Sunday, April 3, 2011

Orange Food

There's something strange about the first time your child goes away without you. Whether it's skiing for a weekend with another family, an overnight trip with a Brownie troop, or — as in our case — a getaway to a New Hampshire lake house with a beloved aunt. It makes you wonder. What will she see? Who will she meet? Is she staying up too late? Waking up too early? Brushing her teeth?

Neurotic mom musings aside, these events carry a lot of emotional weight. They remind us that our children are individual people, who will live their own individual lives, not just extensions of ours. The child returns with stories to tell and, thankfully, glad to see you again, but you can never capture everything they experienced. And some of those experiences can alter things forever.

I was happy to let my daughter go off with my sister-in-law. Not only is my sister-in-law smart and loving and one of the most capable people I know, but I could count on my daughter having the kind of fun she doesn't have with me. A mother/daughter book club, a matinee, an art project? I'm your gal. But jumping off rafts and chasing each other on jet skis — yikes — not so much.

My daughter returned home safe and sound with nothing more serious than a few extra freckles. She did, however, come home with a new love ...

Orange soda.

I confess, I am no health nut. I consume more than my share of semisweet chocolate, caramel coffee drinks and white wine. But, we drink very little soda and none of it, until that fateful trip to New Hampshire, orange.

Why did it bother me so much? I'm sorry but there is simply something wrong with a drink that turns both tongue and teeth neon. I came of age in the 80s and wore my share of day-glo; but I've put those days behind me and would rather not be reminded of them when my daughter opens her mouth.

So, I tried to replace the drink with orange-flavored seltzer ("too plain") and orange juice with sparkling water ("too pulpy"). I finally gave in, provided that she drinks sugar-free variations. Maybe the chemicals that make it sweet will counteract the chemicals that make it orange and neutralize the whole experience.

Regardless of how nutritionally sound my logic may be, soda is not the only orange consumable my tween daughter craves these days. In fact, we could plan an entire menu in monotone:

For a starter, we could enjoy goldfish crackers. What was once a mom-sanctioned staple of toddler diets is now more orange than ever thanks to the introduction of the Flavor Blasted Extra Cheddar! variety. Although it doesn't affect the teeth quite like a nice cup of orange soda, your tween will have orange fingertips for the rest of the day.

For an entrĂ©e, let's go with Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. After all, "It's the cheesiest." Trying to combine convenience with some semblance of nutrition, I used to buy Annie's Macaroni and Cheese — hey, it was "homegrown" and "organic" and I paid extra for it at Whole Foods. But, very much in keeping with her introduction to orange soda, once my daughter tasted Kraft's bright orange alternative, she was hooked.

A nice side dish? How about Cheese Doodles. So tasty, so crunchy, so orange. And so many varieties to choose from: Cheetos, Cheese Curls, Cheese Balls, Cheese Puffs. My daughter isn't the only fan apparently. When Cheese Doodle inventor Morie Yohai died at age 90 last year, his obituary appeared in The New York Times. And, March 5th is National Cheese Doodle Day. I kid you not.

Onto dessert then. Tonight's specials include Circus Peanuts, candy corn, mellow cream pumpkins and orange Pixie Sticks. Mmm, mmm, good.

You may notice a few items that are conspicuously absent from our menu. Like oranges, carrots, tangerines, sweet potatoes. I'm afraid you're missing the point. Those foods are naturally orange. They don't have any extra sugar or extra cheese. And, most importantly, eating them would make a tween's mother extra happy.

Where's the fun in that?

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