘mission accomplished.’ For my part, I enjoyed my bowl with the attitude of a culinary adventurer determined to finish what I had started. I didn’t try to feed any to my husband or our younger son.

The next morning, back at work, I entertained my co-workers with tales of my failed experiment. They rewarded me with laughter and general good-hearted ridicule, and then something marvelous happened.

“When I mix my morning smoothie,” one of them suggested, “I use chocolate and mint to mask the bitterness of the spinach.”

My world expanded. What had seemed to me a silly and fruitless adventure was suddenly part of a larger, well-traveled path. I realized that there was every likelihood that I’d try experimenting with spinach ice cream again, and quite possibly come up with a recipe that my whole family can enjoy together.

Then, later, a second marvelous thing occurred. Thinking over my spinach ice cream lesson, I realized that I could apply what I’d just learned to writing. I’ve been focused on an experiment that started years ago when I took up the challenge to write a short story each week for a year. After a year I didn’t know how to stop, so I didn’t. I pressed on, challenging myself to continue no matter what. I’m glad I did. I learned and grew as a writer. It was ‘spinach ice cream experiment, round one.’ Now it’s time to add the mint.

I’m shifting my focus from quantity to quality. I’m working on my novels and publishing. I’ll continue to write short stories and anecdotes to post here but I’m not going to promise that it will be weekly. It will be what it needs to be, and when. Hopefully, it will be worth the wait each time.

I’m digging in for ‘spinach ice cream experiment, round two,’ with a new recipe and funny faces at the ready. Wish me luck?